Monday, July 11, 2011

Rincon Center Post Office Annex

The Rincon Center Post Office Annex houses a collection of publicly funded murals,

painted by Anton Refregier during 1947 – 1948. Although the murals are collectively entitled "The History of California," the collection also includes murals related to WWII.

In 1953, Congress determined that the murals were Communist propaganda (too much red paint and several murals focused on – God forbid - labor issues) and were also disrespectful to the pioneers of California (some murals depict the tragic side of California’s conquest and development – i.e., the subjugation of indigenous Californians and the exploitation of Chinese labor – heavens forbid the “other” side of the story be told).

But the murals were defended as historically accurate works of art and survived. Nonetheless, Refregier did make some revisions to pacify the detractors. In one mural depicting the Mission days of California, a Catholic friar had a very ample belly, in stark contrast to the emaciated indigenous people in the same scene. Refreiger put the friar on a diet, and in short order, the obese fellow trimmed down a bit. Other adjustments were made as well – some of the Commie red was toned down (perhaps some of the shades of pink in the murals merely reflect fellow travelers, not true Communists).

Approximately 35 years later, the murals saved the art deco post office from total destruction. The property was to be razed and then redeveloped, but San Franciscans, an outspoken lot, set up a hue and a cry and the developer incorporated the murals into the new project.

That these murals, despite or even because of their controversy, should be treasured seems obvious to me. They tell a variety of stories – not just of the scenes depicted, but of the work’s relationship with the public and politics, and with the building that provides them a home.







I finally visited the Annex just the other day. In part to see the murals, but also to watch the performance of an aerial site-specific dance commemorating the funeral march for two workers killed in San Francisco's Pacific Maritime Strike of 1934 (aka, Bloody Thursday), which in turn lead to the San Francisco General Strike. The dance was performed on one of the ledges of the Post Office Annex, which is located where the funeral march began. The dance, Sympathetic, sponsored by the Labor Archives and Research Center, was one of many free, public events offered this month by LaborFest to honor the 1934 San Francisco General Strike. With labor under attack across the country, with public employees finding themselves vilified and disenfranchised, we need to draw courage from those who came before us and had far more on the line than we do now, but still risked it all for a better future – for themselves and those who came after.

The funeral march was a silent march. Men marched down the street, dressed in black, their hats in their hands out of respect for the dead. Although Beethoven’s 12th played periodically as the men marched, it was by and large a silent procession, impressive for its starkness and solemnity. The march gained the workers quite a bit of sympathy and certainly helped them gather their strength and unity for a general strike. The dance captures the essence of that march. Alas, I fear my photos do not do the dance justice.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Open Letter to the 2009 Freshman Class of San Francisco State University

Dear Freshman Class of 2009:

The other day as I looked out my office window, I saw you scramble out of mini-vans and SUVs that crowded the curb by the dorms. The sidewalk was littered with boxes reinforced with cellophane tape, overstuffed suitcases, and backpacks stuffed with teddy bears and laptops. You looked nervous and excited. Here you are – at the beginning of a new semester at SFSU, a campus with a proud history of diversity and student activism. But I wonder if you know what is happening here and at CSU campuses across the state.

Do you know you have paid 32% more in tuition fees than students from last fall? I’d like to tell you the increase in fees equals an increase in the quality of your education, but I can’t. Course offerings and class sections have been slashed; classroom instruction time has been cut by roughly 20% through a CSU-imposed furlough on faculty.

Faculty will lose about 9.53% of our pay because of the furlough, but you will lose nine days of instruction. That might not sound too bad – maybe you think you can use those days to sleep in or do your laundry. But in my first-year composition course, those nine days represent one entire essay unit that helps prepare students for the challenge of the next essay, the next semester, the next composition course. With 20% less instruction time, I can’t prepare you as well as I have prepared previous students.

My office hours have also been cut by 13%. Previous students will tell you that meeting with me during office hours made a significant difference in their ability to improve their writing. But with less office hours, I can’t meet with as many of you as want to see me, nor as often.

Although I will do everything I can to mitigate the impact of these cuts, I can’t possibly provide you with the same quality of instruction I provided students last fall. The quality of your education will decline, even as the cost increases.

