Model City

Roman Mars:
This is 99% Invisible. I’m Roman Mars.

Roman Mars:
I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t love a good map. Even something as everyday and basic as a Rand McNally road atlas could occupy me for hours in the backseat of a hot car. But if you want my eyes to literally dilate with excitement, show me a 3D physical scale model of a city. There’s one of these in San Francisco, a 41 by a 37-foot scale model of the city that was created in the late 1930s and then lost for decades. It was recently unearthed, refurbished, and distributed in pieces to neighborhood libraries.

Gary Kamiya:
I had heard about this crazy model years ago, some cryptic allusion to it may be in the Chronicle. They’d just said there was this enormous scale model of San Francisco that once was on display briefly and then vanished. The idea that there was a miniature world, there’s something just so irresistible to your childlike brain.

Roman Mars:
This model of the city is a tangible 3D roadmap through time and space, triggering stories from San Francisco’s past, realities of the present, and visions of the future. These stories were collected by The Kitchen Sisters, Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva, and produced into the gorgeous audio collage we’re going to play for you today. Here’s Nikki Silva.

Nikki Silva:
Our story begins with this gigantic handmade model made up of over 6,000 tiny carved buildings and bridges forgotten for almost 80 years. It involves artists, curators, poets, planners, and a mega collaboration between SFMOMA and 29 branches of the San Francisco public library. This object has become the catalyst for over 100 public programs throughout San Francisco. It’s activated bicycle tours. It’s lured in thousands of locals and tourists and historians. Triggered people’s memories and generated questions and ideas about how we can go forward as a city, keeping it dynamic and diverse and just and hospitable, protecting the environment. A pretty tall order for an object.

Welcome to San Francisco, Stories From The Model City.

Stella Lochman:
Oh, okay. The 1938 model was made to the scale of 1 inch to 100 feet. Where considerable carving required, poplar and sugar pine were the woods used. Shrubbery growing on the map is made of wire wool, pieces of sponge, and beet seeds. I’m Stella Lochman, Associate for Public Dialogue at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the current keeper of the model. Three-quarters of a century of different keepers for this thing. It’s a very big object to keep.

Gray Brechin:
The entire model when it’s reassembled is almost 40 by 40 feet. Absolutely colossal. I’m Dr. Gray Brechin, geographer over at UC Berkeley. I was alerted that this model existed by some of the custodians at the UC warehouse. Fortunately, they didn’t dumpster it. The reason for building it was to put a lot of people to work during the depression.

Stella Lochman:
1200 man-months of labor according to the WPA records, about 35 people working every week for two years.

Gray Brechin:
The other thing was to create this model as a planning and educational tool that would always be on public display. This took place during the 1930s when the city was being completely transformed by the New Deal Public Works projects: the Two Bridges, the Eastshore Freeway, the airports, Treasure Island. This model – it’s a three-dimensional freeze-frame of what the city was like at the time of the Treasure Island World’s Fair, just before Pearl Harbor.

Nikki Silva:
At the time of the World’s Fair, the model city, featuring every single structure in every single neighborhood, was still under construction. But there’s a photograph of 11 women wearing Ingrid Bergman-style hats and capes lined up along a finished portion of the model on display for the first time in 1939 on Treasure Island.

News Announcer:
Here is a dream come true. The Golden Gate International Exposition on manmade Treasure Island.

Gary Kamiya:
Treasure Island is an artificial island named after the Robert Louis Stevenson island, made by piling up sand and rocks in the Bay, created for the great International Exposition, the World’s Fair of 1939, 1940, sort of a UN-like feeling, the brotherhood of Pacific nations. I’m Gary Kamiya, author of “Cool Gray City Of Love, 49 views of San Francisco”.

News Announcer:
Its shimmering reflections bring beauty from the sky.

Gary Kamiya:
The whole World’s Fair concepts were kind of psychedelic and fantastic, made-up architecture and enormous courts and incredible lighting. And the model would be a perfect fit for Treasure Island, the whole city in one room.

Nikki Silva:
Angel Island.

Gary Kamiya:
But the same time that there was this exuberant World’s Fair, probably less than a mile away as the crow flies, Angel Island, the largest island in the Bay, was being used as an immigration and quarantine point, a place where Chinese immigrants were detained and often deported and not allowed into the country.

Genny Lim:
My name is Genny Lim. I’m a poet, playwright, second-generation Chinese-American, born and raised in San Francisco. My father was detained on Angel Island. In the play I wrote, Paper Angels, one of the characters, Lum, was kind of like a romanticized depiction of my father. They’re in this jail-like barrack. They looked out the window. You can see the water, the lights within grasp and it’s unreachable. Lum talks about wanting to go to the expo and wear his Panama hat, walking down the streets in his best suit and all the women ogling him because he looks so desirable. He’s going to make his mark in this new country. He can imagine this exposition fair that shows all the best that this country has to offer an immigrant. The other guys are just saying, “Oh go on, big talker, you’re never going to achieve all those things.” And in the story, he actually is the one that escapes. We never find out whether he makes it to shore or not.

Stella Lochman:
Some things we haven’t found are these little ships that are going under the Bay Bridge.

Nikki Silva:
The model city.

Stella Lochman:
It was built in 1938 to 1940, on view at City Hall till 1942. At that point, it was boxed up. Planning department would occasionally take pieces out to do studies on and when it no longer wanted it, it was given to UC Berkeley as a teaching tool.

Gray Brechin:
But most of it was in these 17 wooden crates sort of put in higgledy-piggledy.

Nikki Silva:
The model was hidden away until an artist duo, based in Rotterdam, heard about it. They’d been invited by SFMOMA to create an art project, engaging community and civic imagination.

