Saturday, September 3rd 2011San Francisco

So, here I am, my first full day in San Francisco. Today marks the end of the third week of being on the road to this, my self appointed destination.

This being the 4th visit here in 5 years I have to admit my point of view is changing a bit about these "Annual Pilgrimages". The anticipation, and feeling of excitement has diminished somewhat as I become more at home and more familiarized with The City. But, there is much here I have not seen or experienced and it will always be so. Now that I feel I have reset my roots here it is time to branch out. See more, do more, explore new neighborhoods. Or, just sit back, relax and drink in the now comfortable and familiar surroundings.

On previous visits the simple act of walking out the front door was an exciting event - charged with anticipation and promise. Everything which happened felt unique and memorable. I won't say "the thrill is gone" but it has lessened. That's OK. It was inevitable. And although I hoped it would not happen, I knew it would. Now, I am getting used to the idea. Now I can proceed at a more comfortable pace. Now I can stop and smell the Eucalyptus. Now I can dispense with that intense desire to see all and do all and thus drive my self to the point of exhaustion on a daily basis.

So, here we go, out the front door.

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San Fran is a city of trees and flowers. I love that. It is something that harkens back to when we first came here in 1968 as escapees from West Virginia.

For some reason this little flower always brings back memories of those days. The diminutive Alyssum looms large when I think of it growing in that makeshift little Japanese garden we made in the "alley" between the houses on Bush Street at the edge of what was then referred to as the Fillmore Ghetto.

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I don't think I could ever come back to San Fran with out paying homage to the site of what I refer to as my first "real job". That was in 1969 and I was 17 years old.

That place was Fillmore Glass and Hardware - just a few blocks from where we lived at 2381 Bush. With each revisiting of this place there have been changes and transformations. Now it is complete. Except for the double entry doors all trace of that which was Fillmore Glass and Hardware is gone. The end. (Sniff, sniff...)

But, I had another reason for returning to the old neighborhood. I was here to join a tour of the area entitled " Japantown, Urban Renewal and Fillmore Jazz". This is just one of many free tours sponsored by the San Francisco Public Library City Guides program.

The tour was to be led by veteran City Guide Don Langley. Don is a 40 year resident of the area and had been volunteering for the City Guide for 19 years. This was his 16th year of offering the "Japantown, Urban Renewal and Fillmore Jazz" tour.

Our group assembled at the base of the Peace Pagoda at Buchanan between Post and Geary.
This group turned out to be the largest Don had ever had - over 20 people.
With the depth and breadth of Don's knowledge you can imagine the amount of information he had to share. It was certainly more than I can remember or recount.

Japantown was built and settled as part of the Western Addition neighborhood in the 19th and early 20th century, Japanese immigrants began moving into the area following the 1906 Earthquake. (Before 1906, San Francisco had two Japantowns, one on the outskirts of Chinatown, the other in the South of Market area. After 1906, San Francisco's main Japantown was in the Western Addition, with a smaller one in the South Park area. By World War II, the neighborhood was one of the largest such enclaves of Japanese outside of Japan, as it took an appearance similar to the Ginza district in Tokyo.

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the neighborhood experienced kristallnacht type attacks on residences and businesses. In February 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 that forced all Japanese of birth or decent in the United States interned.

By 1943 many large sections of the neighborhood remained vacant due to the forced internment. The void was quickly filled by thousands of African Americans who had left the South to find wartime industrial jobs in California as part of the Great Migration. Following the war, some Japanese Americans returned, followed by new Japanese immigrants as well as investment from the Japanese Government and Japanese companies, many did not return to the neighborhood and instead settled in other parts of the city, or out to the suburbs altogether. This was further exacerbated by the city's efforts to rejuvenate the neighborhood initiated by Justin Herman in the Western Addition in the 1960s through the 1980s.

Source: WikiPedia

The "rejuvenation of the neighborhood" meant the almost complete destruction of it. Entire city blocks containing homes and businesses were razed leaving only empty sand lots. Only a few of the old Victorians were saved and a few were moved in after the fact from other locations.
This was urban renewal as it was then known.

