Thursday, July 30, 2009

The San Francisco Reality Tour

I’m sure every one on the planet is familiar with the book "Artistic Homes of California". It was published around 1887, but everyone must have heard of it, right? For those select few who have been living under a rock for the last 122 years this was a book published to showcase some of the finer homes built in No. California at the time. Most of these homes where located in the finer neighborhoods of San Francisco.

Hmmm, “neighborhoods” may not be the right term. Some of these homes belonged to the movers and shakers of California at the time. These men built their mansions on the highest hills, in the finest city on the west coast. The grandest of the grand were at the very top of Nob Hill on California Street in San Francisco. The streets leading up to California Street are some of the steepest in the city. The metaphor would not have been lost on even dimmest of citizens. They were the Kings of California, and were literally living on top of California. The location of their mansions drove that point home.

Alas, most of the homes in the book have not survived to present day. Many were lost in the fire that followed the 1906 earthquake. Even if the homes hadn’t succumbed to the fire then, it is doubtful many would be around today. The world is filled with stories of behemoth houses being leveled in the name of progress. And with a city like San Francisco that sits on a relatively small peninsula, land is far too valuable to keep many of these types of structures around for ever.

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The best thing about the book, though, is the fact that it gives the exact location of where these houses were. Some of the time you don’t get an address, but when a house takes up an entire city block all you need are cross streets. Even with the “lesser” homes, the book might list the location as “The N. W. Corner of Van Ness Av. And Clay St, S. F.”. Buildings may move and street addresses may change but the N. W. corner of two streets in a city like San Francisco won’t move a whole lot over the course of a 120 years.

So with that in mind, I spent a day walking around San Francisco finding the locations of the houses from 1887 and then photographing what is there now. It was a lot of fun. I am not a fan of most big cities, but I love San Francisco. In almost all cases the neighborhoods I was walking through are still the finest locations in the city. Even today, the smaller 4 and 5 thousand square foot homes in these neighborhoods are stunning structures built in the teens and twenties, with even better views of the bay, ocean, and city below. I mean, it doesn’t get any better.

At one point I was walking up Octavia street - and when I say “walking up”, I do mean WALKING UP Octavia Street. This must be the steepest street in the city. Anyway, I was heading for what was at one time the residence of Mr. James V. Coleman at the N. W. corner of Octavia and Washington. As I approached the top of the hill I saw two woman, a mother and daughter team from New Jersey, trying to peek through the side gate of the mansion across the street. This mansion takes up an entire city block at the top of the hill (Ka-ching!). This isn’t Nob Hill, but another spectacular location in the city, none the less.

The home is the 1913 Spreckles Mansion (sugar empire) that is now the home of Danielle Steel, the romance novelist. I don’t think anyone will be shocked to hear that I have never read a Danielle Steel novel. I thought it was funny that they were there to try and get glimpse of Danielle Steel and weren’t really paying any attention to the mansion itself. Naturally, I took it upon myself to educate them some. I had a copy of Artistic Homes of California and preceded to show them some of what used to be. I don’t think they thought I was crazy, but I could be wrong.

I wasn’t able to visit every lot pointed out by the book. There are a few from the book located in Oakland and San Jose, and some of the San Francisco homes were too far to walk to from where I was staying. I think I got about 80% of the book, though. Of the locations I visited, only three of the structures that were there in 1887 still remain. One, Mr. R. I. Bowie’s home, has been heavily modified, while the other 2 look almost as they did.

Anyway, without further ado, I give you The San Francisco Reality Tour.

Residence of J. C. Flood, N. W. corner of California and Mason St.
This was the first Brown Stone to be built west of the Mississippi. That is probably what saved it from either the great fire or the wrecking ball. This one takes up an entire city block and it sits between the Fairmont Hotel (1906) and The Grace Cathedral (1928). Note the cast bronze fence that surrounds the building. Also note the addition on the right. It doesn't seem like there is enough room for it in the original picture. If you compare the two pictures you can see that quite a bit has changed. It is now the home of The Pacific-Union Club, founded in 1889. I got my membership to the club in the last piece of Bazooka gum I bought.

Residence of Mr. Charles Crocker, California Street, bet. Taylor & Jones Sts.
This would have been next door to the Flood Mansion. After this one was lost in the 06 quake and fire Crocker donated the land for the construction of the Grace Cathedral. As for the original photo of the Crocker Mansion, all I can say is - Oofta!

Residences of Mr. Mark Hopkins (left) and Senator Leland Stanford (right)
Block bounded by Powell, Mason, California, and Pine Streets

Some how they managed to squeeze these two places on to one block. The Stanford place is 30,000 square feet. These two homes would have been kitty-corner from the Flood Mansion. In the modern picture you are looking at the back side of The Mark Hopkins Hotel. Note that the wall is still there, sans cresting. It really gives scale to the structures.

