The jetlag (there’s an 8-hour time difference between London and San Francisco) has interfered with my ability to experience San Francisco fully. The locavore restaurants and multicolor neighborhoods on hills are tantalizingly close, and yet I am too drowsy to see them most of the time. I have been staying at a little hotel just off Market Street in downtown San Francisco called Bijou. I love the building and the black & white posters of old movies and Art Deco cinemas in the halls. Supposedly they have showings every evening of classic films but I keep passing out before they begin.
Monday morning, after struggling with a faulty internet connection during several long and boring hours before daybreak, I decided to brave the city and went out for my first run in months. It was brisk, and I had forgotten to bring a sweater on this trip – never mind, I was determined to get out of my hotel room. I jogged up Market St, nobody out but a few homeless people, all the stores still shut. As I ran past, a hobo called out to me to “get a tan!”
In the financial district I was struck by a particularly beautiful curved Classical Revival skyscraper called the Hobart Building, completed in 1914. One of the sides was exposed after the neighboring building was torn down, making it all the more striking.
I ran to the Ferry Building at Embarcadero and then along the waterfront for a little while. Unfortunately all the shops in the Ferry Building (except for the bakery) were closed because it was 6:30am. The view across the Bay in the early morning light was stunning – I wish I could have photographed it.
The Ferry Building is another interesting piece of architecture. It was built in 1889 as a ferry terminal, but when the Bay Bridge and Golden Gate Bridge were completed in the 1930s, it began a long process of abandonment and decay. It survived the two major earthquakes of 1906 and 1989 nearly unscathed, but not the hysteria of postwar city planners. In the 1950s, The Embarcadero Freeway, a two-tiered elevated highway, was built along the waterfront, cutting off the Ferry Building from the rest of the City. However, the freeway was heavily damaged during the 1989 Loma Prieta quake, and many seized this opportunity to advocate for tearing it down entirely. After some heming and hawing, the city decided to demolish it, and to everyone’s surprise, the traffic congestion everyone had feared never materialized. It’s a myth that highways mitigate traffic congestion. There is now a plaza, a restored trolley line, and a boulevard where the freeway once stood.
The freeway to boulevard transition triggered a series of other investments that revitalized the waterfront, including the restoration of the Ferry Building and its conversion to a market in 2003. The area surrounding the building hosts San Francisco’s main farmer’s market, the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market. Not surprisingly, following all these changes, real estate in adjacent areas has boomed. The moral of this story is that highways cause urban decay whereas boulevards, markets, and historic preservation are vectors for urban regeneration.
I finally got back to my hotel around 7am, a cup of Peet’s Coffee in hand, and enjoyed some toaster waffles with faple syrup (we don’t have those in Britain). I then spent the next two days limping and vowed never to run again…