SF Trans March 2016

It is pride weekend in San Francisco, and it is a particularly poignant one after the shootings in Orlando only two weeks ago. It is an extra mission for many of us to show up this year and be present, and be defiant. Before the main parade and event today, I wanted to share a report from the annual Trans March that opened up pride on Friday evening.

I met up with the march on Market Street in downtown San Francisco, not far from CatSynth HQ.

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Here are some scenes moving forward with the march.

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I particularly liked this moment with both the transgender pride flag and the kitty cat.

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The march turned from Market onto Taylor Street and stopped at the corner of Turk and Taylor in the Tenderloin.

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I have written about walking the entire length of Taylor in a previous article, including passing through this stretch. But it turns out to also be a very important spot in LGBTQ history, in particular for the history of transgender identity and rights. The corner of Turk and Taylor is the site of the Compton’s Cafeteria Riots in 1966 – three years before Stonewall. Compton’s Cafeteria at 101 Taylor Street was one of the few “safe” gathering places for transgender people in the city in the 1960s. You can read a brief account of the riot here. The history is not as well known as Stonewall, but this 50th anniversary commemoration was a step towards correcting that. The ceremony included veterans of the riots, and the unveiling of a new street name.

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Immersing myself in this history is a relatively new things for me, as I have been mostly involved in my own process and in the larger LGBTQ community. But I am happy to be getting deeper into it, and to participate in events like this.

Magma at the Great American Music Hall, San Francisco.

Last year we had the opportunity to see the acclaimed French band Magma on their first tour of the western US in well over a decade. But we didn’t have to wait that long for their second visit to San Francisco when they came to play the Great American Music Hall in mid March, less than a year later.

Magma

For those not familiar with Magma, the band is known for their unique combination of progressive rock, jazz fusion, and avant grade influences; and for having their own invented language for their songs: Kobaïan. Many of their classic songs tell the story of humans and aliens on a planet Kobaia and of the effort to save humankind from imminent self-destruction.

Bathed in changing monochromatic lights, the band moved through complex rhythms, odd meters, harmonies that almost but never quite resolve, and intricate vocal narratives, all with a ferocious energy that rarely let up during the entire show. Their intensity makes the quiet moments even stronger, and sometimes tense as it builds back up to the next climactic section. And the sections featuring vocal harmonies and the electronic piano can be quite luscious. And as always, drummer, founder and main composer Christian Vander held the center both geographically and musically.

Christian Vander, Magma

In addition to Vander, there were long time band members including Stella Vander, Isabelle Feuillebois and Hervé Aknin on voice. The were two new band members on guitar and electric piano, respectively, and one could tell they were having a great time. The audience, which filled the main floor as well as the balcony section of the venue, was heavy with devoted followers of the band, who clearly knew some of the lyrics in Kobaïan and the characteristic complex rhythms. But there were captivated newcomers as well (I myself have only been following the band for a couple of years). Compared to last year’s show at Slims, this performance was heavier with classic Magma songs, and perhaps more a nostalgic vibe. There were newer songs as well, including parts of a newer epic narrative separate from the original Kabaia saga. Overall it was a great evening for musicians and fans alike. We leave with Vander’s own comments on the tour:

“Magma is happy to return to the United States to play for Americans,” says Vander. “We know you are passionate, respectful and curious about music. We find you to be generous and open. It will be a joy for us to see you this year.”

I hope we met his expectations.


Magma was preceded by Helen Money, a one-woman rock performance featuring cello, voice and electronics. Her music is described as “doom metal”, a genre not usually associated with the cello, but it is a phrase that Helen Money (aka Alison Chesley) lives up to in her performance. The overall tone was dark and aggressive, but with some interesting moments combining her adept technique on the instrument with complex electronics. She did make use of looping to support the rhythm and harmony in several songs. While she shares Magma’s intensity and energy on stage, the two acts were quite contrasting, and thus this was a well selected opening act.


This was the second of three great shows we saw in the span of one week in mid March. You can read my article of the first show, featuring Esperanza Spalding here. In the coming days we will close with a report from Faust’s San Francisco show.

Ellis Street, San Francisco

Looking westward out from my office in San Francisco, I can see the entirety of Ellis Street, heading from downtown towards the interior hills of the city. Recently, I finally got a chance to walk the street from one end to the other.

