Posts Tagged ‘ Bay Area ’

140 Maiden Lane

On Saturday afternoon, Scott and I wandered into 140 Maiden LaneFrank Lloyd Wright‘s sole contribution to San Francisco architecture.  We were unaware of the building’s cultural significance when we entered it.  We were merely curious if the building’s interior matched its plain yet elegant exterior.  We were surprised to find an architectural marvel inside.

Visiting 140 Maiden Lane was a serendipitous detour.  I had been leading the way to Britex, my favourite fabric store, when beautiful voices beckoned.  We walked along Grant Avenue and turned left onto Maiden Lane, where a tenor and a soprano were performing for passersby.  They stood in the middle of the street.  As they sang, their operatic voices reverberated off the surrounding buildings.  We listened to several arias, and then Scott tipped the buskers as we walked past them towards Britex’s back door.  A century ago, if voices beckoned visitors onto Maiden Lane (which used to be called Morton Street), the voices likely would have belonged to prostitutes, and the visitors likely would have been johns.  The 1906 earthquake destroyed the Morton Street red-light district.  But I digress.

Across the street from Britex, a large “goop MRKT” banner fluttered in the wind above 140 Maiden Lane.  “goop MRKT” is a pop-up curation of Gwyneth Paltrow‘s lifestyle brand.  Scott told me that he had noticed 140 Maiden Lane before but it had always been closed or vacant.  The building’s tall exterior wall of tan brick is relieved by a metal gate hung below a brick arch.

As the gate was open, we walked through the arch into a lovely atrium merchandised with tasteful art, books, and clothing.  The space itself seemed to be the main attraction for many of the visitors I observed.  A large white circular ramp spirals up from the atrium to a mezzanine like a giant nautilus shell.  A drop ceiling features 120 white acrylic domes which conceal the building’s pitched glass roof.  A hanging planter floats over the atrium like a verdant flying saucer.  A small plaque near the door reads “This structure [is] designated by the American Institute of Architects as one of 17 American buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright to be retained as an example of his architectural contribution to American Culture – 1960.”  Scott and I peeked behind wooden doors to find hidden offices and a decommissioned dumbwaiter.  We opened drawers full of fancy soaps for sale.  Eventually, we left and went to Britex.

The next day, I returned to 140 Maiden Lane with a prospective client.  We had hit it off while exploring the newly-renovated San Francisco Museum of Modern Art so I was happy to share this discovery with him.  He seemed taken with the black walnut built-in furniture and fixtures, so we sat in silent appreciation of our surroundings.  Before we left, I asked a clerk to tell us about the building’s history.  She told us that gift shop owner V.C. Morris commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to renovate 140 Maiden Lane in the late 1940’s, and that the circular ramp in the atrium served as a physical proof of concept for the architect’s interior design of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.  She advised us that “goop MRKT” is open at 140 Maiden Lane only until May 22, so there are a few days left to enjoy the space before it closes.

 

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Golden Gate Bridge

In the past two months, Scott and I have seen the Golden Gate Bridge from afar and up close during our weekend staycations.

I took this photo of the bridge’s north tower when Scott and I went flying in December with Scott’s former colleague Jim, who is an amateur pilot.  Instead of exchanging Christmas presents, Scott and I pooled our fun money and asked Jim to take us flying.  Jim is a member of the Alameda Aero Club, so we took off from the Oakland Airport‘s North Field in a Cessna Skyhawk which we had rented from the club.  It was a calm and sunny day.  We had a clear view of San Francisco, and of landmarks such as the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory above UC Berkeley, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Point Reyes National Seashore.  At one point, Jim let Scott take control of the plane – I held my breath and focused on taking photos of the scenery below!  We landed at the Petaluma Municipal Airport where there were several small planes parked on the airport apron, including a shiny old Royal Canadian Air Force Beechcraft Model 18.  We ate lunch at the Two-Niner Diner.  The diner’s name refers to runway 29, which is nearby.  Despite our ideal flying conditions, I felt a wee bit nauseated so I was happy to settle my stomach with a delicious lunch of salad, chicken-fried steak, and blueberry coffee cake.  After lunch, we flew back to the East Bay.

