The Art and Architecture of San Francisco has moved to This blog will go back to its original intent, travels of La Principessa

El Camino Real, California November 30, 2011

California Missions
The El Camino Real

Tomes have been written about the history of the Spanish and the Missions of California.  It was a difficult period in the history of California, fraught with inhumanity, as well as, expansion and progress.

Much of California's history began with the Spanish Missions. The chain of 21 missions along California's El Camino Real ("The Royal Highway") represent the first arrival of non-Native Americans to California. Life for the California Native Americans was forever changed. In addition to Christianity and disease, the missions brought livestock, fruits, flowers, grains and industry. If you are interested I suggest you simply hop over to your library and begin your research.  If you visit California, and have the opportunity, please take the time to visit a mission or two.  They are beautiful structures and will give you a wonderful sense of how California began.

Every one of the California missions tells a story, all have been, to some extent, restored and are open to the public.

When I was growing up these bells were all along Highway 101 - the El Camino Real.  El Camino Real refers to the 600-mile California Mission Trail, connecting the former Alta California's 21 missions (along with a number of support sites), 4 presidios, and several pueblos, stretching from Mission San Diego de Alcalá in San Diego in the south to Mission San Francisco Solano in Sonoma in the north.

In 1892, Anna Pitcher of Pasadena initiated an effort to preserve the as-yet uncommemorated route of Alta California’s Camino Real, an effort adopted by the California Federation of Women's Clubs in 1902.  Modern El Camino Real was one of the first state highways in California. Given the lack of standardized road signs at the time, it was decided to place distinctive bells along the route, hung on supports in the form of a high shepherd's crook, also described as "a Franciscan walking stick." The first of 450 bells were unveiled on August 15, 1906 at the Plaza Church in the Pueblo near Olvera Street in Los Angeles.

The original organization which installed the bells fragmented, and the Automobile Club of Southern California and associated groups cared for the bells from the mid-1920s through 1931. The State took over bell maintenance in 1933. Most of the bells eventually disappeared due to vandalism, theft or simple loss due to the relocation or rerouting of highways and roads. After a reduction in the number of bells to around 80, the State began replacing them, at first with concrete, and later with iron. An El Camino Real restoration program resulted in the installation of 555 El Camino Real Bell Markers in 2005. The replacement and original bells were produced by the California Bell Company, and are dated 1769 to 1906.

The chapel of Mission Nuestra Señora de la Soledad, founded in 1791, was lost in a flood some thirty years later.  The mission, as it stands today is a recreation, begun in 1954 with funds from local supporters, it is still self supporting.

Mission San Juan Bautista was founded in 1797.  Mission San Juan Bautista is the largest of the Spanish missions in California. The mission was used in the 1958 Hitchcock film Vertigo, but the bell-wall was treated as a "bell tower" staircase, and constructed on a studio lot.

San Juan Bautista has suffered often from earthquakes, but has never been completely demolished.

Coalinga, California November 29, 2011

Central Valley

If you have ever driven Highway 5 down the center of California you have undoubtedly stopped at Harris Ranch,  a half-way point between the metropolitan areas of northern and southern California.  Just on the other side of the highway is the town of Coalinga.

In the early years of railroading, before the extensive development of oil production in California, the steam locomotives were powered by the burning of coal obtained from the northern foothills of Mount Diablo. The Southern Pacific Transportation Company established the site as a coaling station in 1888, and it was called simply Coaling Station A.

While there isn't much to the town for tourists, there is one absolutely fabulous local museum.  The R.C. Baker Museum is the home to this perfectly restored Richmond Oil Gas Station.  You do not have to enter the museum, though worth it, to view the gas station.  It is behind a big fence however, so if you want a tour, stop by the museum itself and ask to take a look.

I am sharing today on Tuesday's around the World

San Joaquin Valley, November 28, 2011

Central Valley

I spent my Thanksgiving holiday driving the back roads of the San Joaquin portion of the Central Valley of California.  For those unfamiliar with the area it is a large, flat valley that dominates the central portion of California. It is home to California's most productive agricultural efforts. The valley stretches approximately 450 miles from northwest to southeast inland and parallel to the Pacific Ocean coast. Its northern half is referred to as the Sacramento Valley, and its southern half as the San Joaquin Valley. The Central Valley covers an area of approximately 22,500 square miles, making it slightly smaller than the state of West Virginia.