Ellis Street downtown view from building

Ellis Street is a relatively modest east-west street, but like many others in this city it traverses a diverse cross-section of terrains and neighborhoods. It begins at the intersection with Market Street and Stockton Street, shown in the photo above. At the corner is the San Francisco’s flagship Apple Store. The large construction project that has taken over the intersection is part of the new Central Subway project, in particular, a series of tunnels that will connect the existing Powell Street BART and MUNI station to the new line that goes up Stockton Street.

At ground level, we can see the mixture of tall buildings, hotels, restaurants and tourist places that dominate the blocks around Union Square.

Ellis Street near Union Square

The street is an exercise in contrasts. As we move just a couple of blocks westward, the cityscape gives way to older ornate buildings house boutique hotels, lounges, dive bars, massage parlors, youth hostels, and apartments of long time residents trying to hold on in a changing and increasingly unaffordable city.

Ellis Street sign

Heading into the heart of the Tenderloin (“TL”) we cross Taylor Street, which we wrote about this summer. The neighborhood has its reputation for being sketchy and having among the last concentrated pockets of poverty in the city, but the diverse neighborhood contains beautiful architecture and a wide range of people and interests.

Ellis Street, TL

Friends live here. There are cultural institutions here, such as the “509 Annex” of the Luggage Store Gallery where the regular Outsound New Music Series was temporarily hosted (it is now back at the main LSG building on Market Street). A couple of blocks south is the new home of Counterpulse, an experimental performance arts organization. Glide Memorial Church is a veritable institution at the corner of Ellis and Taylor that serves many in the neighborhood and beyond.

The social and architectural landscape again changes dramatically as we approach Van Ness Avenue, one of the main north-south boulevards in the city. It is lined with both tall (and expensive) apartment buildings as well as quite a few car dealerships.

Ellis and Van Ness

Heading west from Van Ness on Ellis we continue up an incline to Cathedral Hill. Not surprisingly, there is a cathedral here: specifically St. Mary’s, a beautiful gem of modernist architecture. They also have a huge modern pipe organ and I have heard several concerts there.

St Mary's Cathedral

Several of the apartment buildings in these blocks are quite tall, and remind me more of 1960s/1970s New York City apartments than those typically associated with San Francisco. I particularly like this cylindrical building.

Apartment building on Cathedral Hill

Continuing westward, we enter a more low-rise residential neighborhood, and the first of a few continuity gaps in Ellis Street. It stops at block of schools anchored by Rosa Parks Elementary School before picking up again a block later.

Dead end at Rosa Parks Elementary School

This section of the street has quite a few gaps, actually, some of which are probably from the redevelopment of the Fillmore District. Indeed, Ellis is mostly pedestrian walkways at its intersection with Fillmore in the middle of the “Jazz Heritage District”. A block south is the building Fillmore Heritage Center that housed the ill-fated San Francisco branch of Yoshi’s.

Fillmore

It still has a restaurant and concert venue under various managements, as well as the larger-than-life photos on its facade.

When Ellis Street resumes two blocks to the west, it is a smaller, treelined residential street with pretty two-story residences of the classic San Francisco style.

Ellis Street residential block

The next large crossing is Divisadero. I have never quite figured out exactly what it is that Divisadero is dividing.

Ellis and Divisadero

In recent years Divisadero has been a destination street in itself. I have done a bit of photography here a few blocks south, and had one of my photos from that set displayed in a show at Rare Device.

Just past the intersection is the final uphill block that I had been able to see from the office window.

Final block of Ellis Street

It is the steepest block of the street, and the houses reflect that. This is a rather archetypical San Francisco street scape.

Iconic San Francisco residential block

Ellis Street ends at the top of the rise at an unassuming intersection with St Joseph’s Street.

Terminus of Ellis Street

St Joseph’s is one of several streets here that is confined to the small hill neighborhood of Anza Vista. Over a century ago, this area was a large cemetery. All the plots have long since been moved to Colma, and it is now a fancy hilltop neighborhood whose apartment buildings and houses look more like the Berkeley hills or Daly City than the traditional parts of San Francisco.

Anza Vista

The architectural dissonance is not surprising as Anza Vista was developed after World War II.

The walk was quite a nice one, not too long or strenuous and it was a lovely warm autumn day. But I was ready for a break, and caught a 38 Geary Express MUNI back downtown and plotted future walking adventures for the city.

Taylor Street, San Francisco

My exploration of the city includes walking some longer streets in their entirety. A couple of years ago I posted a report from my epic walk of 17th Street from east to west. Today we look at my walk of Taylor Street from south to north through the city.

Taylor Street

In the map, Taylor Street is a deceptively straight road heading from Market Street downtown to Fisherman’s Wharf. But as with many of the older streets in San Francisco, the simplicity of the straight line belies the complexity of the terrain it follows and diversity of neighborhoods, people and architecture along the way.

