Public art in San Francisco

Often when I’m “out in the field” looking for vintage picture or movie locations, I’ll spot examples of artistic expression that I wouldn’t have seen if I wasn’t looking for something else. (Thumbnail images)

An interesting reproduction (maybe) of an old 1904 painting on the wall of the men’s room in the Pier 23 Restaurant on the Embarcadero:

I’m not sure about this one on Clay Street in Chinatown. Picasso may have liked it, but the girl with her butt where her stomach should be makes me wonder if I really do know anything about art.

In front of the new Transbay Terminal on Mission Street, during the Holidays: You see, if you look at it from the other side, it says JOY. “Yes, Tim.”

It’s a tough job, and they’re recruiting them younger and younger nowadays. This painting was on Oak Street at Franklin a few years ago, but it’s gone now.

They even decorate some of the public toilets with a Downtown San Francisco map; a great place to get one’s bearings. Yeah, I wasn’t looking for art when I stopped here.

There’s also a place where you can create your own artistic expression; the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory in Ross Alley. Bring your own fortunes or prophesies, and they’ll put them in a freshly baked fortune cookie.

Street artists in Ross Alley getting ready for the 2023 Chinese New Year Parade that will run on Saturday, February 4th:

I guess façade lighting can be considered art, even if it’s for a lost cause. It was lively and exciting in San Francisco last Saturday night when I took this picture of City Hall, but quiet and lonely the following night.

Now we come to my kind of art. These are enlargements of old comic book covers in the window of the toy store at Maiden Lane.

“Say it ain’t so, Joe!”

I’ve been hearing scuttlebutt from Fisherman’s Wharf that they may be tearing down these two famous restaurants, Alioto’s and #9 Fishermen’s Grotto, in the not too distant future. I hope it’s not true, but it probably is; they’re just empty and sad looking now anyway. They’ll probably replace them with a Chipotle and Poke Bowl take-out. The place just won’t be the same anymore without them. (Thumbnail images)


(Vintage photo

(Vintage photo from

(Vintage photo Gene Gallagher Photos)

(Vintage picture from the Charles Cushman Collection)





‘Portrait of a City’

I first learned about the book ‘San Francisco, Portrait of a City’ by Taschen Publishers last spring. It looked promising, but at $75.00, it seemed a little pricey, so I thought I’d wait awhile to see if I could buy a cheaper copy later. The price didn’t come down much by year’s end, but I did find a copy for sale at $55.00 in December on the internet. Here’s the first thing I’ll say about the book; it’s probably the heaviest book I’ve ever tried to read. At nearly ten pounds, if you were to drop it on your foot, you could possibly become crippled for life. The reason for this is that for each chapter, the text is printed in English, German, and French, separately. This makes the already oversized book weight three times as much as it normally would. The pictures aren’t repeated though, so for each chapter, the picture descriptions in the book appear in all three languages. That being said, if you can find a good desk or drafting table to prop it up to, the book is well worth browsing through. Mainly, this is because of the terrific vintage pictures throughout the book; some of which I’ve cover in the past from different sources, but many that I’ve never seen before. The cover picture here is at the Grant Avenue at Bush Street entrance to Chinatown during the 1950s. My update on the right is from June, 2022. (Thumbnail images)

First: So, you think the Skystar Ride in Golden Gate Park is exciting? Well, look at this beanbag! He’s going to walk down the giant rail on that ball. This attraction was held in the 1894 Midwinter Exposition, in the same area of the park where the Skystar is now.

California Street, just down from Stockton Street in 1915: Old St. Mary’s Church is blocked from the view here now. The Lenox Apartment Building on the right, next to the pagoda Sing Fat Building, would later serve as the Trafalgar Building in the 1947 movie ‘My Favorite Brunette’ Starring Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour.

A two page image of the San Francisco skyline from a ferryboat during the 1920s: My update isn’t a bad attempt, as far as bad attempts go, considering my picture was taken several nautical miles north of the path the ferryboat in the vintage image was taking. Some of the buildings still around, that you can see from left to right in the vintage picture, are the Hills Brothers Building, the Pacific Telephone Building, the Call Building, the Hobart Building, the Hunter-Doolin Building, the Matson Building, the Russ Building, the Mark Hopkins, and the Ferry Building.