Gray Brechin:
These Dutch artists, this couple called Bik van der Pol, had this great idea. Like, “Let’s get that map.” They heard about it and then, “Let’s get it out of storage and let’s see if we can bring it back to life and make it part of the city’s experience again.”

Lisbeth Bik:
My name is Liesbeth Bik. I’m an artist. I live in Rotterdam and I work with Jos van der Pol.

Jos van der Pol:
I’m Jos van der Pol, part of Bik van der Pol.

Lisbeth Bik:
30 pieces will go to 30 library branches. We want to organize discussions around the model.

Jos van der Pol:
Not only nostalgia.

Lisbeth Bik:
But, for example, affordable housing, sea-level rising.

Jos van der Pol:
Homelessness.

Lisbeth Bik:
Issues of public space, citizenship. How do you make these issues discussable while looking at where you are?

Jos van der Pol:
The model really triggered the whole project. Everything fell together.

Lisbeth Bik:
There is a historic layering. Fantasy opens up, imagination opens up. Other stories in that model start to sort of move around.

Nikki Silva:
Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti:
It’s an old myth going all the way back several centuries of San Francisco as an island. We’re surrounded by water on three sides and with the melting of the icebergs, the water will rise just a few feet or even a foot or two and it’ll flood over the very low-lying landmass between San Francisco and the San Francisco peninsula. And then San Francisco will be an island again. There was always an island mentality. And when I arrived in San Francisco by ferry from Oakland, having come on train cross the continent, San Francisco was like a Mediterranean city – small white buildings, no skyscrapers, just a few high rises, maybe only 12, 14 stories. In 1950, I felt, San Franciscans felt they were San Franciscans first and then only secondarily members of the United States.

LisaRuth Elliott:
All right, I think we’re rolling here now. Welcome to our historic shoreline bicycle tour, visiting the library branches in town. All of them actually have pieces of the San Francisco scale wooden model built… Oops, watch behind you there. The model is the main subject today and Chris Carlsson and myself, LisaRuth Elliott, we direct Shaping San Francisco. We try to get people together in real-time to talk about history, how things have changed in the city, how we can imagine our city going forward. We’re going to hug the shoreline and go along…

Chris Carlsson:
But stick together in a group. The more we can congeal as a group, the more fun we’re going to have as a ride and the safer we’ll all be. So that’s where we learned that a long time ago on Critical Mass. Density is the key.

Nikki Silva:
The City Front.

Gary Kamiya:
The time of the 1938 model, San Francisco was completely oriented to the Bay. The Embarcadero was known as the city front. The vast majority of people came in by ferry. And that was what you saw. That was San Francisco. The Ferry Building was one of the most bustling transportation hubs anywhere in the world. It handled millions of people a year and every single form of transportation in San Francisco came to it. The cable cars, streetcars, trains, and omnibuses. And the whole waterfront was at the height of its working powers then. Just four years earlier, there had been the infamous Bloody Thursday and the Great Waterfront Strike in 1934, which was a significant victory for organized labor.

News Announcer:
Open warfare rages through the streets of the city as 3000 union pickets battle 700 police. Guns, tear gas…

Gary Kamiya:
Longshoremen were one of the main occupations in San Francisco. It was blue-collar. It was muscular and hard-drinking and it was a whole different town. There was a great romance to it. Those finger piers that stick out into the Bay handled different types of cargoes. Copra, which is like dried coconut meat. Coffee, you can just smell the coffee. Bananas.

Chris Carlsson:
By the way, this building over here, the China Basin Building, which was once upon a time a place for offloading bananas from Central America, was turned in 1974 into a food distribution center by the kidnapping of Patty Hearst. The ransom demands of the Symbionese Liberation Army was that the Hearst family give away food to poor people and that had a big impact on San Francisco politics…

LisaRuth Elliott:
Can someone check Crate 6 or C4?

Chris Carlsson:
Telegraph Hill.

Nikki Silva:
Cleaning the Model City.

Jim Boyer:
The Coit Tower is right here. They called it Signal Hill in 1938, I guess it was. So this is like Chinatown here. Jim, warrior, volunteer at MOMA. I am a commercial artist. I worked in the advertising district over there on the C4 area.

Stella Lochman:
We are doing a cleaning of Downtown and Tenderloin today.

Jim Boyer:
First of all, we start off a little brush, get the dust off. There’s a lot of dust, so that’s why we wear masks because I don’t know where this dust has been.

Lisbeth Bik:
50 people cleaning? Yeah. I think this cleaning process is really important. You don’t only get to know the model, but there’s a different relationship…

Stella Lochman:
So that’s the model on view at City Hall till January 1942 when they needed the room for war purposes. The thing is is that it’s kind of just so huge that keeping track of all the different stories that come out of it is just a lot. Where’s the Ferry Building?

Gary Kamiya:
Well, the lights went out on the last day of the World’s Fair. Herb Caen, the great columnist of the city, wrote that everyone knew that that was like the end of their youth and the shadow of World War II was descending over the world. That was this halcyon period that was never going to come again. The U.S. entered the war soon after that. And there was no more going out, having frivolous days wandering around on artificial islands in the Bay. San Francisco Bay became a huge arsenal, ringed by guns and anti-aircraft submarine nets under the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a massive transformation of the whole way of life that happened right after this fair.

News Announcer:
Women have invaded another field, usually reserved for men. 35 women butcherettes started training today in San Francisco in a step to relieve the shortage caused by the departure of 1000 male butchers for the armed services. That’s the news.

Woman (Unidentified):
It was like every night was Saturday night. The hours were 24 hours a day. Not only three shifts at the shipyards but they had three shifts for the movie theaters, the restaurants, the bowling alleys. I mean, those boys spent money 24 hours a day until they were called back to the bases and had a…

Announcement:
(Sirens) This is a test of the outdoor warning system.

