Led by historian, author and former National Parks Ranger John Martini, the guided walk will visit a former Chinese funerary temple set in a grove of cypress trees, a towering iron monument to sailors who died far from home, and the site of a macabre mass grave discovered in the not-very-distant past.
And if cemetery trivia and history are your thing, check out the recent history minute below from the Western Neighborhoods Project. You may be surprised to learn what happened to the headstones from our old cemeteries.
P.S. – Despite the date of this event, it’s not a hoax!
The Alexandria Theater at 5400 Geary Boulevard and 18th Avenue. And yes, we 311′d “le poop”.
Sunday marked the 10th anniversary of the closing of the Alexandria Theater on the corner of Geary and 18th Avenue. The decade since its closing has been one of ongoing neighborhood blight, with the building slowly deteriorating and suffering from vandalism, as promised development plans never get underway.
The theater was opened in 1923 by Samuel Levin, a movie theater entrepreneur who was in business with his two brothers, Alex and Joseph. It was noteworthy for being the first theater to install a sloped floor for better viewing from every seat.
But the building is best known for its architectural fathers, the well-known Reid Brothers, who designed the movie house with an Egyptian theme, mixing elements of ancient Egypt, Minoan culture, and classical detailing. The brothers designed upwards of twenty movie houses in San Francisco, including the Balboa Theater.
In 1941, the theater underwent extensive remodeling and all that really remained of the original design were the stone pillars on its facade. United Artists then purchased the theater in 1976, converting it from a single screen theater into a 3-screen multiplex.
The Alexandria Theater, 1942
Interior of the theater, 1942
The theater, after struggling financially, closed on February 16, 2004 – one week after being sold to a group of investors, Alexandria Enterprises LLC, which owns it today. [SF Heritage]
Since its closing, the theater has been a source of blight for the neighborhood. A favorite for graffiti hounds, the walls along 18th Avenue and the entrance are often tagged.
Trash collected in the entrance to the theater and vagrants sometimes slept out in front of the theater under its protected alcove. Ownership resorted to erecting unsightly cyclone fencing around the front entrance, and throughout the last 10 years, trespassers have broken into the abandoned building and squatted for periods of time, one time causing a small fire.
The decaying entrance alcove to the theater, featuring a peeling, water-damaged ceiling
So what do the Alexandria owners plan to do with the aging building?
For the last few years, plans have been shared with the community for a new development on the property, which would include a 221 seat theater and commercial retail space in the theater building, and a mixed use development on the back parking lot with retail space on the ground floor, residential units above, and underground parking.
The proposed development would preserve original architectural elements of the art deco building, including the domed roof that was part of the original theater before it was sectioned off when it became a multiplex. The ornamental decoration on the facade of the theater building would also remain, including the blade sign (though the 1-2-3 numbers would be removed from the sign, an addition made in 1976).
The plans also indicate that some (or all?) of the original murals inside the building would also be preserved and on view.
But to this day, no work has started on the property. A quick search of the records at SFDBI shows that no new building, electrical or plumbing permits have been filed since the project approval came through.
“The Planning Commission’s approval is good for three years. Within that period, a building permit needs to be filed and issued. Once a permit is issued, the Department of Building Inspection or Building Department may grant extensions to start work and to complete work if the sponsor needed additional construction time,” Mary Woods of the Planning Department told us last April.
The back lot of the Alexandria Theater on 18th Avenue. The proposed redevelopment includes
building a 4 story residential building on the back lot.
Let’s not forget the illegal drama regarding the building’s plans and permits. In 2010, Jimmy Jen, a formerly licensed civil engineer, was arrested for allegedly forging the signatures and stamps of two licensed engineers on documents related to more than 100 construction projects throughout the city between 1990 and 2007, including those of the Alexandria development project.
Jen was often hired as an “expediter” for projects to move them through city approval channels more quickly. Rather than hiring a licensed engineer to review his clients’ construction projects, he allegedly impersonated unwitting engineers.
Jen’s ex-wife, Nancy Jen, was also reportedly the largest stakeholder in the Alexandria Theater project. [SF Examiner] Jen’s case went to trial in July 2013, but we were unable to find the outcome. But his wrongdoings on the Alexandria development’s paperwork did not hinder the project according to city officials.
At this point, most residents have an “I’ll believe it when I see it” attitude about the Alexandria Theater redevelopment. After 10 years of neglect, it’s time for this large neighborhood landmark to be rehabilitated and put back into use.