Taylor and Market

Taylor Street begins at a five-way intersection with Market Street that also includes Golden Gate Avenue and 6th Street. The Luggage Store Gallery is close to the intersection, as was the temporary space for the Outsound series where Pitta of the Mind performed in February. It also one of grittiest and grungiest sections of the city. It has cleaned up significantly even since the time I moved here almost eight years ago. And while some of that is welcome, I do worry that the area is ripe to be turned into something more bland and vapid, akin to the newer Mission Bay developments, even if some of the building facades are preserved. That would be a tragedy. Walking up the first few blocks of Taylor into the Tenderloin district, one sees a cross section of grit and grunge and stylish old buildings, and a wide range of people that make up the life of a city.

Taylor Street in the Tenderloin

There are many alleys and side streets throughout this part of the city. Here we see Adelaide Street, which was renamed for Isadora Duncan, the pioneer of modern dance. Her family lived in a house nearby on Taylor street.

Isadora Duncan Lane

As we approach Nob Hill, the street takes a steep turn upward. The roadway narrows, parking becomes perpendicular, and the sidewalks have embedded staircases on this block.

Ascending Nob Hill

The architecture and character of the neighborhood is changing as well. We are entering one of the older affluent neighborhoods of the city. There are many of the classic bay-windowed buildings that continue up from the base of the hill, but also some larger mid-century apartments as well.

At the crest of the hill, Taylor Street crosses California Street with its cable car lines.

Taylor and California

On one corner is Grace Cathedral, while on the other side are this large classic 1960s-style apartment buildings that remind me of New York. The park across from the cathedral is very stylized and manicured, more a turn-of-the-20th-century garden than a contemporary urban park. If I want some exercise and nice outdoor spot for lunch, I should come up here.

Continuing north, he street veers downward, but then after a dip it turns upward again as it ascends the even steeper Russian Hill.

Down Nob Hill up Russian Hill

As we ascend the hill, we pass over the Broadway Tunnel, which carries the main Broadway as a limited access road underneath the hill to Van Ness Avenue. A side street continues up the hill to meet Taylor on top of the tunnel, providing spectral views of North Beach, Chinatown and the Financial District.

Above the Broadway Tunnel

Readers may recognize this view from the more stylized version in a recent Wordless Wednesday photo.

Up the steep hill, one sees more of the modern tall apartment buildings. Again these remind me of some of the apartments on the steep hillsides in the Riverdale section of the Bronx.

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As we descend the north side of the hill into North Beach, the buildings become more of the classic San Francisco style, but a bit more pitched and in brighter colors than they were further south.

Descending Russian Hill

Along this incline, I discovered another interesting alley.

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The sign marking Redfield Alley is one of the older embossed models that one rarely sees any longer. It uses similar type and the same color scheme as the contemporary signs, so it is probably from the 1950s or 1960s. The alley itself narrow opening to a green space. It feels more like a European city than the typical American city, but of course San Francisco is not typical of cities in this country.

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At the base of the hill, Taylor crosses Columbus Avenue. The Powell and Mason cable car line turns onto Taylor, ending at cul-de-sac about a block away.

Taylor end of cable car line.

But this is not the end of Taylor Street. It’s just an interruption for the terminus of the cable-car line (why that line ends so abruptly is a story for another time). The street actually resumes, now in Fisherman’s Wharf. It is flat here, lined entirely with chintzy shops and choked with tourists. I see a couple of office buildings around here, and find myself curious what it would be like to have a normal office job in the middle of such a neighborhood.

Taylor Street continues across the large sprawling plaza at the north end of Fisherman’s Wharf, amidst the crowds of meandering tourists, and finally ends at an intersection with the Embarcedero along the waterfront.

North terminus of Taylor Street

I’m rarely ever up here, so it’s a bit of a novelty. But the disorganized slow-moving crowds of people are not very comforting, so I catch a vehicle back home. It certainly an interesting walk to see all the changes in space and time along this street. And there will be more such excursions to talk about.

Wordless Wednesday: Tenderloin Test Pattern

ArtPadSF, Phoenix Hotel, Tenderloin, SF

I encourage WW friends who love photography to check out my review of Garry Winogrand at SFMOMA. As always, info about this week’s photo is in the comments.