Tami Takahashi:
My name is Tami Takahashi. I’m a native of San Francisco. I lived my whole life here except for the four years of World War II when the Japanese-American population was removed from the Pacific Coast. When World War II began, there was a call out for anybody who could read and write Japanese. I volunteered. There was a makeshift radio station on the top floor of the Palace Hotel on Market Street. I was working as a translator in the Office Of Secret Service. We would have these headphones on our heads translating taped radio messages from Japanese battleships on the Pacific, full of static. Then they said everybody, if they had a drop of Japanese blood, one-sixteenth, we were all gathered up and taken to assembly centers. The one we were locked up in is called Tanforan, a racing field. Where one Kentucky thoroughbred horse was stabled, five adults were put in. We lost everything, our civil rights. We were in camp almost four years. That’s a very long time to suffer deprivation and miserable food. I had to imagine things that I was fond of, an enchilada or a tamale, some Chinese food.

Nikki Silva:
The Western Addition.

Gary Kamiya:
The Western Addition in the 1920s and ’30s and ’40s was known as the little United Nations that had Mexican-Americans and Mexican immigrants, Filipinos, had a very big Jewish component, and robust Japantowns centered around Post. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, they were all mustered, rounded up at Jackson and Van Ness. Mostly, the Japanese in San Francisco went to a camp called Topaz in Utah. Right at this time comes the great African-American influx into San Francisco, mostly from Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana. We needed to build ships and tanks. U.S. government sent recruiters that brought African-Americans in, particular to shipyard towns. All of the housing that had just been vacated by the Japanese and Japanese-Americans, all of that housing became available, suddenly.

Nikki Silva:
Maya Angelou.

Maya Angelou:
In the early months of World War II, San Francisco’s Fillmore district on the Western Addition experienced invisible revolution. The Yamamoto Seafood Market quietly became Sammy’s Shoeshine Parlor And Smoke Shop. Yoshigira’s Hardware metamorphosed into lesser-known De Beaute owned by Miss Lorenda Jackson. The Japanese shops, which sold products to Nisei customers were taken over by enterprising Negro businessman. And in less than a year became permanent homes away from home for the newly arrived Southern blacks. The Asian population dwindled before my eyes. As the Japanese disappeared soundlessly and without protest, the Negroes entered with their loud jukeboxes, their just-released animosities, and the relief of escape from Southern bombs. The Japanese area became San Francisco’s Harlem in a matter of months.

Nikki Silva:
During World War II, women replaced men on the streetcars in San Francisco as conductors and motorman. Maya Angelou wrote, “The idea of sailing up and down the hills of San Francisco in a dark blue uniform with a money changer at my belt caught my fancy.” She applied for the job, was not well received, but she persisted.

Maya Angelou:
I would have the job. I would be a conductorette and sling a full money changer from my belt. I would. I was given blood tests, aptitude tests, physical coordination tests, and Rorschachs. Then, on a blissful day, I was hired as the first Negro on the San Francisco streetcars.

LisaRuth Elliott:
Welcome to, or take a breath of the San Francisco public library. The model is inspiring conversations all over the city. There’s three other events happening right now.

LisaRuth Elliott:
Our hope is that it can serve as a metaphor for the city at large to help us take a deeper…

LisaRuth Elliott:
We have had hundreds of conversations…

LisaRuth Elliott:
Themes came up over and over again. I’m sure you could probably guess. Housing, technology, toxic land, gentrification, climate change, displaced public policy…

Jarell Phillips:
I’m Jarell Phillips, San Francisco native, born and raised in Fillmore. My grandparents all came here from the South when that migration was happening. I’m a performer. I teach capoeira throughout the city. I’ve been doing a project called “I Am San Francisco, Black Pasts And Presents, The African Diaspora And Its Influence And Impact”. Growing up here in San Francisco, I grew up in a very black world, which is probably hard to even imagine in a city. I went to an all-black private school, a predominantly black church, and I went to Bayview-Hunters Point a lot, so I was bouncing between two very well-known black neighborhoods. We, African-Americans specifically, have been in some ways wandering and going from place to place, trying to create home and community for a long time now. As a people, we moved out of the South and we came over here. James Baldwin said we came as far west as we could go.

Jarell Phillips:
Now we’re at a point where African-Americans have been going back like boomerang, going back to the South and disbursing further out into places like Modesto. And we moved out to the city when I was 17. I didn’t want to, I had to. I came back a year later, as soon as I was old enough, but my parents come back into the city every day. My grandma’s house is still the house that everybody’s mail goes to. For a lot of families, their community center, whether it’s the church or whatever space that is still where people come to on the weekends and whatnot. I feel like that connection is still there. We have to be very mindful. The gentrification and change that happened in the Fillmore can happen, as far as I’m concerned, anywhere because I saw that change.

Gary Kamiya:
After the war ended, when the shipyard jobs dried up, this large group of people were suddenly unemployed, facing racism in the hiring practices of unions and couldn’t get other kinds of jobs. The Western Addition, the housing stock is really rundown. In the eyes of city fathers, it’s seen as a blighted neighborhood. They came up with this plan to redevelop the whole Western Addition. They ended up smashing down Victorian houses, hundreds of black-owned businesses.

Allison Arieff:
This is a very dark period of urban planning history in the ’60s and ’70s. Whole neighborhoods were demolished in favor of planned communities and high-rise developments. What happened in Japantown and Fillmore is a perfect example of that. My name is Allison Arieff. I’m the editorial director of the urban planning and policy think-tank Spur. What that had the effect of doing is it put people in, frankly, some really bad architecture, destroyed local businesses, erased the connections for the people who lived there in a way that I don’t think people have really gotten over. And I think it was also really damaging to urban planning. Certain communities will never have trust in the process. I think we’re at a really crucial moment of figuring out how best to involve respect and inform communities as new buildings and neighborhoods and communities are being built. I think that there’s a big paradigm shift in the way that we think about these issues but it’s slow in coming.