I have lived in and around the valley most of my life and yet I learned some amazing new things.  First, California grows more cotton via yield than the state of Texas, and often the rest of the world.

California has long been one of the nation's most important oil-producing states, and the San Joaquin Valley has long since eclipsed the Los Angeles Basin as the state's primary oil production region.

The San Joaquin Valley has—by California standards—an unusually large number of European ethnicities. These communities are often quite large and, relative to Americans immigration patterns, quite eclectic: for example, there are more Azorean Portuguese in the San Joaquin Valley than in the Azores. There is also large populations of Dutch, Swedish, Armenians and Basque.
An absolutely fabulous restaurant in the town of Los Banos

There are miles and miles of nothing but agriculture, nut trees and fruit trees abound.

Yes of course there are grapes everywhere too, not just in the Napa and Sonoma Valleys of California.

Broccoli Harvest

And the most surprising to me, miles and miles of cactus. This is what the department of agriculture had to say - Cactus is a crop that sounds just about ideal for the Western U.S. First, it doesn’t use a lot of water. Second, it appeals to Hispanic consumers, one of the fastest growing population segments in the U.S. Third, it tolerates selenium, an antioxidant so desirable to another fast-growing consumer segment, baby boomers, that they purchase it in pill form. All that, and this particular variety, Indian fig Opuntia, commonly known as prickly pear cactus, doesn’t even possess those painful spines. 

Prickly Pear, and its myriad of uses is found throughout the world, if you are interested in how other countries consume it here is the wikipedia link.

Potrero Hill, San Francisco, November 27, 2011

Potrero Hill
17th and Florida

Muybridge Live
Benjy Young

The photos of these umbrellas have been on my computer for quite a while.  I did not want to post them until I knew who the artist was, and that task proved elusive.  However, today was one of those days that make it all worth while.  I went back to the umbrellas, as you will be able to tell by the varying sky and took a few more shots.  I also took the time to start knocking on doors and asking who was the creator of this whimsical, wonderful installation.  Well, after a fashion, out walked the most dashing gentlemen to claim them.  His name is Benji Young, and we had a wonderful chat.

Benjy was inspired by Eadweard Muybridge.  The title, Muybridge Live, represents the concept that this is one umbrella caught on film.  The staves in-between each umbrella represent the division between each frame of film.   The sculpture intends to refer back to the medium of photographs, and what photographer doesn't love the concept of referring media back to photography?

For those not familiar with Muybridge's work he was an English photographer who spent much of his life in the United States. He is known for his pioneering work on animal locomotion which used multiple cameras to capture motion, and his zoopraxiscope, a device for projecting motion pictures that pre-dated the flexible perforated film strip.  He began to build his reputation in 1867 with photos of Yosemite and San Francisco.  Muybridges' history in California was sealed thanks to Leland Stanford with his horse in motion studies.  If you are interested in reading more about this link you can find it here.

Chinatown, San Francisco - November 26, 2011

740 Washington Street

100 Children by Leland Wong

This mural is part of the Art in Storefronts project sponsored by the San Francisco Arts Commission.  Leland Wongs  Bai Zi Tu, or 100 children is a traditional Chinese painting, that brings blessing of a complete and healthy family that goes on for generations.

Leland, a native of Chinatown, began with what he called "Chinatown" orange, and then photographed 100 children from two schools in the Chinatown neighborhood.

The arts commission gives each artist $500, Leland knew this was going to cost considerably more, so he left his comfort zone and went fundraising.  This panel lists all the generous donors, but what struck me as so fun and fanciful is the small block at the bottom, it reads ...and the many unnamed people who threw donations into the white plastic bag being passed around by Don Huey at the WGUISFCT dinner.

The building was the Nam Yuen restaurant, the building was owned by the restaurateurs,  and when they left the business they let the building (last seen in this Dirty Harry clip) sit empty for twenty years.  While there is considerable litter, and some tagging,  the present situation is a great improvement to what was there for so many years.