The Chinese New Year Parade, coming up Pine Street near Grant Avenue in 1934, was a much smaller event back then. At the end of Pine Street, at Market Street, you can see the Matson and PG&E Building in both pictures. The enormous Russ Building, once the tallest building in San Francisco, can be seen peeking out on the right in my photo. The little white building with the uneven windows in the foreground on the right is still around.

Another two page picture, one of my favorites in the book, is looking west along Market Street from Montgomery Street during the 1950s. The Palace Hotel is on the left.

Several posts back I asked if any of my readers ever wondered what people from the 1970s looked like in front of the Vaillancourt Fountain. Of course, I was just in a silly mood…… However, have you ever wondered what people looked like in front of the Crown Zellerbach Building on Market Street in 1962? Actually, they all look kind of bored.

The ‘Wild, Wild, West’ on Fulton Street:

In December of 1942, when bison were being herded into their current Buffalo Paddock location near Spreckels Lake in Golden Gate Park, kids taunting the bison caused one of the animals to break free and start running through the park. A bison charging through Golden Gate Park, now that’s scary! The police weren’t equipped to corral it, and they didn’t want to kill it. “I’m a cowboy who never saw a cow. Never roped a steer, ‘cause I don’t know how! And I sure ain’t fixin’ to start in now.” So, the equestrians from the horse stables of the park, chased the desperado down Fulton Street, and lassoed it at Fulton Street at 6th Avenue. Even James West would have been out of his league here. It’s a good thing that Buffalo Bill was dead by then or he’d have shot the animal, like he was so famous for doing. The vintage Fulton Street photos are from an article by Peter Hartlaub of the S. F. Chronicle.  (Thumbnail images)


Prowling around the Port (Part Three)

I got another chance during the last week of December, 2022 to do a little more exploring along the Embarcadero, probably my favorite street in San Francisco. You can still experience a lot of the old-time atmosphere during the days when San Francisco was a larger port city than Oakland when you walk along the street. If you close your eyes, you can hear foghorns, trains passing, and the loud voices of the long-ago port workers. That’s probably because you can still hear foghorns during thick fog, the F Line streetcars are always rattling past, and there’s more people walking along the Embarcadero now than there ever was in the past, and they can be just as loud as the longshoremen unloading ships. The vintage pictures are from the San Francisco Public Linrary Archives. (Thumbnail images)

Pier 19 and the old Belt Line railroad tracks during the 1930s:

I know it was a convenient way to get to Downtown SF, Chinatown and North Beach, but what a blight the Embarcadero Freeway was on the landscape.

In case you ever wondered what people in front of the Viallancourt Fountain during the 1970s looked like, and who hasn’t? The fountain gets a lot criticism for being ugly because it looks like the entrails of a giant cement robot, but I like it.

One block south of the Ferry Building during the 1950s: The Johnson’s Café and Naval Uniforms buildings are gone, but the Audiffred Building on the right is still around.

This old strip of buildings that ran from Market Street to Mission, between Steuart Street and the Embarcadero, was demolished during the 1960s.

100 Drumm Street, then, and where it would have been today. I know the area had to change, but you don’t see Americana, like in the old picture, much around San Francisco anymore.






A Profile with Pictures’

Around the time I fell in love with San Francisco during high school, I found a book in the school library called ‘San Francisco: A Profile with Pictures’ by Barnaby Conrad. Published in 1959, the book had already seemed outdated to me at the time, (although, that wasn’t that much earlier than my high school years) but I loved the photographs in the book. Conrad name-drops many famous people he was acquainted with throughout the book, from Herb Caen to John Steinbeck, although most of them I wasn’t familiar with at the time. Around seven years ago, I found a copy of the book at the used book store at the San Francisco Main Library. I’ve updated a number of the pictures from the book in the past, and I read it again, cover to cover, last week. (You can finish it in one day) Sadly, almost everyone he writes about is gone now, including the author, and it’s really a time capsule of a San Francisco that doesn’t exist anymore. Here are some of the pictures I’ve posted from the book in the past, and some of the comments I made about the photos. I’ll also list the photographers, which I may not have done in the past. I’ve included the almost archaic now guide map at the end of the book. (Thumbnail images)