LisaRuth Elliott:
Chinatown and North Beach are sharing a piece of the model. Right now it’s at North Beach, which is great because it’s an extra hill we don’t have to climb.

Nikki Silva:
The libraries. San Francisco has a very long history with libraries. As the Gold Rush boomed, the first library opened in 1852 in a room in a men’s temperance hotel. In 1877, a free library for all was established, spearheaded by Andrew S. Hallidie who also invented the cable car. From the start, the library’s success was astounding and it remains so today, with its 29 branches throughout the city where 29 corresponding neighborhood sections of the model were put on display.

Man (Unidentified):
So each one of these can be lifted out, is that right?

LisaRuth Elliott:
Yeah.

LisaRuth Elliott:
You can see the street that we biked down.

Woman (Unidentified):
Guess I’m used to seeing this in Google maps but seeing it in 3D, you really get a sense of the scale of…

Woman (Unidentified):
My house is there.

LisaRuth Elliott:
Your house is there? When they had it made, they sent people out to look at the color of every house. So the color of your house here is the color it was.

LisaRuth Elliott:
Another question is actually, as we were riding, was what was the point of making this model? Some pieces were used for these planning exercises where the shadows would fall for larger buildings as redevelopment happened in South of Market in the 1970s. And they started raising the hotels, barbershops, and cafes and put in things like the Moscone Center and the San Francisco Museum Of Modern Art. They started playing around with what’s possible.

Stella Lochman:
One of the questions when we found it was, “Is there room for San Francisco in San Francisco?” At the museum, we tried to find a place to put it all but I realized it’s so large. So, we worked with the library to get as many pieces as we could into the branches and that ended up being about 70 of the 140 pieces.

Man (Unidentified):
What do we have here?

Stella Lochman:
G.P.A. That’s Glen Park. Yeah. Glen Park has these two pieces here.

Nikki Silva:
The Glen Park Freeway Revolt.

Allison Arieff:
We took my 13-year-old daughter to go look at the model at the Glen Park library, which is in the middle of our little quote-unquote downtown. Where I live on a big hill, everything above me was dairy farms and there were lots of earthquake shacks. There was a developer who wanted to build a zoo in Glen Park as a way to attract people to buy homes in the neighborhood. In 1948, the California Highway Department decided they wanted to crisscross the city with freeways. And then a bunch of moms and housewives stopped that from happening. The Glen Park Outdoor Art League and the San Francisco Women’s Club managed to stop this freeway effort. Glen Park freeway revolts, women and moms have actually led quite a number of revolts like this around the Bay Area, including helping to overturn a really bizarre plan to pave over the Bay. The “Save the Bay” movement where this trio of women challenged companies, wealthy landowners, politicians, and reversed this idea that you should pave over the Bay to do more development.

Allison Arieff:
I’m so glad to see this model come back today because it presents a really fascinating history. Sometimes positive, lots of times negative of how this city has grown and developed.

Nikki Silva:
In the Western Addition branch –

Naima Dean:
A lot of people came to see the model. You’ll notice a big red line going through. People who would never have a conversation with one another suddenly just talk about the redlining and people trying to figure out, “Why is there a big red line here?” And people saying, “Because that’s redlining.” And, “No, but like what is it?” “Because it’s redlining.” The redlining basically delineated where people of color would live. It’s segregation on a map. My name is Naima Dean and I am the manager of the Western Addition branch library of San Francisco Public Library System. My dad had a jazz club in this neighborhood in the ’60s and ’70s at the same time as Bill Graham doing his stuff at the Fillmore. And they did a lot of projects together. Big Mama Thornton, George Duke, Bobby Hutcherson, Miles Davis. I grew up in this neighborhood and it was all African-American in the ’80s still. This was the Mo, this was the Fill Mo and now it’s Alamo square and Hayes Valley and Nopa and Lodi and all these nicknames. I mean they’re real estate names. They’re sale names.

Naima Dean:
We had made a map to accompany the project. People could write a memory on a post-it. And someone said, “My Japanese-American family came off into the Western Addition Library. My husband checked out the novels of Yamamoto Shugoro in Japanese so many times that the library eventually gave these to him.”

Nikki Silva:
(laughs) That’s great.

Naima Dean:
Oh, I like this one. Harvey Milk’s wide-lens camera store. I remember my dad telling me that he really liked Harvey Milk at the time because Harvey Milk was willing to integrate and not segregate. He worked hard because the Western Addition is adjacent to the Castro. Let’s see what we can find right in the Western Addition. “I live in a big building. I live in the Fill Mo. I love my Mo.” June Bug and Naya 2019.

Irish Woman (Unidentified):
1133 Mission Street. The Knights of the Red Branch. It was a place where the Irish met. It wasn’t a fancy hall, it was just to us was the greatest. And went there every Saturday night and seen and met all the Irish there. We had Johnny Hallahan from Rockland, nice big band. And we dance all night. And 12:00 until 5:00 in the morning, we go to Mrs. Pickett’s house. She was Irish and her husband was a police officer, I believe. He’d go to bed and she’d stay up with us all night long. She was so sweet. She used to give her basement for us young Irish people. 5:00, we take a bus and we go up to Saint Ignatius. You had to get to Mass. Come home and go to bed for 3, 4 hours and then out to the beach…

Chris Carlsson:
If you just look to your right, you’ll see the last little stump of Irish Hill still there. Once upon a time, there was a third peak of the Turtle Hill called Irish Hill, which is all filled up this entire airspace we’re about to go hurtling down through. Had 98 steps to get to the top of…

Nikki Silva:
The Hills.