Let’s hope that the owners and developers don’t wait until day 1,094 of their three year permit period to get started. Or worse yet, abandon the project altogether, leaving the Alexandria to continue its decade plus run as a neighborhood eyesore.
Today, George Clooney’s latest film The Monuments Men opens in theaters. The film depicts an unusual WWII platoon made up of museum directors, curators, and art historians who were tasked with rescuing artistic masterpieces that had been stolen by the Nazis and returning them to their rightful owners.
One of the platoon members was Thomas Carr Howe, Jr., who at the time was the Director of the Legion of Honor Museum. Howe’s character is not portrayed in Clooney’s film but during his years of service as a “Monument Man”, he helped rescue and preserve countless artworks stolen by the Nazis, including Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child (1501) and Jan Van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece (1432).
During World War II, Howe joined the U.S. army and served from 1945 to 1946 in Germany and Austria. He began as a naval lieutenant but was soon assigned to serve in the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives (MFAA) section. Howe reported to Lieutenant Commander George Stout at Wiesbaden, and was later promoted to Lieutenant Commander and Deputy Chief of the MFAA at Frankfurt.
During his service as one of the “Monuments Men” Howe located hidden and recovered large repositories of cultural objects and works of art stolen by the Nazis. He also helped with the restitution effort. At the Altaussee salt mines in Austria, Howe helped salvage a large cache of stolen artwork that included Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child and the Ghent Altarpiece or The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb by Hubert and Jan van Eyck, Vermeer’s The Artists Studio, and the Rothschild family jewels. Howe later described his wartime work in his book Salt Mines and Castles: The Discovery and Restitution of Looted European Art (1946). [Archives of American Art]
Today at 12noon, the Legion of Honor is hosting a lecture about Howe and the real life story of the Monuments Men. The talk features presentations from UC Berkeley, The Frick Collection Art Reference Library, the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art, and the American Institute for Conservation Oral History Project.
For his wartime service as a Monuments Men, Howe was honored with the Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor and the Officier of the Dutch Order of Orange-Nassau in 1946. After completing his service, Howe resumed his place as Director at the Legion of Honor, a position he held until his retirement in 1968.
And you can see the new Monuments Men movie starring Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban and George Clooney at the Balboa Theater, starting tonight.
Stephen Kovalyak, George Stout and Thomas Carr Howe transporting Michelangelo’s sculpture Madonna
and child, 1945 July 9. [Archives of American Art]
Since last spring, Mountain Lake has looked a lot like a construction site as dredging equipment has sat on the surface, methodically removing sediment contaminated with lead and motor oil from the bottom of the lake.
In late 2011, a $13.5 million settlement was reached between the Presidio Trust and CALTRANS for cleanup of contaminated sediments that have run into Mountain Lake off of the Park Presidio roadway. The runoff has been occurring since the roadway opened 70 years ago.
The first phase of the project involved making adjustments to the roadway to avoid future runoff, including the installation of 400 stone columns into the ground along the northbound shoulder of the roadway west of Mountain Lake. Treatment devices were also installed in storm drains along the highway to prevent contaminants from entering the lake in the future.
One of the red-eared slider turtles that was removed from the lake and relocated
Dredging then got underway in Spring 2013. The dredged sediment from the bottom of the lake was transported via pipeline to a staging area north of the lake where it was dewatered and then pumped back into the lake. The dried, contaminated sediment was transported offsite and disposed of in a permitted, offsite landfill.
The last truckload of sediment left Mountain Lake in December, and all of the dredging equipment was removed from the lake. The remediation equipment in the staging area will also be removed soon, officially completing the remediation portion of the Mountain Lake project.
Crews plant new trees along the Park Presidio roadway in May 2013.
In the background, dredging barges can be seen on the lake. Photo: Presidio Trust
Up next is the beginning of the restoration phase, which is expected to last nearly three years. During that time, Biological Science Technician Jason Lisenby says they “will plant thousands and thousands of local plants into the newly cleaned-up areas.”
Planting will also take place in the lake itself, to ready it for the return of fish and act as a food source for wildlife:
Planting into Mountain Lake is expected to begin in March, and the first priority, Laskowski said, will be to introduce three of the lake’s most important plants: sago pondweed (Stuckenia pectinata), coontails (Ceratophyllum demersum) and water nymphs (Najas guadalupensis).