That elegant lady in front of Fishermen’s Grotto #9 at Fisherman’s Wharf in the 1950’s had better get the service that she wants! The old Standard Station designed like a ship across the street remained in Fisherman’s Wharf from the 1930’s to the 1970’s, although, by the 70’s it had been remodeled to a more standard looking Standard Station. Sadly now, #9Fishermen’s Grotto is gone forever now, as well. (Jerome Zerbe)

The Baker Street steps at Broadway in the 1950’s, and a really stoic way to treat a broken leg: (Miriam Young)

Maiden Lane in the 1950’s: She knows she’s hot! That building on the right with the round entrance, is the only building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in San Francisco. (Tom King)

I’ve seen this Alfred Hitchcock movie, it’s scary! Actually, the little girl in the thick of it at Union Square in the 1950’s was a safe as the pigeons were! (Gene Wright)


Apartment hunting on Russian Hill in the 1950’s:
“Is this place for rent?”
“It is, fifty dollars a month.”
“Why, that’s ridiculous!”
“Take it or leave it.”
(Jacqueline Paul)

A student water-coloring at the Fisherman’s Wharf Boat Lagoon, under the supervision of Dong Kingman:

Fishing with a best friend behind the St. Francis Yacht Harbor: (Barnaby Conrad)


The double page guide map at the end of the book; let’s see what’s gone now, from west to east; Fleishhacker Pool, Kezar Stadium. Playland-at-the-Beach, the Cliff House, (closed) Mile Rock Lighthouse, the Produce District, SP Depot, and the Embarcadero Freeway hadn’t been built yet.

‘Hell on Frisco Bay’

I can forgive the “Frisco” in the title of the 1956 crime drama ‘Hell on Frisco Bay’ because it makes the film sound more dramatic. It’s only two and a half stars on the must-see list, but the movie is still fun to watch, and has interesting San Francisco locations. Alan Ladd looks old and tired, Joanne Dru is as pretty as she was in Red River’ and Eddy G. is….. Eddy G. Although, this has to be one of the most despicable characters Robinson has ever played.


Ladd plays a police officer released from prison after serving five years on a manslaughter charge he was framed for. Off the force now, he’s on a hunt to find the real killer. Like, we don’t know who it will turn out to be? Here, he follows a floozy, on the east side of Telegraph Hill at Vallejo St. at Hodges Alley, to a suspect played by a relatively unknown at the time, Rod Taylor.

There’s an interesting shot of a cable car at California and Powell Streets on Nob Hill. On the right is the old Crest Garage, demolished in 2018, and on the left is a liquor store where the Fairmont Hotel parking garage is now.

In the film’s denouement the real killer turns out to be Edward G. Robinson. Surprise!!! He takes Ladd’s wife, Joanne Dru, hostage, and tries to escape by boat on Al Scoma Way at the Fisherman’s Wharf Boat Lagoon. Behind Robinson and Dru you can see Pier 45, and the little chapel is where the gray building used to be.

As Ladd approaches, Dru breaks free and Eddy G. Jumps into a speed boat, followed by Ladd. The film crew placed the name AMATO on the building in the background. This was Robinson’s name in the film, and the building was his warehouse.

As Dru watches the police approach the alley from Jefferson Street, she tells them what’s happening. If you look close at the AMATO building, you can still see the checkerboard window on the warehouse behind the white truck.


In a fist fight as the boat races out of control around San Francisco Bay, they’re almost bisected by a tugboat, tanker, and naval vessel before Ladd knocks Robinson from the boat. Realizing he’s headed toward the second tower on the San Francisco side of the Bay Bridge, he jumps free.


The boat crashes into the Bay Bridge tower, and Alan and Joanne reunite. In a similar view near the crash area today, you can still see the Hills Brothers Building, but no longer the Pacific Telephone Building, once the largest building south of Market Street.