Gary Kamiya:
In the early days, rich people didn’t live on the Hills. They were completely inaccessible. You couldn’t even get a horse to go up them. Either covered with sand dunes and scrub brush. But after the cable car that opened up Nob Hill and all of a sudden, Nob Hill became where the rich people lived. Nob, Telegraph, Russian, the main downtown hills – prevented the expansion of the city for decades. That was one of the reasons that there was this mania that went on in San Francisco until the early 20th century for filling in every single bit of water that they could fill in. What is now the Financial District, that was all underwater. That was filled in using ships scuttled. There’s sunken ships that formed part of the Bay bottom in the Financial District.

Gray Brechin:
What interests me as a geographer is these buildings were built after the 1906 earthquake and fire to replace buildings that were leveled but they’re built on the same property lines. They were leftover from the Gold Rush with no regard for the hills and the wetlands, which it shouldn’t have been built on because they liquefy in earthquakes. Simone de Beauvoir when she visited San Francisco remarked that it looked like the city had been laid out by somebody who had never been here before.

LisaRuth Elliott:
We’re going to head down until we get to Beach Street.

Nikki Silva:
Aquatic Park.

Chris Carlsson:
The Bay is much shallower today because of how much mining debris coating the bottom of the Bay. We had washed away the equivalent of six Panama canals worth of debris to get the gold out of the hills and mountains of California into the waterways and into the Bay and it’s full of methyl mercury. So don’t eat fish out of the Bay unless they’re very short-term visitors like herring. Herring are safe, striped bass are not.

Man (Unidentified):
Fisherman’s Wharf, just passing the Aquatic Park and all the tall ships. Big blue and white building to my right is the Dolphin Club.

Chris Carlsson:
I guess it’s slack tide, right?

Man (Unidentified):
High tide.

Chris Carlsson:
It might start going out on you.

Lou Marcelli:
It might. The number one thing about swimming in this stuff, look at it in the eye and go. You don’t have to swim Alcatraz, just go up to here. My name is Lou Marcelli. This club’s been here since 1887 and it’s a swimming and boating club. We swim in the Bay all year round, with no wet suits. I started to fish when I was 12 or 13 years old.

Peggy Knickerbocker:
Lou Marcelli smoothed the glue. He’s sort of the custodian of the Dolphin Club and he lives in a little attic there and he’s one of the old stoves of North Beach. At the Dolphin Club, there are a lot of old Italian men, like firemen and policemen and waiters. Exercise a little, swim a little, and then they cook for each other and they have a lot of wine. They just sit around and talk about the old days and talk about sex and what’s going to happen to somebody if he has testicular cancer and you know. And then, “Oh, you got to give him a certain kind of liver.” They have all these theories based on what their mothers told them and they cook food for each other. And I think it really keeps them going. It’s really a problem for old people because where can they cook if they’re relegated to smaller and smaller spaces and then they’re given terrible food and no wonder they die.

Nikki Silva:
North Beach. The area known as North Beach was once an actual beach. It was filled in around the late 19th century and warehouses, fishing wharves, and docks were built on the newly formed shoreline. This is the piece of the model that has Coit Tower on it and St. Peter and Paul’s Church. Here’s Peggy Knickerbocker at Porchlight.

Peggy Knickerbocker:
I’m Peggy Knickerbocker. I’m a native San Franciscan for three generations. I grew up over on Pacific Avenue but at about eight or nine, I had an aunt Eva Baroneo and she’d bring me over on the bus to North Beach. We’d come for pickled pigs’ feet, basil. You know, no stores had anything like that in those days. And we’d have a date with some of her older friends. They’d have little cotton house dresses on with their nylons kind of rolled down and they’d come out in their house shoes. And I knew there was something happening here.

Peggy Knickerbocker:
And the day that we left, we’re waiting for the bus. It looked like there was blood coming down Filbert Street and it was a garage wine-making set-up of, you know, some old Italian guys. And then, when I was in high school, I’d come over with my two best friends. We’d wear our mothers’ trench coats, put on black tights, and we’d sit in cafes and read poetry and think we were beatniks, little shiny-faced beatniks. And then, I came when I was in college and we went to see Carol Doda and to the jazz workshop. And we hung out at a bar called Mooney’s Irish Pub up on Grand Avenue. The barkeeper was Sean Mooney and he never ate. And we’d come and we’d bring him sandwiches. He said, “Well if you guys want to feed me so much, why don’t you take over the kitchen?”

Peggy Knickerbocker:
So we decided we’d start the next day. And we had leotards on, no bras, two or three skirts, lots of necklaces. And we had no idea what we’re doing. We went down to the butcher, Ms. Bruno Jakoby, who was a half a block away and said, “We’ve run out of everything.” And it was about 11:00 and we were open till 2:00. We’d need help. What are we going to do? He said, “Well, I always have sausages. Make Portuguese bean stew.” The bakery was right next door, “Get nice hot bread. As a matter of fact, go over to the bakery and get a roll.” And he’d cut some Teleme cheese that had a special taste because it was May. The cows had been eating some special clover and he’d hold… He was huge and he had blood all over his apron and he’d hold a sandwich to his ample breast, and by the time you got it, it was a grilled cheese sandwich.

Roman Mars:
We continue The Kitchen Sisters tour of San Francisco through the WPA model city after this.

[BREAK]

Roman Mars:
We rejoin The Kitchen Sisters in North Beach.

Man (Unidentified):
The olive tree. That’s what we need. Peace and poetry.

Woman (Unidentified):
Having an olive tree, I mean, it’s a symbol of life.

Carla Short:
Good morning and thank you for coming out here on this beautiful Monday morning. My name is Carla Short, I am the superintendent of the Bureau of Urban Forestry for the San Francisco area.

Carla Short:
For the last fifteen years we have honored people with a signature tree, Ruth Asawa was an honoree.