Residence of Mr. Robert Sherwood, 1123 California Street
This home would have been right across the street from the Crocker Mansion. As nice as it is, it almost seems a little out of place.

Residence of Mr. L. L. Baker, N. E. Cor. Washington and Franklin Sts
While the original structure is breath taking, the modern structure isn’t exactly an eye-sore. One thing I noticed in a lot of the replacement structures was the consistent use of stone, brick, terracotta, or stucco. It was said that at the time of the 1906 earthquake that San Francisco was the largest city in the country built mostly of wood that had never suffered a catastrophic fire. It was a fire waiting to happen.

Residence of Mr. M. H. de Young, 1919 California Street
Judging from the homes above we can say that it can get better, but judging from what replaced it I think we can also say that it can’t get any worse. Ugh!

Residence of Mr. R. H. Pease, Jr., N. W. Cor. Pacific Ave. and Pierce St.
Ok, so the new one is brick and it won’t burn down, but come on! This is by far the most pathetic home in the neighborhood. If you could see the views this place commands, and the homes around it, you would think there was a horrible mistake made. And as for the original house - ga!

Residence of Mr. Charles Josselyn, S. W. Cor. Gough and Sacramento Sts
Charles Josselyn, I hardly knew yee. Oh, what a loss.

Residence of Mr. James V. Coleman, N. W. cor. of Washington and Octavia Sts.
It is hard to tell what is going on in the modern picture. That is Octavia leading down very steeply to the right of the house. Across Octavia to the right is the Spreckles/Steel mansion. The concrete bunker looking thing with the orange square on it is a big garden box in the middle of Octavia. The wall that the kids are standing next to in the original photo is still mostly enact but you can’t see any of it in my photo.

Residence of Mr. Eugene Meyer, N. E. Cor. Pine and Gough Streets
Not a hint of it left. From the modern photo you see this type of architecture a lot in the city. It seems the architect was trying to get the sprit of the past, but he kind of missed the mark in my opinion. I would rather see a totally modern design than something like this.

Residence of Mr. R. I. Bowie, 2202 California Street
It is still there….sort of.

Residence of Mr. Charles M. Chase, N. W. Cor. California and Scott Sts.
Look familiar? This place is almost unchanged since 1887. The chimneys and the tower roof are missing, and they added a second entrance under the big bay. There must be a basement apartment now.

Residence of Mr. Edward W. Hopkins, 2100 California Street
This one must be wrong. The address is listed as 2100 California and the after picture is 2100 California, but the angle of the streets are all wrong. If it were on the corner kitty-corner from this the streets would be at the correct angle, but the address would need to be 2000 block and end in an odd number.

Residence of Mr. David N. Walter, N. E. Cor. Sacramento St. and Van Ness Avenue
Me, shaking fist at the screen, “Damn you Staples!!! I hold you corporate bastards personally responsible for the loss of this house even though you had nothing to do with it! Boycott Staples! Boycott Staples! Boycott Staples! Boycott Staples!

Residence of Mr. Henry L. Tatum, 2525 Pacific Ave. S. E. Cor. Pierce St.
2525 Pacific does not exist anymore. In the after shot that is 2585 Pacific and the house next door is 2523 Pacific, but 2585 is on the corner. Judging from the street angles, this is the place. If you’re ever in SF be sure to walk this stretch of Pacific from Pierce to Octavia. Oh, and start at the top of Octavia at Lafayette Park and not at the bottom of Octavia. Trust me on this one. The modern house, while very big and nice, is by far one of the more pedantic on the street. Bring your drool bucket.

Residence of Mr. William T. Coleman, S. W. Cor. Taylor and Washington Sts.
This is another one of those that doesn’t quite look right, but this is the spot. Regardless, the new structure is pretty damn awsome.

Residence of Mr. James B. Stetson, N. W. Cor. of Van Ness Avenue and Clay St.
Not much to say here except that I now hate Citi Bank even more. I wouldn’t have thought that possible. Also, note the surrounding structures in the 1887 photo. While this is a spectacular house, it doesn’t look like it was an island of Victorian excess. I ask you, can a mansard roof get any better? I think not.

Residence of Henry T. Scott, S. W. Cor. Clay and Laguna Streets
We’ll end on a high note. Both the original and the replacement are great homes. This is just around the corner from the James V. Coleman home. Both sit right on Lafayette Park and command great views. Also, not only is the entire neighborhood spectacular, but it seemed to be crawling with beautiful woman. As I waked around I was beginning to wonder if the tourist bureau hired out of work models to walk the streets just to improve the atmosphere. It was really amazing. If I won the lottery tomorrow this is the neighborhood in which I would start shopping for a home - and not just because of the woman.