In January, Scott and I walked across the Golden Gate Bridge on a Saturday afternoon.  First, we took BART into San Francisco and had fancy dim sum at Hakkasan to carbo-load before our seven-mile (11 km) hike.  I’m not sure how many carbs are in Hakkasan’s famous crispy duck salad; I needed exercise after eating it!  After lunch, we took UBER to the Presidio, a park and former military base that is part of the Golden Gate National Recreational Area.   We walked through a beautiful eucalyptus grove called Lovers’ Lane, snacked on macarons and Bavarian cream at the Walt Disney Family Museum, watched the sunlight and shadows of trees dance across the tombstones at the San Francisco National Cemetery, and took some selfies when we arrived at the bridge before sunset.  Heavy traffic made the walk across the bridge noisy and somewhat chaotic, but crossing the bridge on foot enabled us to touch the International Orange paint that protects the bridge from corrosion.  The bridge’s architect Irving Morrow chose the paint color to complement the landscape and enhance the bridge’s visibility in fog.  The Sisyphean task of maintaining the bridge’s paint job is the work of 38 painters.  Once we crossed the bridge, we put on our headlamps and power-walked in the dark to Sausalito so that we wouldn’t miss the ferry back to San Francisco.  At the Ferry Building, we had a wonderful Vietnamese dinner at The Slanted Door before we went home on BART.

Unsafe Safety Pin

Corridor Pin, Blue” is an enormous sculpture of a safety pin by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. There are several of these sculptures on display in America: one is in New Orleans; the artists’ proof is in Dallas; and the one I saw stands in the Barbro Osher Sculpture Garden at the de Young Museum in San Francisco‘s Golden Gate Park. The sculpture is 21 feet (6.4 meters) tall and it is made of stainless steel and painted aluminum. The pointy end of the pin looks sharp enough to poke out a dinosaur’s eye. Good thing there are no dinosaurs roaming around Golden Gate Park. Or are there? The Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton on display at the California Academy of Sciences next door wasn’t always a skeleton. Perhaps T-Rex had impaled himself on a safety pin sculpture and that’s why his skeleton is now on permanent display!

Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen were not only artistic collaborators but also husband and wife. They must have had so much fun deciding together what to make: “Let’s make a huge clothespin!”…”No, let’s make a big shuttlecock!”…”Why don’t we make a giant trowel today?”…”I feel the urge to make a flashlight for King Kong.”…”You know what the world needs? A massive pair of binoculars!” Their “Binoculars” sculpture anchors the Chiat/Day Building in Los Angeles designed by Canadian architect Frank Gehry. Coosje van Bruggen met Frank Gehry when they both served as adjudicators at Documenta, a contemporary art show in Kassel, Germany. Arne, my first friend in L.A., is from Kassel. In May, Arne gave me and Scott a grand tour of Kassel after we rendezvoused in Helsa. Yes, I share my name with a suburb of Kassel!

I took this photo of “Corridor Pin, Blue” last Sunday, just after a kind stranger had taken a group shot of me, Scott, Mama Chow, my Uncle Jeff, and my Auntie Lynne. We were in S.F. for a short but sweet family reunion: Jeff and Lynne live in Australia; Mama Chow lives in Canada; Scott now lives near Berkeley; and I live in L.A. Earlier that day, I had run 10 miles along the trails of Golden Gate Park while my family had wandered through the park’s Japanese Tea Garden and Conservatory of Flowers. It was a perfect day, really.

Mike’s Cafe

This week, we enjoyed a brief visit from my Australian friend Penny and her younger brother Ian.  Ian had backpacked his way around the world for several months before he visited Penny and her “registered partner NOT husband” Chris in the Bay AreaLos Angeles was Ian’s final pit stop before he flew back to Australia on Wednesday night.

Penny had chauffeured Ian from the Bay Area to Las Vegas for two days of gambling before they arrived on our doorstep Tuesday evening, bearing gifts of 99 Ranch Chinese roast duck, Sun Tropics mango passionfruit juice, and a Cuisinart immersion blender!  Penny and I used to shop at the 99 Ranch in Mountain View on Thursdays after volunteering with Habitat for Humanity Silicon Valley.  Chinese roast duck was and remains a treat, but cartons of Sun Tropics juice were staples in our fridge back then!  We inherited the blender from our German friends Julia and Eberhard, who are moving from Menlo Park to Hamburg next month.  To repay Julia and Eberhard’s kindness, I sent Penny home with a small framed print of Death Valley Desert Gold for them, as they had visited Death Valley over Christmas.  To repay Penny’s kindness, we enjoyed comfort food together at the Nickel Diner in downtown L.A. and Tender Greens in Santa Monica.

Penny’s kindness manifests itself in countless ways.  She pours love into the meals she cooks for her friends and family.  She makes my long commute bearable by Skyping with me once a week as I inch along the freeway.  And despite her occasional tantrums when I’ve taken “too many” photos during a hike or party, she encourages my photography.  She arranged for Ellen and Mike, the proprietors of Mike’s Cafes, to display my work at their Palo Alto restaurant for three months this past summer.  This is a photo of my prints on display at the restaurant.  Scott hung the frames; he did an excellent job.  If you scan the mirrored wall closely, you will see the reflection of Penny chatting with Mike.