Carla Short:
Wangari Maathai, Nelson Mandela, Cesar Chavez, Irene Crescio as an activist in the Portola district.

Carla Short:
We are in North Beach neighborhood, not far from City Lights book store.

Chris Carlsson:
This neighborhood would not look like this neighborhood had Lawrence Ferlinghetti not actively, actively, champion the thriving writers and artists community.

Man (Unidentified):
The book store was always in the same location to 261 Columbus Avenue. We had this anarchist slant right from the beginning, and at that time, North Beach was populated by 90% Italians. Some of the first publications we sold were two Italian anarchist newspapers in Italian, and among the people who would buy the newspapers were the scavengers on the garbage truck. I remember one guy, wearing a derby and baggy pants, would rush in off garbage truck and get his copy of Umanità Nova or L’Adunata was the other one.

Genny Lim:
My father bought a little house. We lived in an alley called Winter Place in North Beach, one of the first Chinese families living in that neighborhood in the fifties, and it was all Little Sicily. The smell of coffee, and the bread, ravioli factory, Powell-Mason streetcar runs down, could hear it every day, and I would listen to it like my music box, the foghorns and the cable cars. Then I was secure, and I could go to sleep.

Genny Lim:
I’m Genny Lim – poet, playwright. My father was a working-class immigrant, took on jobs working at the Fairmont Hotel as a janitor and then became a busboy. My mother was a sewing woman and worked all day and all night at the sewing machine. We children, there were seven of us, we were just on the loose running the streets, Chinatown and North Beach.

Nikki Silva:
Chinatown.

Herb Gains:
This is Herb Gains from San Francisco, the magic city that’s a sight to behold. We’re walking down the narrow shop line – main street of San Francisco’s China Town. We call it Grant Avenue, but to the Chinese, it’s still Dupont Gai. A block away is Portsmouth Square, the scene of a San Francisco tradition, the Chinese Moon Festival.

Gray Brechin:
The Chinese were not allowed to live west of Powell until as late as the forties or fifties. Those covenants it’s incredible how long they remained on the books.

Genny Lim:
(Genny Lim’s mother singing) My mother sang wooden fish songs, the itinerant folk songs of the peasants and they remember the old folks singing these songs in Chinatown. This one is one that my mother sang whenever she mended our clothes, whenever there’s a hole in a piece of cloth that a portal for negative spirits to enter.

Gray Brechin:
Before the earthquake, Chinatown looked more like the rest of San Francisco, mostly western-style architecture. After the earthquake, in response to this concerted movement on the part of the white establishment to move Chinatown out of downtown San Francisco, down to Hunter’s Point, the Chinese managed to start rebuilding right away. Chinese merchants working with white architects came up with an idea where they would take elements of traditional Chinese architecture, pagodas and corbels, wrought iron, those all have structural function.

Gray Brechin:
In Chinatown, they just tacked on to conventional buildings to make it look wild and exotic and Chinese and enticing. They put a lot of neon, and a lot of electric lights, so it became this kind of fairyland environment, and that was very successful.

Genny Lim:
We hired a marching band funeral procession for my father, had them march from the mortuary to Winter Place. (sounds of funeral procession)

Clifford Yee:
We go back to the original grassroots of the first marching band in Chinatown.

Clifford Yee:
My name is Clifford, last name is Yee. People come out to look, to see if they know the person. Many people, out of respect, will bow. People take their hats off because they are paying respect to the deceased.

John Coppola:
My name is John Coppola. I’m with the Grant Street Mortuary band. Come down Clay, we make a left on Grant. This is where we do our heavy things, you know, it’s the biggest audience. So what we do is we slow down, we’re going to this one particular dirge march, St. Jude Funeral March. (sounds of marching band)

Lawrence Ferlinghetti:
Lawrence Ferlinghetti, at City Lights Bookstore. Main Street Mortuary Marching Band just past by. The backdoor of City Lights is in Chinatown, the front door is in the western world.

(sounds of marching band)

Green Street Mortuary Marching Band marches right down Green Street and turns into Columbus Avenue where all the café sitters at the café tables sit talking and laughing and looking right through it as if it happened every day in little wooden North Beach San Francisco, but at the same time feeling thrilled by the stirring sound of the gallant marching band. As if it were celebrating life, and never heard of death.

Stella Lochman:
We’re going to use the model today as a catalyst for a conversation around the controversial topic of the impact tech capital on the city of San Francisco. We’ll open with a panelist and then…

Panel Discussion (multiple speakers):
– This hyper-growth of tech has brought with it both extraordinary wealth and influx of people.

– This boom is phenomenal, this is the most prosperous place in the world in this decade.

– This prosperity has led to growing inequality, gentrification, demographic changes.

– More billionaires per square inch.

– And some would say a really unsustainable and unhealthy impact on housing costs, infrastructure and the environment.

– One thing we need to do is break up some of these big companies and oppose much higher margins.

– When did we have mass housing for the working people, after World War II?

– The collapse of the twenties, plus the taxes of the new deal….

– We got to have this conversation at a national level about income inequality, about a living wage, about guaranteed national housing.

Stella Lochman:
One more question? Yes, the gentlemen in the back, with the glasses?

Panel Discussion Continues:
– If you want to talk about the homeless problem for a second the reason isn’t because of tech lords and STEM lords who are destroying the city, it’s because old people, who moved here in 1975 never wanted to build a single house. You can’t build a homeless shelter, you can’t do anything, and you’re wondering, “I’m going to blame the newcomers…” but really just maybe cut them some slack.

– I basically agree with you.

– Well, I don’t. We’re talking about class and race.

– If I may interject as a fellow young person I see what you are saying.

– You need massive taxing at the top.

– Take on step further and take look at the reasons why.

– Stop challenging tech companies to step up, challenging others, not to scapegoat the tech community.