Like I said, this was a lot of fun. The weather was perfect. By perfect, I mean almost identical to Eureka: Mid to low 60s with sunshine interrupted by the occasional fogbank. I enjoyed the cultural diversity and the hustle and the bustle of The City so much that I tried to shop for an apartment. As I walked around I noticed one or two places with rental signs on them. At the end of the day I took down a few numbers and called for prices from the hotel room. Only one person answered the phone and the conversation went like this:

{Ring, Ring}

Landlord: Hello

Me: Yes, I’m calling about the apartment for rent at 676 Geary (Geary is a main thoroughfare in The City. This section of Geary is at the bottom of Nob Hill, just off Union Square. Not ritzy, but adjacent to ritzy.)

Landlord: Where did you get this number?

Me: {I chuckle} I got it off a building. Uh, maybe I dialed the wrong number is this 409-16….

Landlord: {He cuts me off} Yes, this is the right number. What are you looking for?

Me: I’m not really sure. I like the location and the company that just hired me is giving me living expenses, so I’m not really limited {I have no idea what rents are going for, so I don’t want to appear limited. I just want a price and maybe be able to view an apartment.}

Landlord: Is it just you? Are you looking for a studio?

Me: Um, sure, a studio would be great. What does a studio run?

Landlord: I don’t have any studios in that building. Do you want a 1 bedroom?

Me: {I chuckle again} Ok, how much is a one bedroom in that building.

Landlord: There are no 1 bedrooms available either. What is your price range? What are you looking for?

Me: {I couldn’t keep from laughing, so I just hung up}

Maybe I won’t be moving to The Big City any time soon.

I wanted to try and get a better picture of the Hopkins Mansion. I found it odd that the photo from the book was taken from Pine street when all of the houses were on California St. Sure enough, that is the back side of the property.



Pretty damn impressive. Unfortunately, I also found out that Mr. Hopkins died a year before it was finished.

I found another interesting photo as well,

That is the Crocker mansion at the far end, and then the Huntington mansion. Next to the Huntington mansion would eventually be the Flood Mansion. Above, I said that Crocker was next door to Flood. When I was in The City last week I knew that Huntington Park was between the two. What I didn’t know was that Huntington Park was named so because it was the location of Huntington’s Mansion. I knew that Huntington was one of the Big Four in California railroad (Crocker, Huntington, Hopkins, and Stanford) so I should have put 2 & 2 together.

What is really interesting about that photo, though, is the big box looming behind Huntington’s mansion. According to the caption that came with the photo, Mr. Crocker tried to buy all of the parcels on the block for his mansion. A single hold-out, an undertaker named Mr. Yung, refused to sell. After Mr. Crocker built his house, he built a 40-foot high wall around 3 sides of Mr. Yung’s house. Eventually Mr. Yung died and Crocker bought the land and tore down the house and the wall. That is pretty hard-core.

Finally, below is a photo of the Flood mansion after the fire. The damage was a lot more extensive that I had thought. In the second shot you can see the Flood Mansion and the newly built Fairmont Hotel. They were pretty much the only things left standing on Nob Hill after the fire and both are still standing today.

Click Here to see some interior shots of the Hokins and Standford mansions.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Time Capsule

I rented the movie Knowing, staring Nicholas Cage, the other night. It was a good movie. Not a great movie, but a good movie. The plot centered around a letter written in 1959 that was filled with predictions. The letter was found in 2009 in an elementary school time-capsule that had been put in the ground when the school first opened in 1959.

It got me to thinking about doing my own time-capsule here in the house. I have one, small piece of trim in the dining room that still needs to be nailed on. It is the perfect place behind which to hide my predictions. I’ve put lots of things in the walls over the years, but mostly they have been contemporary items – newspapers, pictures, a 1980s porno collection that came with the house, and even a few blog entries. This time capsule will simply be a letter of predictions of how I think things will be 100 years from now.

So, here it goes: Home life in 2109 according to The Petch House.

1) Revolutionary advances in battery design will mean that most things that are plugged in in the house today won’t need to be. Essentially, things like TVs, phones, stereos, computers, and kitchen appliances will come with a battery that has enough power to outlast the practical use of the thing that it powers.

