History

Bay artists look down -- on history!

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Your kicky little shoes walk (or perhaps prance) over it every day. No, not fossilized dog poop -- but myriad and fascinating street-level relics of San Francisco history. A huge amount of our provenance can be gleaned by a closer look at manhole covers, pavement stamps, and other utility markings of ages past and current. It's actually pretty dang cool what's down there.

Designer Christopher Reynolds of Reynolds-Sebastiani Design put together a kick-ass photo feature for us earlier this year of some of those markers. Now he'll be leading a virtual tour tonight, Wed/14, of the city's past as part of walk SF's "Underfoot: Bay Area Artists Look Down," an awesome-looking minifestival of street history for buffs and casual glancers alike. Did someone say "sewer ride"? Oh yes, someone did! Full schedule after the jump.

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5 things you didn't know about cable cars

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Get it out of the way now: roll those eyes. The cable cars are something no native San Franciscan would ever bring up in polite (that is, local) company, let alone write about in a blog post. But fact is, there's a reason why these things are iconic. Those cars have as speckled and quirky a history as the City by the Bay. 

San Franciscans steeped in facts and figures about the tourist-movers probably know that ours is the last operating cable car system in the world and that its design hasn’t changed much since Andrew Hallidie devised it upon seeing an overloaded horse-car slip down a hill in the rain. Perhaps you’ve heard that the four remaining lines each rely on a continuous loop of cable running under your feet at a constant 9.5 miles per hour, powered by electrical motors and a system of pulleys and huge wheels. If you’ve ever visited the Cable Car Museum (c’mon folks, it’s free) you’ve seen the sheaves pulling the cable along, and you’ve learned that the cars operate by grabbing the cable with giant pliers that reach through the floor and into a slot in the street where the cable runs. 

Bored yet? Stifle that yawn, we're just getting started. Read on for five things you haven’t heard about those postcard pretties. Read more »

Lust for justice, Tony Serra style

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“So Paulette Frankl, why did you want to write a book about Tony Serra?” It seems like a reasonable question. After all, the “long hair” woman before me spent a good 17 years of work on her biography of San Francisco's most famous counter culture lawyer (book release party at Fort Mason Sat/20, btw). Her answer was a bit surprising. 

“I didn't want to write a book about him! I wanted to be his artist!" Read more »

Crusader of the cables: Fannie Mae Barnes

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Whoever said a cable car couldn't be operated on woman power alone clearly had never met the steam engine on this grandmother. Fannie Mae Barnes of Oakland, California was the first woman ever to operate a cable car grip – not because it was a higher paying position, or an easier gig, but because she was told that women didn't have the strength to do the job right.

Barnes started pumping iron, passed the 25-day grip operator training program notorious for its 80 percent drop out rate, and became a source of civic pride. She even drove the Olympic torch up the Hyde Street hill en route to the 2002 Winter Olympics. A documentary about her achievement, “Getting a Grip,” will be shown tonight at Lunafest, a traveling film festival that screens movies made by and about women to benefit the Breast Cancer Fund. We caught up with Barnes for a phone interview about knocking down one of the city's diehard gender divisions of labor.

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Getting our rocks off: a historical perspective

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San Francisco is waiting for its Boogie Nights. Unbeknownst to Hollywood, our fair berg was the infant creche of hardcore pornography, spawning a subculture of porn theaters that thrived despite police harassment and political pressure.

We were number one! Luckily, a few brave men are resurrecting our porn golden age money shot – read on for a first look at documentary The Smut Capital of America and an interview with the director himself, Michael Stabile.

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Ammiano calls the Other Cafe's record on gays not so funny

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“When people tell someone a history it's always one side of it. What I know is a little darker.” Assemblyman Tom Ammiano had seen our post on this weekend's Other Cafe reunion (Sat/25), and had a bone to pick with our description of the defunct Haight-Ashbury stand up club's progressive approach to comedy. Namely, the Other's attitude when it came to gay comics during its 1980s heyday – a view which club founder Bob Ayres vehemently disputes. Read more »

The Other kind of SF comedy makes a comeback

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“The stage used to be right here.” Bob Ayres, founding partner of the classic Haight-Ashbury stand up comedy club, The Other Café, is sitting in his old yuckster stomping grounds, now a neighborhood crepery. He’s gesturing to the corner of the restaurant, roughly where we’re sitting, and where his small stage used to host everyone from Robin Williams to Jerry Seinfeld. Now in its place it’s just me and Bob and a guy eating a sandwich two tables down. Could a desire for resurrection be driving Ayres’ Other Café reunion show this weekend (Sat/25)? Read more »

Golden age remix: Bay graff gets its props

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Nate1's business card is totally dope. It's front depicts a Kry-lon paint can, the brand most used  for graffiti in the days he was coming up as a street writer in 1980s San Francisco. “Back then we used to have to make art with automotive paint,” he tells me at 1AM gallery, where his new show on the golden age of Bay tagging, “The Classics” opens today (Fri/10). “We're talking about paint to paint red wagons and doors,” he remembers, smiling like a man that didn't mind too much. Read more »

Reading Hef for the articles

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“Did you see the film? Are you one of the ones who thinks it was biased?” So begins my phone interview with Briggitte Berman, director of the new documentary Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist, Rebel. Her movie, (which Dennis Harvey will review in this week's SFBG) has been criticized for being an overly laudatory look at the life of the man who's sparked a thousand sexual hegemonies, though few would deny that Berman's put together an entertaining ride. But enough about cinematic merits. Did she get loose at the Playboy mansion while filming? What are those things like for a woman actually wearing clothes? Read more »

Veterans of discrimination

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So you're a gung-ho Hawaiian high schooler who wants to protect your country back in the early '40s. You join the ROTC, which leads to a spin through the Territorial Guard. You're then kicked out of service, because of where your family's from. In fact, you're now considered an enemy alien! Fancy. Such was the plight of the protagonists of Junichi Suzuki's 442: Live With Honor, Die With Dignity (which starts Fri/13 at Viz Cinema), Japanese-Americans who went on to become one of the most decorated squadrons in U.S. military history. Read more »