– We’re going to put another half a billion dollars into immediate funding for navigation centers, emergency centers, we need to work together as a city, rapid rehousing, mental health.

– We need to help build up this city together as one San Francisco.

Nikki Silva:
The Mission.

Josiah Luis Alderete:
(blues music plays) I got the Galleria de la Raza blues. I said I got the Galleria de la Raza blues. I can remember me mama taking me to old India Maria movies at the Mission Theater. I can remember Valencia Street when it was nothing but a long stretch of appliance stores, Leather Tongue Video, the Chameleon Bar. I can remember the payphone.

Josiah Luis Alderete:
My name is Josiah Luis Alderete, full-blooded Pocho Indio Spanglish-speaking poet, raised here in La Area Bahia, cred and spread throughout the Mission. My ma and papa met at the famous Sinaloa Mexican-Spanish nightclub which was, at the time in the middle of the Mexican barrio, the Mexican neighborhood which is North Beach.

Josiah Luis Alderete:
My dad was working the Sinaloa nightclub, and you know they wore those high-wasted waiter jackets back then, tight caballero pants and live music, big orchestra.

Josiah Luis Alderete:
I can remember Jorge Dorado, I can remember Daniel Alarcón, I can remember that Sonia Sanchez has walked these streets, I can remember Nancy Morejón has walked these streets. I can remember Alfonso Texidor’s limp.

Man (unidentified):
People associate the dot-com wave of gentrification, it’s been going since before the 2000s, you know. I remember first seeing that wave. There was the oxygen bar that opened up on Valencia Street, you know. Also, we started seeing these big puffy SUV vehicles around.

Josiah Luis Alderete:
I remember so I can get out of the way of the Ubers and the Lyfts and the Google buses that are not driving me anywhere in San Francisco.

Man (unidentified):
The changes that have been the most startling and physical and painful to see in the neighborhood have definitely come from the dot-com changes and influence. But, you know on the flip side of that, the circular has really dug in. You know, getting the 24th Street declared a Latina heritage corridor, that protects a huge amount of those areas.

Josiah Luis Alderete:
There’s amazing transformations in the Mission with Calle Veinticuatro Association reaching out to a lot of the older generation. A lot of the older ones are really recommitted to staying. It’s actually a beautiful thing. When they move here, and they come here, and they think of the city, what they are thinking of is the contribution of the poets and the working people have made to this city. What I would like to see happen is some sacred space opening up to move back in and raise their families.

Josiah Luis Alderete:
As much as the city does change those roots are going to stay, they are way deep in the concrete. That’s the bones of this place.

Nikki Silva:
Moving through the city, here’s Justin Vivian Bond, 2012.

Justin Vivian Bond:
My name is Justin Vivian Bond. I sing, I write and perform. A trans-genre artist. I used to live in San Francisco, lived there from ’88 to ’94, and the two things that drove me crazy about San Francisco were the weather, which many people love but I hate, let me preface all of it by saying I adore San Francisco, I loved living there. If there is any city where I would feel like there are more people that I would have Thanksgiving or Christmas with, San Francisco is the one, but having said that I don’t like the weather and I also got very, very frustrated by transportation because I was at the mercy of the taxi cabs of San Francisco, and they are notoriously unreliable.

Justin Vivian Bond:
So I came back to San Francisco, I guess it was for my record release, I was getting my hair blown out at Dina’s Glama-Rama on Valencia, my friend said Lynnee Breedlove started Homobile, call if you need a ride. And so I told them where I was and that I needed a car. They sent, I think it was Musty Chiffon, yes it was Musty Chiffon. She showed up and was my driver.

Justin Vivian Bond:
So all of a sudden this person that I had known in clubs we were driving in a car and talking with each other. They ask for a suggested donation and of course you just want to give the entire content of your pocketbook because they are so lovely.

Lynnee Breedlove:
See what did I tell you? Traffic.

Lynnee Breedlove:
My name is Lynnee Breedlove. I run Homobiles, a community ride service for the LGBTIQQLMNOPQRST community at Dallas and San Francisco.

Lynnee Breedlove:
You do not need to be a big, fat, queer to get a ride from Homobiles, but it does help. No, just kidding, but you need to understand that the real reason that we are here is for people that don’t get rides normally from anyone else, and so if you are putting on all this padding, high heels, a wig and three sets of false eyelashes and a bunch of glitter you are high priory at Homobiles.

Allison Arieff:
If we are thinking about the most effective way to get people through cities we should look at ways how different systems move people. Transit, you can move up to 25,000 people per hour through a city, if they’re on public transit. Walking, actually comes after that and you could move approximately 9,000 people per hour through a city on foot. Biking, moving about 7500 people per hour. Cars can only move about 600 to 1600 people per hour.

Genny Lim:
At a very young age we took the buses all over town. You’d get a municipal card with ten rides. It was five cents a ride and they would punch a hole till you used it up. We used that to get to go downtown to Market Street. We used it to go Playland.

Gary Kamiya:
Playland beach it was just a classic, oceanfront promenade playground. Wonderfully dangerous, physical attractions.

Genny Lim:
Running through this barrel that kept turning.

Gary Kamiya:
The Barrel of Joy. You walked into the Barrel of Joy and it rotated and it was padded and it would drop you on your head.

Genny Lim:
Laughing Sal? She really freaked me out. I had a lot of nightmares about her freckled face and red hair. HA HA HA.

Gary Kamiya:
Confusing mirrors.

Genny Lim:
You could be fat, you could be tall, you could be squished.

Gary Kamiya:
Jets of compressed air. They would release under the skirts of women and girls as they came in. The Wheel of Joy was a huge wooden platter that spun. They would blow the whistle and everyone would crowd and get their butts as close as possible to the center of the centrifugal force and it would pick them off, they would go sailing off. It fell on hard times, and they tore it down and put up these God-awful condos that stand there now.