Back to Square one, Part two

As I mentioned in January of 2021, there are plenty of historic and relaxing public squares in San Francisco to visit, but Union Square is still THE Square I go to most to get a break during a busy San Francisco day. Don’t let the doomsayers frighten you; it’s festive, as always, in Union Square this Christmas Season. The Union Square Instagram page posted a map of historic places around the Union Square area to see, and it’s a nice little tour guide. They’ve included ten historic spots to visit on the map, although, I would have made it eleven historic things and included the Beacon Grand Hotel, or twelve historic things and included the Clift Hotel, or…… Anyway, I searched my site to find pictures I posted in the past at the historic points listed on the map, and added a few new updates. (Thumbnail images)


I’ll start at the northwest corner of Geary and Stockton Streets looking toward Union Square during the 1950s: (San Francisco Pictures Blog)

The northwest corner of Union Square in the 1960’s and a couple enjoying their Second Amendment Right to bare arms: (William Gedney)

Maiden Lane on St. Patrick’s Day 1948, and all dressed up at Christmastime, 2019: Maiden Lane doesn’t have the glamour any more that it once had when it was a crowded two block alley with expensive shops.

The only building in San Francisco designed by Frank Lloyd Wright is at 140 Maiden Lane. Built in 1949, a number of galleries and businesses have been housed there.


Hey, it’s Holly Golightly on the left!

The map includes the Dragon Gate at Bush Street and Grant Avenue. To me, this has always been in the geographic Chinatown area, but I’m not going to quibble.

Ruth Asawa’s Fountain on Stockton Street between Post and Sutter: I’ve never done an update on this fountain before, so I scrolled through the San Francisco Public Library Archives to find a vintage picture. The iPhone Building blocks the view of Maiden Lane from here today. I don’t know why I never covered it before; Asawa’s Fountain, with its San Francisco imprints, is a nice piece of art.

Union Square, with the Dewey Monument on the left, during the 1906 Earthquake and Fire and in an update I  did recently in November of 2022:

Looking over Union Square toward the St. Francis Hotel in a slide picture I took in 1983, and an update I did of my picture in 2016:

Lane Turner, going into the old I Magnin store with the St. Francis Hotel in the background in the 1960 murder thriller ‘Portrait in Black’ and in 2015:

The Geary and Curran Theaters looking west in 1958: (

Carol Channing, appearing at the Curran Theater in the late 1950s:

We’ll end up at the cable car turnaround at Market and Powell Streets: The vintage picture is from the 1940s; my update was taken in 2016. The Flood Building is in the background of both pictures.

They still decorate some of the public transportation over the Holidays, like the cable car waiting to approach the turnaround in an update I did yesterday, only they don’t get as carried away as they used to.

The Flood Building in 1908: Somebody is writing to “Mamma” saying that he or she missed seeing this building during their San Francisco trip. It’s too bad because it’s one of San Francisco’s most historic buildings.















“Where angels fear to tread” (Or, at least, they should)

Don’t get me wrong, I love San Francisco; I think it’s the most beautiful city in the world. That being said, I’m also aware of its problem areas. I took a walk Thanksgiving Day along Market Street from Powell Street to Van Ness to get some vintage then and nows. Although this stretch of Market has always bordered the Tenderloin, this used to be the place to visit on Saturdays and Sundays with lots of movie theaters and elegant stores to shop in. Not anymore. On holidays, with most of the businesses closed and few shopping visitors, the vagrants come over to Market Street like something out of the ‘Night of the Living Dead’. These are not all unfortunate victims of the pandemic or hard times; many of them are creepy people, and all of the well-wishing for them isn’t going to make them any less creepy. Whether or not you liked Herb Caen or Mayor Alioto, they wouldn’t have tolerated this; Herb Caen would have blasted the administration with his columns, and Alioto would have certainly used more aggressive tactics to get these people off the streets. Oh well, like my niece Carry Ann’s scientific theory of futility, “I squared w i squared” = It is what it is. I finished my updates, watching where I stepped, and left. (Thumbnail images)

