Monday, November 16, 2009

From Dunes to Dreams

San Francisco with pink cheeks, chapped lips, fog on its breath, eyes straining across the next hill, sharply etched wonders to behold. On a day like this everything is close enough to touch.

-herb caen

It is hard to imagine the Presidio Heights area as an empty expanse. But prior to the 1860s, the western two-thirds of San Francisco, the 'Outside Lands', was only sand dunes and coastal scrub. The undesirable land had no level ground and was covered in ever-shifting dunes, some more than 100 feet tall. However the growing city needed land, so local developers began to employ huge steam shovels to level the sand hills and fill in the extensive tidal marshes. By 1864 the area had it's first toll road, Geary Blvd, extending from the city, seven miles west, to the ocean.

At first the area attracted only businesses that required lots of cheap land like race tracks, cemeteries, dairy farms, and orphanages. But eventually the road prompted many downtown residents to move out and settle along the road. Within a few years there were 3,000 residents and local boosters, hoping to attract more homeowners, renamed one area 'The Sunset' and another 'The Richmond' due to its perceived similarity to Richmond, Australia.

Soon prestigious neighborhoods were also being developed, such as Presidio Terrace, Lake Street, Sea Cliff, and Presidio Heights (photo above). By the turn of the century the reclaimed area, highlighted by the lush, expansive Golden Gate Park, had been transformed from barren sand dunes into a series of residential neighborhoods with trees, lawns, parks, and landscaped hills. The former Outside Lands were no longer recognizable as the Great Sand Waste.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Tessie Wall's Townhouse, Powell Street

During the early 1900s Tessie Wall was San Francisco's most famous madam. Born in San Francisco, Tessie a former dancing girl, was already well known for having out-drank boxing champion John L. Sullivan when she opened her first "lodging house" on O'Farrell Street in 1898. Successful from the start, Tessie opened a second high-class establishment on Larkin Street after the earthquake of 1906. It was then that Tessie met Frank Daroux, a Republican state political boss who quietly ran a number of gambling parlors and pool halls. The two fell in love and married in a secret civil ceremony in Philadelphia to protect Frank's public political reputation.

Tessie's wealth allowed her to indulge in her passion, buying antiques. She bought gilded oil paintings, a Napoleon bed, dinner service designed for William Rockefeller, and european draperies from the Spreckles mansion, she also became famous for every year buying hundreds of tickets to the Policemen's Ball and becoming the unofficial queen of the annual events. Wearing a diamond tiara, she would slam hundreds of dollars on the bar and yell, "Drink that up boys! Have a drink on Tessie!"

In 1917 Frank sued for divorce citing long quarrels and Tessie's unwillingness to give up her businesses and move away with him. Heartbroken, Tessie tried to stab herself with a carving knife and then unsuccessfully attempted to patch up their relationship. After a wild, public divorce trial Frank was finally granted his request by a judge. A few months later Tessie spotted Frank coming out of the St. Francis Hotel with a woman on his arm, Tessie ran up and begged him to return to her. Frank refused, turned away, and Tessie shot him three times with a revolver. As she was arrested she famously cried, "I shot him 'cuz I love him, damn him!"

Frank survived the attack, refused to prosecute his ex-wife, and eventually moved to the east. Tessie sold her businesses for a small fortune and retired to this townhouse, filled with her antiques and numerous portraits of Frank. Tessie's last public appearance was at the Policemen's ball in 1932. She appeared in a high blonde wig, a flowing white satin gown and wearing all the diamonds that she owned. She died a month later at the age of 63, still in love with Frank.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Air Travel Rant

Having flown several times over the past two months here are a few observations of air travel. I do not rant very often here so be patient.

1. TSA Airport Security is a joke. This more so after news of Britney Spears being allowed to board her Big Gulp. I don't travel with my hygenic items in a clear plastic bag and have never had any trouble. I pass through with my carry on containing lip balm, a tube of sunscreen and other so-called banned items everytime. The metal detector does not catch my cell phone, watch, belt, ring or other metal objects I never remove before passing through. I understand it is a veil of security but doesn't that veil also have to have some teeth?

2. Baggage fees. $20 bucks to check my bag? It causes more trouble when I carry it on. You have the baggage staff there and they are already loading bags, what is the need for the charge?

3. I requested to change to a flight leaving one hour later than my orignal. There were plenty of seats available and I would not have to fly stand-by but it would cost me $150 dollars to change. What? Why? The airline is not losing money by allowing me to leave an hour later on the same airline. So what, somebody has to type in some new flight information. That is whay they get paid to do.

4. When an airline says it will have an ontime departure or arrival it sounds like it wants a pat on the back. That is what I paid you to do.

5. Don't tell me to arrive 1 1/2 hours early only to have to sit and wait in your dreary airport lounge for 1 hour and 15 minutes.

6. Fix the automatic check in computers. Why is it half of them are out of service?

7. If you are going to charge people to pay for headphones to watch a movie then why do I have to listen to your commercials and public relations messages over the cabin speakers? Let those idiots who paid for headphones listen to that crap.

8. If you are going to be so stingy and tight on security why don't you crack down on the regulation size of carry-on bags? I am tired of seeing people squeeze mid-size bags into overhead compartments.