LisaRuth Elliott:
I got to clean the Sutro Baths and Playland must to the consternation other people cleaning the models those days. Such a coveted place to clean and it was definitely fun to run the Q-tip down the shoots of Playland. I also got to clean the Laurel Hill Cemetery which no longer exists along Geary. This big expanse of multiple blocks with trees and pathways and that tells the story of the removal of the cemeteries from San Francisco to Colma down the Peninsula where all of our bodies go now.

Nikki Silva:
Reading the model.

Nicole Termini Germain:
My name is Nicole Termini Germain, Branch Manager and Children’s Librarian here at the Portola Branch Library.

Nicole Termini Germain:
When I look at this model, you can see all the different greenhouses. This was a major center of flower growing – carnations and roses. Since we’re the Garden District, people they would love it to be kind of a hub for green activity, like gardening, community garden, bicycles, walking, trolleys, the air would be so much better.

Man (unidentified):
I’m curious what this would look like in 800 years. Will the third great quake scare us away? No, we’re going to be here till the bitter end. So what’s the plan?

Man (unidentified):
I would like to see more emphasis on the greenery.

Man (unidentified):
I would envision building up rather than out and raise the density.

Woman (unidentified):
I don’t want high rises.

Woman:
No high rises.

Man (unidentified):
The roads are ridiculously wide. There’s a good amount of wasted space on the Sunset, space that’s more precious now and can be used more intelligently.

Man (unidentified):
Would this be before or after the tsunami?

Man (unidentified):
Yeah right? (laughter)

Naima Dean:
It would be really great to see this San Francisco model as a whole and to do ongoing programing, hearing people’s stories. I’d like to see it under plexiglass that you could just walk on top of and just lay down and look at, like protected but free. So that you could really get in it.

Gary Kamiya:
Cities all change and they have to change. And anyone who wants to keep it frozen in wax forever so that it looks like 1938 is delusional and is going to be disappointed. This is the issue that everyone is trying to grapple within this city is how do we preserve it, in all of its glory, but at the same time make places dynamic as possible and make it as hospitable as possible. It won’t look like the 1938 model, it won’t even look like the 2019 version, and I think there is a way of achieving it without losing what makes it special. Hopefully, we can make a start.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti:
Well, it seems there are the beginnings of a new consciousness and a new generation of activist in San Francisco. And it seems to be a kind of wave of the future with a new coalition of young progressives that includes not only the green movement but also groups like bicycle coalition with its vision of a car-less city, alternative culture institutions, there are also poetic rappers, seniors for peace and performance artists, farmers markets selling local produce, raising the possibility of a self-sustaining eco-region free from ecologically disastrous agribusiness. It’s a vision of a possible future society in America but of course, it’s yet to be realized but it does exist in our consciousness.

Comments (6)

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  1. This is amazing. At first I thought they were referring to the mini SF that many years ago was on display in the Powell Street BART station, but that one was not as large as this one, and if memory serves was completely white. Where is THAT one now?

  2. lennerd

    There was a mini-dress in the 1930’s? Why was the miniskirt such a big deal 30 years later? ;-)

  3. Luca

    Zurich has a great modell which is kept up to date. If you visit the city you’ve got to go see it. It’s in the same building as the city’s planning department and always open for visits during office hours, for free:
    https://www.stadt-zuerich.ch/hbd/de/index/ueber_das_departement/aktuell/ausstellungen/zuerich_heute.html

    There’s also a great model depicting what the city looked like around the year 1800. This is a museum in an other location, close by and also for free
    https://www.stadt-zuerich.ch/hbd/de/index/ueber_das_departement/aktuell/ausstellungen/zuerich_1800.html

  4. Shalom Craimer

    Missing the 2nd artists name? “partnered with the San Francisco Public Library and artists Bik Van Der Pol to engage the community in a series of talks and events around the model.”

  5. Brent

    In the 1950s and 60, the Army Corps of Engineers built an enormous scale model of San Francisco Bay to study the hydrology of proposed dams and flood works. It’s a must-see, filled with water and simulating the tidal movement of the Bay & Delta waters at a 1:100 time scale. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U.S._Army_Corps_of_Engineers_Bay_Model

    The WPA also made a scale model of Los Angeles. You can view the Downtown section of it in the “Becoming Los Angeles” section of the LA County Museum of Natural History. There are plenty of photos of it on the Internet, but there’s a nice closeup of the City Hall area included in this article about the new permanent Ofrenda installation in that section. https://www.laweekly.com/the-ofrenda-at-the-heart-of-the-natural-history-museums-new-permanent-exhibition/

  6. Michael Rogovin

    This reminds me of the Panorama of NY. Built by Lester Associates for Robert Moses and the Triboro Bridge and Tunnel Authority, it is also a 1″=100′ model of a city, in this case NYC (all 5 boros) representing every building, bridge, etc. (airplanes take off and land from the two airports) Built for the 1964-65 World’s Fair there was a Disney-like ride around the model like a helicopter trip over the city (narrated by Lowell Thomas), the model was updated in the 1990s, removing much of shipping ports that had disappeared over the prior 30 years. It has only had a few updates since (the World Trade Center is still there and much of the recent building in the city is not represented). You can actually buy a building and model makers at the City College School of Architecture will add it to the model, but it is high time for a full update (especially since there are errors: the block I used to live on at Amsterdam and 70th-71st streets was actually turned 180 degrees by mistake). THe ride is gone, but there is a walkway and glass platform overlooking the model, and the Queens Museum of Art is an underrated gem on the old fair grounds. Roman: as a fan of 99pi and of the history of Queens and the fairs (and fellow lover of maps), I would be happy to visit the museum with you and give you a personal tour of it and other relics left in the park.

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