Those plants will play many roles, Young and Laskowski said. They will form a leafy canopy to shield microorganisms on the bottom from sunlight and provide a source of food for the lake’s dabbling ducks, as well as for the rare Western pond turtles that are being raised at the two zoos until they can be moved to the lake.
Once the plants are thriving, Young’s team will introduce hundreds of fish called three-spined sticklebacks, (Gasterosteus aculeates), a 2-inch species with a crucial role in the lake’s ecology. [SFGate]
CELEBRATION & VOLUNTEER PLANTING ON FEBRUARY 8
Next Saturday, the Presidio Trust will host a celebration of the end of the remediation phase that includes a volunteer planting day. Volunteer opportunities will run from 9am to 12noon, followed by guided walks and a talk about future plans for Mountain Lake by Michael Boland, Chief Planning, Projects & Programs Officer for the Presidio Trust.
This is an auspicious rebirth for Mountain Lake, which scientists estimate is 1,700 years old, and one of the few remaining natural lakes in San Francisco (the others are Lake Merced, Pine Lake west of Stern Grove and the semi-natural Chain of Lakes in Golden Gate Park).
A view of Mountain Lake from 1899, looking west from the south shore (the side where Mountain Lake Park is today). The buildings in the background are the historic Marine Hospital, where the Presidio Landmark apartments are today. Photo: Presidio Trust
The history-minded folks at the Western Neighborhoods Project recently acquired a photo collection from a local historian; he had saved them from being discarded in the early 1980s.
The photos are from the San Francisco Assessor’s Office and were all taken in 1951. WNP explains:
The Assessor’s Office periodically photographed buildings around the city for property tax purposes. The photos are documentary in nature and were taken without regard to the scenes on the street. As a result, in addition to showing the buildings, other things were recorded too, such as parked cars and people going about their daily lives. We think these make for an excellent view into what life was like on our streets over 60 years ago.
The WNP team has created a new website just for the photo collection at 1951.outsidelands.org, that includes a handy Google Map that allows you to see where the photos are across the city.
There are many in the Richmond District, a few of which we’ve included here. As is the case with San Francisco, some things have changed a lot, while others not so much. Check out the map – you may see a slice of life from your very own block in 1951.
Thanks to the Western Neighborhoods Project for digitizing and sharing the 4×5 inch negatives, which will also be donated to the San Francisco History Center at the San Francisco Public Library, adding to its large collection of Assessor’s negatives.
Into local history? The WNP is a non-profit and always welcomes donations and new members (they have an awesome quarterly newsletter).
A bit from the screening of Lost Landscapes 4. Don’t miss the footage at 3:30!
For eight years running, archivist Rick Prelinger has presented his annual collection of old San Francisco film and home movie clips as part of “Lost Landscapes”, “bringing together both familiar and unseen archival film clips showing San Francisco as it was and is no more.” This year’s show at the Castro has already sold out.
Many of Prelinger’s archival films were scanned and converted to digital at the Internet Archive for previous Lost Landscapes, and funds raised at the Dec. 18 screening will help replace the specialized equipment that was lost.
This year’s Lost Landscapes includes newly-discovered images of Playland and Sutro Baths; the waterfront; families living and playing in their neighborhoods; detail-rich streetscapes of the late 1960s; the 1968 San Francisco State strike; Army and family life in the Presidio; buses, planes, trolleys and trains; a selected reprise of greatest hits from years 1-7; and much, much more.
Prelinger’s screenings never include a soundtrack – he relies on the audience for that. “As usual, the viewers make the soundtrack — audience members are asked to identify places and events, ask questions, share their thoughts, and create an unruly interactive symphony of speculation about the city we’ve lost and the city we’d like to live in.”
The screening takes place on December 18 at the Internet Archive (300 Funston Avenue) with a reception at 6pm, followed by the film at 7:30pm. Tickets are available online and start at $25.
If you love San Francisco history and have a penchant for time travel, you don’t want to miss it.
Tomorrow is the 116th Big Game between Stanford University and University of California at Berkeley (“Cal”), one of the greatest and longest running rivalries in college football. This year’s game will be at Stanford and every year, the venue alternates between campuses.
But 111 years ago, things were a little different. The Big Game venue had hopped around the Bay Area since the rivalry first started in 1892. Neither school had a field that could accommodate the thousands of students, alumni and football fans that came to watch, so the first thirteen Big Games were played in San Francisco.