2) Electricity for the more permanent and power hungry items of the house - lights, refrigerators, stoves, and other large appliances will be transmitted over the air waves like radio and TV signals today. This will eliminate the costly repair and replacement of transmission lines and transformers. This is actually an old idea first developed by Nicolas Tesla around 1900. Electricity will be produced by microbes in centrally located facilities. Fossil fuels will be a novelty and solar power never really catches on.

3) Most houses will be built from an organic material that is grown in to new house parts. Think along the lines of a coral reef. This organic material would be grown inside of forms to take specific shapes of house parts. The growth would be based on photosynthesis. Perhaps some sort of algae. A mild electrical current will be applied to a synthetic skin that covers both the inside and outside of the structure to change the color. This process might be based on the cuttlefish.

4) All of the genetic markers for the major chronic diseases will have been identified. Cancer, diabetes, asthma, etc can be treated early on, and maybe even while still in the womb. Identifying and correcting these problems will become a routine part of childhood immunization process. Of course, there will still be no accounting for bad life-style choices.

5) The world will be largely vegetarian. There will be a series of pandemics that wipe out hundreds of millions of people. The source of these pandemics will be determined to be coming from high-density hog, poultry, and cattle operations. Because of the high-population growth of humans, land for raising animals for slaughter will become much more expensive and the operations will become much more condensed. This will be possible due to the advances in synthetic feed production and growth hormones. After the pandemics, laws will be passed limiting the number of animals that can be raised in a given space there by making it so expensive that meat will be reserved only for special occasions by most of the population.

6) Paper for most common uses will be in digital form. A book will look like a normal 500 page hard-back book today but it will have only about 75 digital pages in it. The chapters of a book will be loaded one at a time from storage in the spine of the book. Thousands of books can be stored in one device. Although they do make the flat panel digital books today, I don’t think the idea of “turning a page” will ever go out or style. Newspapers will be similar, only in a larger, thinner, and more flexible format. Newspaper sections will be purchased on an ala-carte basis. They can either be downloaded at home or purchased from kiosks on street corners. Holding something in your hand and reading it will never be completely replaced by a screen on a desk or wall.

7) The world will become more secular. War based on religious differences won’t end, though. The only differences is that the secular and non-believers who will have grown in great numbers will now be a participant in the mayhem. Some different religious groups, whose numbers have shrunk and are feeling more isolated will find common ground in their mistrust of the ever growing secular world. Things will get worse before they get better.

8) We will have discovered life on another planetary body within our own solar system. I’m not talking little green men or anything. I think that somewhere under the ice caps of Mars or maybe at the bottom of a pool of methane on one of the moons of Saturn or Jupiter there is life. I’m not talking sentient life, but definitely life of some form.

9) More things will be regulated like our local utilities are today. Certain things like transportation, housing, telecommunications, and health care will be deemed absolute necessities of life. These things will be run by the private sector, but they will be regulated so that services will remain affordable and uninterrupted, while at the same time allowing companies to show a profit. Gone will be the wild swings of boom and bust cycles while large sectors of the population do without. Most innovation will come from public and private universities, and other institutions supported by industry groups.

10) Flying cars. I’m not giving up on this. They’ve been promising us flying cars for the last 75 years, and damn it! I want a flying car. Since, as a tax payer, I am now a majority owner of GM, I'm going attend board meetings and start soliciting the government and get them to start developing the flying car right away. This is just the sort of thing that GM needs to put them back on top. While all of the others are working on hybrids, electric, or hydrogen cars, GM can literally fly past them all with the first flying car to go in to wide scale production. It is a no-brainer.

Of course, here is another view of the future that may come true…

FuturamaWeeknights, 9p/8c
Suicide Booth
Joke of the DayStand-Up ComedyFree Online Games

Any other ideas out there of what the future may hold?

Monday, July 06, 2009

One of Three

The first plaster medallion is up!

I wrote about it the other day. While the medallion is real plaster, it is a reproduction. I bought it several years ago at Ohmega Salvage in Berkeley. I recall that the guy who sold it to me said it was cast from a mold of an original, period medallion, but that could just be wishful remembering on my part. I’m not really sure if this is a new design or a period design. Either way I like it.

It has a fruit and vegetable motif, so it is a good fit for the dining room.

It came in 5 pieces and the idea is that once it is on the ceiling I will fill in the gaps with plaster and no one will be the wiser. So the first challenge was to get the center section up. There are 2 important issues here:

1) It can’t fall down once it is up.
2) Because it is square it must be aligned properly on the ceiling. The closest wall is less than 4-feet away and it would be noticeable if it was crooked in the room.

So after a few careful measurements I was able to put it on the ceiling. I whipped up a batch of runny plaster, which I would use as an adhesive. This is the way they did it back in the day. Back in the day, though, they had a fresh plaster ceiling and a fresh plaster medallion and some fresh plaster to stick the two together. My plaster ceiling is anything but fresh. I was going to need more.