One of the efforts at "rejuvenation" was the construction of the Japanese Cultural and Trade Center. This project was completed in 1968 - the same year the Breidings arrived. The Center was first on Don's tour route.

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Don took us into the trade center for a look around. Here Don explained the reason for these "Beckoning Cats" (behind him) in one the many shop windows. What he is pointing to is some kinda "lucky charm" as I recall. One blank eye is filled in with what the person wishes for and when he gets his wish, the other eye is filled. The details are hard to remember so I may not have it exactly right.

The Maneki Neko ( literally "Beckoning Cat"; also known as Welcoming Cat, Lucky Cat, Cat Swipe, Money cat, or Fortune Cat; sometimes incorrectly labeled Chinese Lucky Cat) is a common Japanese sculpture, often made of ceramic, which is believed to bring good luck to the owner.

The sculpture depicts a cat (traditionally a calico Japanese Bobtail) beckoning with an upright paw, and is usually displayed—many times at the entrance—in shops, restaurants, pachinko parlors, and other businesses. Some of the sculptures are electric or battery-powered and have a slow-moving paw beckoning. In the design of the sculptures, a raised left paw supposedly attracts money, while a raised right paw protects it.

Source: WikiPedia

The concept of the center was to try to create an authentic Japanese neighborhood. But this was done by westerners so the result was highly stylized and stereotypic.

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We then moved outside and crossed Post street to a section of Buchanan which had, after totally demolishing everything else, been rebuilt to look like a typical Japanese street. Don pointed out the fountain sculptures and the relief ends of the benches which were produced by artist Ruth Awawa.
This particular project involved school children using baker's clay for the relief.

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Then it was up to take a look at some of the few Victorians which were spared during the demolition. These homes were built in 1870s.

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I took this snap mainly to show the rather huge and bizarre looking Victorian across the street. What is that little window for?

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A few more of the spared Victorians. Don and his wife lived in a house like this but grew weary of the expensive and ongoing maintenance and moved to a condo in South Beach

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Ahh - those Eucalyptus trees. Although not native they are a very prominent part of the landscape of San Fran and the Central Coast.

The tour lasted over two hours and then we all dispersed. As I was riding the 22 Fillmore back down to the N Judah stop at Church Street I mulled over what Don had talked about.
It was then I realized that until today I had never understood the genesis of what we called the "Fillmore Ghetto" when we lived there in the late 1960s.

Here is the way I understood it. When all the residents of Japantown were moved into internment camps it left a huge void in the labor pool needed for all the jobs in the shipyards to build both transport and war ships. This void was filled by 10s of thousands of blacks from the south who moved into the area. When the war was over the jobs were gone. Now most of the blacks were without work. What followed was poverty and the eventual decline of the neighborhood called the Western Addition.

Then that area was razed also in the 1980s and now it has been transformed into some sort of idealized suburban landscape in the middle of the city. It is very strange looking and feeling to say the least.

When I got back to Ed's I walked up to check on the van then walked up to Grandview Park where, on my visit in 2010 I was treated to sweeping views of the city, Golden Gate Park and Mount Sutro. Not so today.

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Since my arrival the day before the fog had not lifted in this part of the city. But, after 3 weeks of continuous sunshine and heat on the trip out, it is a welcome change - for now.


Here is one of the views from Grandview I saw in 2010.

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What a difference in how things appeared. It was not only foggy but the wind was fierce!

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On the west side of the Park are the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps which I took some snaps of in 2009.

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I could not resist taking another series of shots since I now had very suffused light and not the bright sunshine of my previous visit.

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The steps are becoming a regular stop for some of the more exploration minded tourists.

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On a cool and foggy San Francisco day nothing takes the chill away like a steaming hot bowl of noodles and broth at Pho Phu Quoc, 1813 Irving street. It's just a few blocks down the hill from the steps.

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Mmm, Mmm - good!

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At the table next to me there were two ladies stripping basil leaves. They would not allow me to take a picture so I took this one on the sly.

After that huge bowl of tastiness I waddled the 10 blocks back to Ed's place.

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I saw this interesting door and gate on the way back and grabbed a snap. Another reason why I like walking around SF. There is always something to grab my attention and pique my interest and curiosity.

Tomorrow I will do more walking...