#OccupySF march on April 1

It’s been a little while since I participated in an OccupySF event, a combination of my activities, their activities and the weather. But as we enter spring, many groups around the country are stepping up again. In San Francisco, OccupySF staged a march on April 1 with the goal of establishing a stable home in an empty building, an idea that many referred to as the “SF Commune.” Taking over an empty or abandoned building is not new for Occupy movements. Indeed, Occupy Oakland had staged a large demonstration earlier this year in which they were “planning to take over an abandoned building” whose location was being kept secret until the time of the event. It turned out to be the Kaiser Convention Center, the most well-known abandoned building in the city, and of course the attempt to “occupy” it was unsuccessful. I assumed that the building that would be the destination of the April 1 march would be a bit more obscure.

The event began in Union Square, a major commercial center in San Francisco with upscale retail and hotels. I found members of OccupySF sparsely gathered around the square, with a small concentration up near the stage having a party of sorts. I was particularly happy to see the Brass Liberation Orchestra present.


[This is my one and only Hipstamatic picture from the event.]

By coincidence, there was another demonstration happening on Union Square at the same time in support of the opposition in Syria. A sizable group of people were gathered in one corner of the square underneath multiple Syrian opposition flags. Unlike the current Syrian flag, which has two stars, the opposition flags have three stars, and a different color scheme, and are modeled after the flag of the Syrian Republic of the 1930s.

The march itself was quite delayed, as we were waiting were a bus of people from Occupy Oakland to join us and they were stuck in traffic. Why they chose to drive over the Bay Bridge in a bus on a Sunday afternoon instead of taking BART escapes me – everyone here knows the bridge is quite congested at this time. But they did eventually make it, and announcements went out informing us that we were going to be marching to “Occupy SF’s new home.” There were calls to be respectful of the building while making it our own. I was of course quite curious where this building would be and what it would be like. Would it be a modern but vacant office building, or would it be one of the dilapidated apartment buildings in the central Tenderloin district, where the march was initially headed?

And then the march finally began. We streamed out of Union Square, with the Brass Liberation Orchestra launching into that same funky bass rhythm I remembered from the big events last October. It was reminiscent of classic disco bass lines. You can hear a bit of it in this video of our exodus from Union Square, though it is a bit of a challenge to separate from the general din.

We continued the march westward along Geary Street, with the older buildings of the central downtown district to either side of us. (Reports referred to this as Geary Boulevard, which is a common mistake. Geary Boulevard is west of Van Ness Avenue. Here it is still Geary Street.)

This is the major theater district of San Francisco, between Geary and Market. It is also on the upper edge of The Tenderloin, a neighborhood rich in history and culture with bars and clubs, but also a notoriously blighted area with dilapidated apartment buildings and SRO hotels. The city keeps trying to bring businesses here, particularly along “Mid-Market”, with the most recent effort involving Twitter. But there are still lots of abandoned or vacant buildings here, and I had assumed this is where we would end up. But the march continued onward, passing Leavenworth Street and a block where I did some of my most artistic photographs, including one that used a bright red MUNI shelter that we passed.

We came the large intersection of Geary and Van Ness Avenue and then headed south down Van Ness. I was a little unsure at this point where we were going to end up. I thought maybe we would be turning back into the “TL”, but instead we turned westward onto Turk Street. We came to a stop at the corner of Turk and Gough. This is at the edge of the historic Western Addition neighborhood, but also abutting the spreading upscale areas of Nob Hill to the north and Hayes Valley to the south. I wasn’t expecting this location, but here we were, in front of an unassuming low-rise building that looked like a school or public office built in the 1960s.

In the sense that it was a nondescript commercial building, it did fit the profile of an ideal location. The only distinguishing element was the number “888”. This was #888Turk, the new home of OccupySF. Protesters quickly entered into the building, with loud music blaring from the Occupy Oakland bus parked in front on Turk Street.

Soon protesters reached the roof and unfurled banners to cheers on the street and from within the building.

I It turns out that the building, although vacant, is owned by the Archdiocese of San Francisco (i.e., owned by the Catholic church), which explained the rather Christian-sounding banner that some protesters unfurled after taking over the building. It is claimed that this building has been vacant for five years, though the Archdiocese claims it was only vacant for 18 months after housing a school.

I departed sometime in the early evening. But the occupation of 888 Turk continued overnight and into the next morning, but during the day on Monday the building was raided by the police, with about 75 people arrested and then later released. You can read an account (with illustrations) in this article by Susie Cagle at Truthouth. It is hard to say whether this is a success or not But it is one of the more dramatic events to occur so far this spring, and it has been picked up in the press and by other groups around the country. So perhaps it will come to something.