Category Archives: San Francisco Architecture

“Cupid’s Span”

"Cupid's Span"

You are walking along the Embarcadero enjoying the views which include the Bay Bridge, Yerba Buena Island, Treasure Island, and far off Oakland; ships are docked in the bay, and a multitude of sail boats are racing all around.  Everything seems nice, laid back, and predictable until…you look up ahead and you see a giant, yes giant, bow and arrow sticking half way up out of the ground.  Surprise!  You have just found Cupid’s Arrow.  (You can check that off the scavenger hunt list.

Designed by the international artists Claus Oldenberg and Coosje Van Brugen’s, “Cupid’s Span” was erected in 2003  in the new Rincon Park on the corner of the Embarcadero & Folsom Street.  These same artists created “Spoonbridge and Cherry” in Minneapolis, and “Saw Sawing” in Japan.  They are worth a “google” to check out the images.

This sculpture consists of fiberglass and steel, and it rises 60 feet out of the ground and covers 140 feet of the 1,000 square foot park.

“These urban pieces are treated like something that’s hit the city,” Oldenburg told The S.F. Chronicle (12/23/2002).  “At first there’s the man-in-the-street opinion, but then there’s the more nuanced response. We don’t copy the objects we use, we try to transform them and we hope they go on transforming as you look at them. The idea of endless public dialogue — visual dialogue — is very important to us.”

Needless to say, their bow and arrow hit the mark as far as public dialogue.  As you walk by this brilliant piece of art, you will often hear tourists and residents talk about it and what it might mean.

As more and more people fall in love with this magical city, this modern-day Atlantis, it should come as no surprise that this is the place that Cupid chooses to keep his bow and arrow.




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The Ghoulish Statues of 580 California Street

The next time you are in the neighborhood of California and Kearny, look up.  You will see three ghoulish looking, grim reaper like statues appearing to stare out at this mythical city by the sea.  Were they put there like gargoyles to scare away evil spirits?  Are they a sign of human, and city mortality?

Unfortunately, the real answer is not romantic or whimsical.  These statues were created by Murial Castanis, and the formal title for these artistic statues is “Three Models for 580 California,” but they are more commonly known as the “Corporate Goddesses.”

There must be more story behind the creation of these statues, but at this point it has not been published, and the artist passed away a few years ago.  It does make you wonder what story future generations may attach to these medieval ladies.



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The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge

The Bay Bridge is the one you see snaking across the bay from San Francisco, to Yerba Buena Island, and then on to Oakland.  It is an icon of San Francisco, and present in most views of the bay.  After three and a half years of construction, the 8 1/2 mile long bridge was opened on November 12, 1935.  It cost the lives of 27 construction workers during it’s depression era creation. 

The exact location of the bridge was dictated by a bedrock ridge that lies 200 feet below the surface of the bay on the line where the Bay Bridge currently sets.  On either side of this ridge, the water is quite a bit deeper. 

The Bay Bridge noteworthy facts include the following?

1.   The lower deck was originally built for electric train traffic only.  The upper deck was used for two-way vehicle traffic.  This changed in 1958 when the lower deck became refitted for eastbound traffic, and the upper deck was reserved for westbound traffic.

2.  The total coast was $77 million dollars.

3.  President Hoover, a graduate of the Stanford School of Engineering, took a personal interest in this project.  That’s right, President Hoover was an engineer. 

4.  Halfway between San Francisco and Yerba Buena Island, it became necessary to build another island for support.  The depth was to great for divers to work from the bottom up, so they tried something different and built this cement tower from the top down, eventually securing it with large steel pipes once it reached the bottom of the bay.  The tower is the height of a 48 story building.

Residents of San Francisco are well aware of the troubles the bridge between Yerba Buena Island and San Francisco has had in the past 25 years.  During the Loma Prieta Earthquake, part of the upper deck crashed on to the lower deck during rush hour, and more recently the bridge was closed to repair a fissure that was discovered as they began construction on a new bridge that will span the length of Yerba Buena Island to Oakland.  They tried to repair the fissure in a brief amount of time, but when the bridge was reopened, the repair came crashing down on a vehicle during rush hour and caused the closer of the bridge for a week.  As you work your way across this old span of bridge, you can view the new bridge beside it which will replace this ailing section around 2013. 

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The Hanlon House, San Francisco

If you find yourself walking around the Russian Hill/Nob Hill neighborhood on Jackson Street, take a couple of moments to walk by the Hanlon House at 1659 Jackson Street.  It was built in 1881 and moved to its current location after the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire.   
It is fascinating to reflect on all the life and conversations that have occurred in this residence.  The 130 year old home began its life during the Victorian Age, when women and men dressed elaborately and kept their parlors over decorated.  It was an age of showy excess, and this house looks like it belonged to that era.  Families continued to live in the house during the times of World War 1 & 2, McCarthyism,  poodle skirts, first moon walk, the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement, the Summer of Love, and the AIDS pandemic.  Most recently, this house witnessed the advent of accessible technology flood it’s rooms.  It was built around the time that the phone was invented, and now cell phones, computers, laptops, and televisions are used on the premises.
From the looks of this residence, it is not going anywhere anytime soon.  Maybe in the future it will be cars, and not just planes, that the grand old lady will see flying above it’s rooftop and chimneys. 

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Maiden Lane

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Have you been to Maiden Lane yet?  No?  Well, then hail a cab and head down to this quaint little alley near Union Square where high end fashion lives.  Retailers like Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, and Marc Jacobs all have cozy little stores nestled away in this posh alley.  In addition, you will find the Xanadu Gallery which is housed in a space designed by the infamous Frank Loyd Wright.

Before the 1906 earthquake and fire, this little street was known for its “red light” activity.  One can only imagine all the whoring, opium dens, and general crime that found it’s home in these short blocks.  The fire destroyed all of the buildings and left piles or rubble, but a jeweler saw potential in the mean little alley and transformed it to its current glamour by first changing the name from Morton to Maiden, and then courting businesses that would help the little lane to compete with the Maiden Lanes in both New York City and London.

Get up, catch a cab, and go window shopping in Maiden Lane.  While you are down there, you might as well stroll over to Union Square for some light shopping, and then you can end the excursion with a cup of tea in Chinatown.  



Source:  Wikipedia

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Chinatown: San Francisco

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Mission Dolores Cemetary and Gardens

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If you are religious during this season of Lent, consider spending some time in Mission Dolores and especially the adjacent gardens and cemetery.  Founded in 1776, the Mission survived many obstacles including the 1906 earthquake.  The structure itself is simple by today’s standards, but very ornate for 1776.  When you visit, you will exit onto the gardens and nearby cemetery.  This cemetery is very old and therefore has very unique graver markers.  It definitely reinforces that fact that “to dust we shall return.”

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