The building has since been bought by Self Help For the Elderly.  

Chinatown, San Francisco - November 25, 2011

Portsmouth Square
Tot Park

In researching the artists I found this 2002 article in the San Francisco Chronicle by M. V. Wood.  I loved it so much I thought I would just reproduce it here for all to enjoy.

They were hip.
They were young and beautiful. And they were both artists living in San Francisco in the 1940s, when the city was already romantic, and the cars and tourists were still scarce. Their crowd ruled the scene long before the Beats bought their bongos. They were the countercultural kings when Jerry Garcia was a toddler playing somewhere along the city's streets.
Years later, Robert McChesney would become recognized as one of the leading figures of American Modernism. His works would be in numerous museum collections such as the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. And Mary Fuller would become a well-known sculptor and writer, awarded public art commissions throughout the Bay Area.
But back then, McChesney was an emerging, hotshot artist, and Fuller was a successful potter. They kept bumping into each other in artsy North Beach. Finally, during a gallery exhibition of his work, McChesney drew Fuller into a closet and kissed her.
Since that kiss, more than a half-century ago, the Beats had come and gone. Garcia grew up and died. The Berlin Wall went up and came down. So did the World Trade Center. And through it all, McChesney and Fuller continued creating art.
On Saturday, the couple, who moved to the North Bay in the mid-1950s, will return to their old stomping grounds in San Francisco for the opening of the Art Exchange Gallery's show of his paintings and her sculptures.
A lot has changed in the world and in the city since they were young, McChesney says. "And all of that goes into the art," he adds. "Everything about life influences your art."
While 89-year-old McChesney tells the story of their early years and that first kiss, Fuller, 79, smiles. Her husband gives her a sly grin and sidelong glance, probably much like the look he gave her in that closet long ago.
Older couples who give each other that look tend to elicit a characteristic response from younger people: to cock one's head to the side and whisper, "Oh, aren't they cute?" It's the same kind of endearment bestowed upon puppies and other sweet, benign creatures.

McChesney and Fuller do not elicit that sort of behavior. They're still too wild, too passionate, too fierce to be cute.

They're still hip.

Robert died in 2008 at 95 years of age.

The sculpture, done n 1984, is cast cement.  It represents the symbols of the Chinese Zodiac.

Japantown, San Francisco November 24, 2011


These are two of my most favorite fountains in San Francisco.  They are by Ruth Asawa and they reside in the Nihomachi Pedestrian Mall in Japantown.

Nihomachi is a term used to designate an historical Japanese community.  Ruth Asawa has been in the blog before, and her website shows the wonderful work she does with wire and other media.

In 1974, Asawa created the Origami Fountains, two lotus, fabricated in corten steel. By 1996, the steel had seriously deteriorated and the fountains had to be removed.   Due to the communities love for Ruth, it was easy to mount support to have the fountains replaced.  They were recast in bronze. Ruth was on hand for the entire process and helped to oversee the process of making molds from the original fountains as well as the fabrication and installation of the new fountains.

I am sharing this Thanksgiving on And then she snapped.

The Embarcadero, San Francisco, November 23, 2011

The Embarcadero
Rincon Annex
98 Howard Street

Panel #17

Panel #17. "Vigilante Justice Vigilance committees formed during the 1850’s in San Francisco to counteract excessive criminality and a weak city government. These committees handed down verdicts on their own terms. Vigilante justice was also popular in mining towns. This panel depicts vigilante actions in 1856 that resulted from the murder of newspaper editor James King of William by county supervisor James P. Casey. Casey was convicted and hanged at the same moment King of William was being buried"

Panel #20
Panel #20. "San Francisco as a cultural center The famous San Franciscans pictured in this panel are, from left to right, acress Lotta Crabtree, writer Frank Norris, horticulturist Luther Burbank, writers Robert Louis Stevenson, Merk Train, Bret Harte, publisher and writer Hubert Howe and writer Jack London. On the far-right is a scene of ghost-like WPA artists painting a mural, a commentary on the federal art programs which had ceased to exist earlier in the 1940’s. The broadside pictured in the upper center relates to the 1863 racy melodrama, Mazeppa, a play in which actress Adah Issacs Menkin appeared seemingly nude (actually in flesh-colored tights) while on horseback. "

According to Rob Spoor "Cultural Life in San Francisco" originally showed books by controversial authors; they were painted out. Even Lotta Crabtree's pink outfit was considered too risquÈ for 1950s San Francisco (but remained unaltered). 

