Friday, August 24, 2007

Excelsior To You, Young Man (part 2)

When you tell people you live in San Francisco, visions of cable cars, maximum security prisons surrounded by water, and burritos jump to mind. When you tell them you live in the Excelsior district, you can see the question marks form above their heads. The Ex is such a mystery it doesn't make any of the City maps sold to tourists. Friends who have lived in the city for over a decade don't even know where it is. It's home to McLaren Park, the second largest park in the City next to Golden Gate Park. Unfortunately McLaren Park is arguably better known as a prime location to dump unwanted vcrs and refrigerators than for its awesome ampitheater, soccer fields, playgrounds, golf course and the city's only fully sanctioned skate park. What follows is a series of posts extolling some of the Excelsior's hidden charms.

When it comes to San Francisco landmarks that reach for the sky, the Excelsior’s big blue water tower is never going to get the civic pulse racing like Coit Tower, The Transamerica Building or the yet to be built Transbay Terminal. Most citizens probably don’t know what the thing looks like or even where it’s perched. But its second or third tier status as a city landmark doesn’t stop me from loving it. I think I’d have a strange attraction to the tower even if I didn’t live here. Its monochromatic, highly saturated color scheme coupled with its sexually suggestive design are aesthetically pleasing in a retro and small town way.
From its place of pride high atop McLaren Park, the tower’s home offers great views of the City, the East Bay and The Farallon Islands on a sunny day. Last year they had to tear it down and rebuild it for reasons unknown to me. Seismic retrofitting? Lead in the water? Who knows? I guess I missed that city planning meeting. I was dismayed when I heard they were going to tear it down. I could only imagine what sort of new design monstrosity they planned to put in its place. But lo and behold, they built an exact replica. In a city known for its planning debacles I was shocked that, with little fanfare and little gnashing of teeth, they approved an exact replica. For a short while the hill was graced with two twin blue towers. A pretty cool sight. How the hell I missed the day when they blew up or knocked down the old one is a mystery to me. Rest assured I continue to beat myself up over that one.

3 comments:

Jay said...

My Excelsior research indicates that the neighborhood is actually best known for being SF city supervisor Dan White's district at the time he went nuts on twinkies and shot Mayor Moscone and Harvey Milk. As I understand it, it was a white working-class 'hood at the time, totally at odds with the left/liberal San Francisco of the 60s and 70s - since that time it's morphed into a far more ethnic, polyglot of a neighborhood. Great post, by the way.

Danny Plotnick said...

True enough. The Ex's other favorite son is Jerry Garcia. There's an amazing amphitheater in the park, recently rechristened the Jerry Garcia Amphitheater. The Starship played the opening. I have to admit to being there. It's a pretty cool, though underutilized spot and will ultimately be the subject of a future post. The neighborhood was originally an Irish neighborhood and then morphed into an Italian neighborhood. Lots of Italian social clubs, restaurants and delis still exist. You can get a lot of the local Italian gossip by hanging out at Sorrento’s Deli on Mission. I’d recommend eating the Raging Bull sandwich while you’re there. Roast Beef and Gorgonzola. Yum. Plus there's an amazing bocce ball court in McLaren Park where the Italian septuagenarians hang out, roast chestnuts and drink Chianti. The Italians in the hood are all old and dying. I don’t think there are any under 70. Most of the gentrification hitting the Ex is resultant of the sell off of homes of dead Italians. Don't know what era the neighborhood turned Latino and Phillipino. Probably the early 70s.

DP

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