The plaster would hold it in place, but was not a long term solution. The first thing was just to get it up there and make sure it is straight. I cut some half-inch wide strips of wood that were a little taller than the space between the scaffolding and the ceiling. This worked well to hold it up there while the plaster set. So I smeared fresh plaster on the back and stuck it on the ceiling. I held it with one hand while I maneuvered the sticks in to place.

Ultimately what is holding it in place is the original gas pipe that is still in the ceiling. In the diagram above, you can see the gas pipe running along the top of the ceiling joists. I screwed in a piece of pipe that would hang down a few inches from the ceiling. To that I attached a modern electrical box. I used the center knock-out of the box with a nut on both sides to hold it firm.

To this box a screwed on a modern 4-inch cross-bar. This is what a modern ceiling fixture would normally connect to. This is where the beauty of all of this comes in. Back in the 1890s when fixtures went from gas to electric, the original electric fixtures were little more than modified gas fixtures. This meant that all of the threads on the fittings used in electric fixtures were – and are – identical to gas pipe fittings. Even today you can mix and match like you want.

So I took another piece of gas pipe and screwed it in to the center hole of the 4-inch cross-bar on the box in the ceiling and fixed it with another nut. Now I could stick the medallion to the ceiling and the piece of pipe hung down a half-inch or so past the medallion. To this I mounted another, shallow electrical box with another 4-inch cross-bar. This is what the chandelier will be hung from.

So the chandelier is hanging from the original gas pipe and the ceiling and medallion are sandwiched in-between. Basically, the entire plaster ceiling could fail and fall to the floor during an earthquake, but the medallion and chandelier can withstand pretty much anything.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Island Adventure

I had the opportunity last night to spend The Forth on Indian Island. The island is roughly 240 acres of mostly uninhabited and undeveloped land in the middle of Humboldt Bay. A friend of mine owns one of 4 or 5 small lots on the island and held a Bar-B-Q out there to celebrate the birth of our nation. The island is really very beautiful.

Most of the islands sits barely above sea level and is little more than grass land. The small area with the houses is a densely wooded area of Wax Myrtle and what looks like some type of Bay tree. There are deer and a few people, but not much else. Even though The Samoa Bridge seems to stop on the island the only way to get to it is by boat because there are no roads.

The small red circle shows where we were on the island. The red box in the channel shows where the barge was set up for the fireworks display. I have never been closer to a fireworks display in my life. It was pretty spectacular. The green circle is Woodley Island and the green box is Eureka. The black box at the upper left is the Samoa Peninsula and beyond that, out of the picture, is the Pacific Ocean.

The island has a colorful and tragic past. The tragedy came in about 1870 when a group of about 70 Indians living on the island were massacred by the new locals from the main land. I guess that was the thing to do at the time. It is interesting how easy that sort of thing becomes once you dehumanize a group of people. Sadly, it still happens today all over the world.

At other times there were also 2 sawmills, a yacht club, some grand houses, and other activities. My friend who now owns the property gave me the long and very interesting story of the island, but the short version is that by the 1920s most of the fevered activity was over and the island settled into a long and relatively quite state for the next 80 years.

In about 1920 2 small house boats from San Francisco where beached on the island. Legend has it that house boats in SF were a popular retreat for the city-slickers but after the 1906 earthquake they became permanent housing for people who were left with nothing else. After a few decades – possibly around the time of the 1915 World’s Fair – the house boat community was asked to leave and two of them ended up on the part of the island that is now owned by my friend. He is in the process of restoring them.

It is all very interesting.

After dinner and before the fireworks a few of us took a long hike around the island. We followed the tree line on the north side. There are a lot of old remnants of old docks and other man-made devices that are slowly being reclaimed by the environment. The sky is dotted with Snowy Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Brown Pelicans, Sea Gulls, and a few other types of birds no one was sure of, and I actually saw one of the deer that live on the island. We stared at each other for a moment and then he bolted in to the woods.

There were these two square pools of nasty stagnant water with the remains of some sort of dock or fence in the middle. Gracie was bounding through the tall grass and found them unexpectedly when she suddenly disappeared off the horizon.

This is Gracie, wet and smelly seconds after extracting herself from the pool. We didn’t touch her much the rest of the night.

It was really a wonderful evening. There was cloud cover but the air was still and the clouds were high enough that they didn’t get in the way of the fireworks. We were minutes away from town but it felt like we were hours away. Oh, and as I said, the fireworks were spectacular at such close range. Unfortunately, my camera does not do them justice.