Panel #25
Panel #25. "Building the Golden Gate Bridge. Construction of the Golden Gate Bridge was begun in 1933 and completed in 1937. At that time, the 4,200 foot span was the longest in the world. The towers are 746 feet high, ship clearance underneath the roadway is 220 feet. The chief engineer, Joseph Strauss designed and built over 400 bridges during his lifetime. The Golden Gate Bridge is considered his masterpiece."

Panel #27 World War II

Oddly, there is not explanation plaque for this particular mural.

This is the third in a series of posts about the murals, if you would like to read about the artist you can go to the first post here.

All the descriptions following the murals on this post can be found on plaques near the murals.

PLEASE, click on each picture individually.  They really are spectacular, and they aren't done justice unless you look at them closely.

The Embarcadero, San Francisco, November 22, 2011

The Embarcadero

Aurora by Ruth Asawa

Ruth Asawa is an American artist, who is nationally recognized for her wire sculpture.

Ruth, at the age of 16, along with her family, was interned in Rohwer camp in Rohwer, Arkansas at a time when it was feared the people of Japanese descent on the West Coast would commit acts of sabotage.  It was the first step on a journey into the art world for Ruth.   In 1994, when she was 68 years old, she said of the experience: "I hold no hostilities for what happened; I blame no one. Sometimes good comes through adversity. I would not be who I am today had it not been for the Internment, and I like who I am."

I am sharing on Communal Global

The Embarcadero, San Francisco, November 21, 2011

The Embaradero
Rincon Annex
98 Howard Street

Panel #10
Panel #10. "Raising the Bear Flag The Bear Flag revolt established the Republic of California, one month before the United States won the territory in the Mexican War. John Charles Fremont was a prime force in instigating the revolt and William B. Ide became president of the short- lived republic. The original Bear Flag, designed by William C. Todd, flew over Sonoma for a brief time. The piece of white cloth seen lying on the ground was originally the Mexican flag. Because some people thought this was disrespectful Refregier painted it out. Its colors are still visible beneath the white overpaint." 

According to Rob Spoor,  the Mexican ambassador protested the Mexican flag lying on the ground.  The flag was "whitewashed" by the painter, although close examination reveals the original flag's red and green stripes peeking through the attempted cover-up.

Panel #11

Panel #11. "Finding Gold at Sutter’s Mill.  Sutter’s mill was a sawmill on the property of John Augustus Sutter. Located on a fork of the American River, the enterprise was financed by Sutter and constructed under the supervision of his partner in the venture, James Marshall. Marshall discovered gold at Sutter’s mill on January 24, 1848 and began the California Gold Rush. The nugget Marshall found is known as the Wimmer Nugget named after Marshall’s assistant, Peter L.Wimmer"

Panel #22  

Panel #22 " Reconstruction after the fire Immediately after the quake, the national guard and army troops under the command of General Frederick Funstton helped San Francisco police and firemen maintain order in the city. In addition, the soldiers prevented looting, helped with temporary housing, food distribution, communications and sanitation. Soup kitchens and tent cities in the local parks were the first signs of reconstruction. Clearing the rubble and rebuilding the city took years."

All these descriptions can be found on plaques near the murals.

PLEASE, click on each picture individually.  They really are spectacular, and they aren't done justice unless you look at them closely.

I am sharing today on The Creative Exchange

The Embarcadero, San Francisco, November 20, 2011

The Embarcadero
Rincon Annex
98 Howard Street

Panel #3

The murals in the Rincon Annex Post Office, have lived a long and very controversial life.  In 1941 the WPA held a competition for the murals, it was won by Anton Refregier.  He began work immediately and kept at it until they were finished in 1948, with a two year break during the war.  He was paid $26,000 for the job, the largest job ever given by the WPA in the painting/sculpture arena.