The last two to be played in San Francisco, in 1902 and 1903, took place right here in the Richmond District.
A “SANDY” SITE FOR THE NEW STADIUM
In October 1902, the athletic directors from each school announced they had decided upon a site for that year’s game. It was to be at a site described as “sandy” which is exactly what the neighborhood sits on – tons and tons of sand. Back in 1902, the Richmond District was not richly populated and a lot, bound by Lake Street, 7th Avenue, California Street, and 8th Avenue, was chosen to be the home of the new Richmond Grounds stadium.
Preparations were rushed and carpenters built fences, bleacher seats and grandstand coverings, and horse-drawn wagons brought in load after of clay and loam to put on the sandy surface of the field.
THE EARLY DAYS OF NIMBY-ISM
Things were going swimmingly until Richmond District residents living near the new stadium started to panic, fearing that the new venue would attract the wrong element to their quiet neighborhood. Two weeks before the game, residents went before the Streets Committee of the Board of Supervisors to make their objections known.
After a rowdy hearing, probably much like the recent Beach Chalet hearings, a compromise was reached. The schools would only be allowed to play three additional games at Richmond Grounds, and the stadium would have to be removed by January 1904. With that settled, the 1902 Big Game could proceed.
Three days before the game, the Daily Californian described the new field:
The new football grounds near the Marine Hospital at San Francisco are the most picturesquely situated that were ever selected for the big Varsity game. They are at Seventh Avenue and California Street, about midway between the Presidio Golf Club house and the Marine Hospital, and are very close to the Maria Kip Orphanage.
There are splendid great grand stands for seating 13,500 people. The whole east side of the field is one great towering gently sloping hillside of substantial benches under cover, and the entire west side of the field will have similar seats without cover for the college rooters.
A story in the Chronicle mentioned the ticket prices – $2.50, $2.00, $1.50, or $1.00 – but said anyone without the means would be able to sit up on the hillside abutting the Presidio Golf Course and get an excellent view. Perhaps a forefather to Cal’s now infamous Tightwad Hill?
Keep in mind this stadium went up quickly and would not have rivaled what we’re used to seeing college football played on today.
The fans would not have seen a grass field, but a mixture of clay, sand and loam. The field sloped slightly downhill toward the north goal. Coupled with the day’s prevailing wind from the south, the team defending the south goal had an offensive and a defensive advantage. [Outsidelands.org]
The 1902 game kicked off at 3pm and ended in a shutout, with Cal defeating Stanford 16-0. The game included a field goal (only the second in Big Game history), and a 90 yard punt return for a touchdown.
Revenue from the game totaled $23,000, covering the land lease and the cost of construction of the facility, and netting each team almost $9,000. Local newspaper The Call later estimated that 2,000 people watched the game from outside the field.
The seating chart for the 1902 Big Game at Richmond Grounds. Courtesy of outsidelands.org
THE FINAL TWO GAMES AT RICHMOND GROUNDS
Though the schools had permission to play three more games in the Richmond Grounds, it would only be used twice more. First for the freshmen teams to square off in October, 1903 where Stanford emerged with a 12-0 victory before 5,000 spectators.
The final use for the Richmond Grounds was for the 1903 Big Game that November. Demand for tickets was high as it was shaping up to be the last time that the game would take place in San Francisco.
Residents anticipated big crowds, and requested more police presence, claiming some tightwads from the year before had damaged their houses and trees while trying to see the game.
Kickoff was at 3pm, but fans began filling the Richmond Grounds as early as 10am. With 15 minutes to go in the game, the score was tied 6-6. Stanford attempted a field goal from Cal’s 36-yard line, but it fell short. Final score: 6-6
Traditionally, the winning team’s supporters rush the field after a Big Game, but the crowd in 1903 didn’t know what to do with a tie. Eventually, BOTH team’s fans rushed the field and each school’s brass bands burst into life.
Out of their seats, over the rails and onto the field poured a bell-ringing, pennant-waving, horn-blowing, cheering mob. As the shadows lengthened across the Richmond Grounds, two separate bodies of celebrants gathered behind the respective bands. Forming themselves into enormous lines, they serpentined over the field, leaving the final footprints on the field of the Richmond Grounds. [outsidelands.org]
No more games were ever played on the Richmond Grounds and its dismantling began shortly after the 1903 Big Game, since it was due to be removed by January 1904. And so ended the collegiate football history of the Richmond District.