Market Street at Larkin, looking west in 1956: The old Fox Movie Theater is in the background. The fellow in the vintage picture looks like John Travolta. (

Looking east at Market Street and Larkin toward a parade in 1946: Yeah, like they’re going to have a parade here nowadays! “Hey, kids, would you like to sit on the sidewalk?” Not recommended. (

Market Street and Hyde in 1962: From ‘How the West Was Won’ to ‘Frozen’ at the old Orpheum Theater. (

The old Whitcomb Hotel in 1950: How did that survive? (

The Weinstein Department Store was very popular in its day for both elegant and well-to-do shoppers. (San Francisco Public Archives)

Market Street at Gough in 1937: The Hotel Transient Permanent; never was there a more prophetic name for a hotel. (San Francisco Public Archives)

Also, taking the long way to the top of Coit Tower

The title is in reference to my November 13th 2022 post, although this diversion wasn’t planned. Last Thursday, I thought I’d take another trip to Coit Tower. It was a clear day, and I decided to take pictures around the observation deck of the tower. To my disappointment, the elevator to the top of the tower was out of order, but one of the assistants said that if I bought a ticket, I could take the stairs to the top. I’ve been to Coit Tower many, many times, but I have never taken the often heard of closed off stairway to the top, so, I thought I’d give it a try. The stairway circles continuously around the inside of Coit Tower until it reaches the top. When I reached Level 4, I wasn’t sure that this was such a good idea, but I wasn’t going to back out in front of the tower employees. Besides, several much younger people than I am had gone on ahead, and I wasn’t going to let them show me up. When I reached Level 10, I felt like I was pretty much done for the day, and when I stumbled out at the top, I felt like I was about a hundred years old! After I took my pictures, I realized that descending down the steep stairway is almost as tiring! When I got back down, one of the ladies working there remarked, “Well, I’ll bet that’s something you haven’t done before.” and she was right; that’s something I hadn’t done before, or won’t ever do again! I stopped by Calhoun Terrace to take some pictures, and headed down the Filbert Steps, which didn’t seem like much of a bother now, to the bottom of Telegraph Hill. When I got to my office, I tried to match up my pictures with some slides from the top of Coit Tower that I took in 1983. (Thumbnail images)

In April of 1983, I snapped a picture of a tanker heading past the Embarcadero, and heading toward the Bay Bridge. When I saw a ship approaching the Bay Bridge, remembered my 1983 slide because it’s one of my favorites, and took pictures of the ship passing by Telegraph. On the third one, I got a near perfect lineup with my old slide.

I took the rest of my pictures through the windows of the tower, like this one showing the old Embarcadero Freeway. They don’t match up perfectly with my old slides, but they still make interesting comparisons.

Looking toward Downtown San Francisco: Except for the Pyramid Building, this one doesn’t match up at all. The Salesforce Tower, looming in the background through the haze, is actually much taller than the Transamerica Pyramid.

Now you’re looking across Chinatown, with Nob Hill on the right and the Bank of America Building on the left.

Looking toward Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 45, with the Van Ness Pier on the left. The ship docked at Pier 45 in the 1983 pictures isn’t the Liberty Ship, the Jeremiah O’Brien, docked there today. On the right, you can see the arch of Pier 43 in both pictures. The sailing ship, the Balclutha, was still docked at Pier 43 in 1983.

After I left Coit Tower, I walked down the Filbert Steps to Calhoun Terrace, and another one of my all time favorite San Francisco views. You’re looking down toward Pier 17 on the Embarcadero. The Exploratorium is now housed in Pier 17. Back in 1983, somebody had the silly idea to paint the Embarcadero Piers mellow yellow and baby blue. Thankfully, they’ve been repainted since them. Yerba Buena and Treasure Islands, and the tower of the Bay Bridge eastern span are in the background.

The view further south of the previous pictures shows the Pier 7 walking pier at the foot of Broadway. The Pier 7 Building had been removed by 1983.

Last, is another view of the gone but not forgiven Embarcadero Freeway. I have to admit that I used that freeway often, and I was one of the last people on it before it closed forever, trying to get out of San Francisco during the hours after the October 17th 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake, but I don’t miss it.