The twenty-seven murals (29 panels) are actually casein-tempra (a process of painting in which pigments are mixed with casein, or egg, especially egg yolk, to produce a dull finish) on white gesso over plaster walls.

The murals underwent 92 changes while they were being painted, all results of special interest groups.  If you are interested in reading the controversy and politics involved in these changes, Rob Spoor  has done an amazing job in his education of City Guides.

Panel #3. "Sir Francis Drake – 1579 Sir Francis Drake, an English navigator and privateer, set sail from Plymouth (England) in 1577 on a voyage around the world. According to accounts of that voyage, Drake landed in a California harbor in June of 1579. He stayed for 36 days during which time he had good relations with the Indians, repaired his ship and claimed the land for Queen Elizabeth of England, naming it Nova Albion. The precise location of Drake’s landing is not known. Various theories suggest it may have been Bolinas Bay, Drake’s Bay, the Marin side of San Francisco Bay. Bodega Bay or Point Reyes."  Notice the blood at the end of the sword, depicting the Spanish as a bloodthirsty lot.

Panel #4

Panel #4 "Conquistadors discover the Pacific Baja California was discovered by Europeans in 1533 by a man named Fortún Jiménez of the Cortés expedition. By 1540, Ulloa, another member of that expedition had explored the Sea of Cortés. Also in that year Hernando de Alarcón had sailed up the Colorado River and in 1541 Francisco de Bolaños explored both sides of the Baja Pennisula. The first European to explore Alta California, the land above the Baja Pennisula, was Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo who sailed to the Santa Barbara Islands in 1543."

Panel #6

Panel #6. "Preaching and Farming at Mission Dolores The purpose of all California Missions was to Christianize the Indians. In addition to religion, the Indians learned farming, building, spinning and other basic skills. All instruction was given in Spanish."  According to Spoor  the Catholic Church protested the large belly of a friar depicted in a Mission Dolores mural while the Indians appeared gaunt. In response to these objections, Refregier performed “artistic liposuction”.

Panel #8

Panel #8 "Hardships on the Emmigrant Trail The Emigrant Trail was a term used to describe various overland routes to California in the 1840’s and 1850’s. The subject of this panel is the trail through Donner Pass in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California. Both Donner Summit and Donner Lake are named after the Geroge and Jacob Donner brothers of Illinois. Their party of 87 settlers were forced to spend the winter of 1846 along the shore of Donner Lake after being trapped by heavy early November snows. Only 47 group members survived."

Panel #24

Panel #24. Titled - "The Waterfront 1934.   This controversial panel depicts events surrounding the San Francisco dock strike of 1934. On the left a shakedown operator demands bribes in exchange for longshoremen jobs. The center shows labor organizer Harry Bridges addressing dockworkers. The right third refers to what is known as “Bloody Thursday, July 5, 1934, when employers battle strikers to open the docks. Two longshoremen died and many on both sides were injured."  

Again, according to Spoor, The VFW and even some labor organizations were incensed that labor organizer and alleged Communist Harry Bridges appeared to be rallying workers, including one with a VFW insignia on his hat, in the mural "Maritime and General Strike," and pointed out several inaccuracies in the three historical events depicted. The longshore workers union was especially sensitive to the association with 1930s-era Communism, from which they'd distanced themselves by the late 1940s. In response to their objections, Refregier painted out the VFW symbol.

From:  Anton Refregier: Renaissance Man of WPA
Of the 27 panels covering the walls of Rincon, the most widely reproduced (via silkscreen) is the scene “San Francisco ’34 Waterfront Strike,” which takes on the 82-day strike that crippled the shipping industry all along the West Coast. Workers were striking against low wages caused by corruption and graft, and before the outrage and rioting died down, three men were killed, out of the 31 who were shot by police and the dozens who were beaten and assaulted with gas.  Refregier did not paint violence or defeat in his mural, but instead focused on the solidarity of the union workers.

All these descriptions can be found on plaques near the murals.

PLEASE, click on each picture individually.  They really are spectacular, and they aren't done justice unless you look at them closely.

Today I am sharing on Sundays in my City