Moreton Bay Fig Tree

In my hometown of Winnipeg, the land is flat and the city’s urban forest boasts the largest population of American Elm trees in North America.  From the air, the treetops are so abundantly green in the summertime that the city looks like a tray of freshly-steamed broccoli!  In our current neighbourhood of downtown L.A., shade trees are few and far between so sometimes I miss walking under Winnipeg’s canopy of century-old elms.

Colorado Blue Spruce trees anchor the landscaping of most yards in Winnipeg.  These evergreens are perennial reminders of Christmas in a town that’s covered in snow six months of the year.  During our first Christmas in California, I didn’t know what to make of the palm trees draped in tinsel and cotton batting:  Charlie Brown would not approve of these tarted-up palm trees.  I grew to love the Bay Area’s majestic Canary Island Date Palm trees.  Their thick trunks and full crowns inspire confidence:  these are trees that you can trust.  I feel no such affinity for the tall and skinny Mexican Fan Palm trees which are most common in L.A.  Their spindly trunks and feathery fronds remind me of flighty Hollywood starlets.  Mexican Fan Palms are the “Paris Hilton of Trees”.

Scott shares my fascination with trees; his all-time favourite tree is the Moreton Bay Fig Tree in Santa Barbara.  We visit this Ficus macrophylla every time we pass through town; it is the largest of its kind in the country.  A plaque in front of the tree indicates that it was planted in 1877 and designated a historic landmark in 1970.  Its branch spread was 176 ft (53.6 m), its height was 80 ft (24.4 m), and the circumference of its trunk was 41.5 ft (12.6 m) at 4.5 ft (1.4 m) above the ground in July 1997.  I wonder how much it’s grown since then.

Last Monday night, we stood under the Moreton Bay Fig Tree at dusk.  It’s such a beautiful tree.  The sun had set so I tried to compensate for the darkness by using a tripod and setting a slow shutter speed on my camera, but my photos didn’t turn out.  The photo I’ve posted is of the tree as it appeared last August, when we visited the tree during our move from the Bay Area to L.A.  Someone had chained a bike frame to the fence that surrounds the tree.  The white bike frame lends a sense of scale to the shot.

Me and “Mad Men”

This afternoon, I met Jon Hamm!  He plays the debonair yet damaged Don Draper on AMC’sMad Men“, my favourite TV show.  “Mad Men” is about the professional and personal lives of advertising grunts and gurus working on Madison Avenue in Manhattan during the 1960s.  The series is much more compelling than my summary suggests, so watch new episodes on Sunday nights and old episodes on iTunes

Scott and I have been huge fans of “Mad Men” since 2007, when Rogers on Demand aired Season 1 in Canada.  When we moved to L.A. last fall, we didn’t subscribe to cable as we don’t watch a lot of television.  Thanks to iTunes, we haven’t missed a single episode of “Mad Men”.  Season 4 debuted on Sunday, but we were camping in Big Sur so we didn’t watch the episode until last night:  it was excellent.

As Scott walked to work this morning, he noticed a film crew setting up in our neighbourhood.  When we spoke on the phone at lunchtime, he mentioned that a crew might have been filming an episode of “Mad Men” at the Broadway Bar.  I decided to walk past the bar on my way to the grocery store and ended up lurking on the sidewalk near the set.  Billy, a crew member, asked me if I was a paparazzo.  I showed him my camera, some shots of me and Scott camping in Big Sur, and a couple photos of “Mad Men” stars Jon Hamm and Jared Harris.  Once he knew I wasn’t a tabloid “photojournalist”, Billy invited me to stay and meet Jon Hamm.  Wow.  When he offered, I exclaimed that I was on my way to the grocery store and that I hadn’t combed my hair.  He laughed and asked if I was turning Jon Hamm down.  I smartened up and told him I’d love to meet Jon Hamm.  Nevermind that I looked like a crazy stalker with my hair still all messy from camping.  I was wearing a mushroom hoodie and Birkenstocks:  what was I thinking when I walked out the door?!

While I waited, several crew members came over to talk with me:  Robert the security guard brought me a bottle of water and asked me what I thought of the U.S. healthcare system; Michael the truck driver asked me about real estate prices in downtown L.A., Toronto, and Vancouver; and Tristan, who scouts locations, told me about his job.  They asked me about my life in L.A., in the Bay Area, and in Canada.  Their curiosity was endearing.     

Jon Hamm is lovely.  When we finally met, we shook hands and introduced ourselves to each other.  He asked me where I was from.  I answered, “Canada”.  He asked me if I was from Eastern or Western Canada.  I answered, “Central”.  He then nodded, “Oh, Manitobes!”  I giggled.  He put his arm around me and Billy took a photo of us.  He then shook my hand again and thanked me for watching the show before walking away.  I thanked Billy and then went grocery shopping, sunburnt and giddy from my brush with fame.

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