But the quality of education is not the only issue; access to education also finds itself on the chopping block as well. CSU will turn away 40,000 students over the next few years. Typically, when access is limited, students who come from economically- and educationally-disadvantaged backgrounds lose out. What will become of those students denied a university education? Will your younger siblings be part of that 40,000?

In the past, when the quality of and access to education has been threatened, SFSU students have not sat by idly; they have organized, made history and headlines, demanded and created change. They have not been alone in that effort; faculty has stood with them. We will stand with you again.

But this fight will depend largely on what you choose to do. As students you have more power than you think. And you have more to lose than any other stakeholder in this high-stakes crisis.

My dear freshmen, are you up to this challenge? You have a choice to make: you can meekly duck your heads, scurry off to your classes (if you’re lucky enough to get them) and accept this decline as inevitable. Or you can, in the words of Bob Marley, “get up, stand up, stand up for your rights; get up, stand up and don't give up the fight.” Will you fight for your education? Will you demand a restoration of quality education and open access – for yourselves and for those who come after you.

The choice is yours. What will you do?


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Off to Italia, but my heart will stay here ...

I'll be back in July - just when the fog clears.


"Fidelity": Join the Movement to Repeal Prop 8

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Repeal Prop 8 - Protest March San Francisco (11/7/2008)

State court upheld Prop 8 this morning - legalizing discrimination. Minorities beware. If the majority can strip rights away from one minority - they can do it to another.

The video is from November of last year. But right now, as I type this and look out my window, a helicopter is circling above the Castro. Earlier today the choppers were circling over the Civic Center. Many have taken to the streets today and this evening. The fight is not over.

A brief was filed today with a federal court, asking that Prop 8 be set aside until the court can decide if Prop 8 violates our Federal constitution. Of course it does.

A sad, sad day. But eventually, this too shall pass and marriage equality will prevail.

Pemberton Stairs Revised

(I recently revisited the Pemberton Stairs - and have reposted to include new pics. The gardens are in full bloom right now.)

Walking in San Francisco means walking up and down hills, and up and down public staircases lined with quaint homes and private gardens.

The Pemberton Stairs are on a hillside just north (and a bit west, but not too much) of the Twin Peaks Lookout. The stairs begin at Clayton and climb up past Greystone, past Villa Terrace and end at Crown

. Turn right at Crown Terrace and head over to Twin Peaks Blvd. Cross that street and you can climb up the stairs to the top of Tank Hill.

Take a look at the broad view from above

Just a wee bit closer.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Tank Hill

Tank Hill is a stone’s throw (ok, well, maybe a javelin or discus throw) away from my place. Actually, it’s not a throw away at all, but a short walk (up the Pemberton Stairs to Crown Terrace – turn right, cross Twin Peaks Blvd and there you are).

I’ve pondered the name for some time. I conjure up images of an old WWI tank – but there were no tanks in the City. Batteries were built along the coast with canon to protect the shore, but tanks? In the City?

Was Tank Hill so-named because its shape was tank-like?

Not at all. Once upon a time, a water tank stood atop the hill. The tank was removed in 1957 and back in the 70s, developers coveted this land and of course, wanted to build upon it, but the neighborhood fought back and convinced the city to purchase the land and keep it as open space. Tank Hill has been open space ever since. Despite all its urban decadence, San Francisco is a city that loves open space and provides plenty of it for her residents.

Tank Hill (presumably from the east side) in days of old.

Tank Hill as seen today from the west side.

Tank Hill is never very crowded – most of the time I walk up there, no one’s about. On occasion, early in the morn, I might find a dog with his 2-foot companion out for a foggy morning walk, or on rare occasions, someone meditating. On one afternoon’s walk, a rapper and his film crew were recording on Tank Hill. He rapped with the wind blowing his hair, the city in the background. Alas, I didn’t stop to inquire, so I am left to wonder – if I watch MTV, will I see this fellow? Was he a professional? Amateur?

But what a grand way to start the day: walk up the Pemberton Stairs and over to Tank Hill for a panoramic view of the City, beginning in the east, looking out and over the bay to Oakland and Alameda, over to downtown, and west, toward the Golden Gate, the ocean itself, and closer, a swatch of Golden Gate Park, Cole Valley and the Haight. Sunsets too are beautiful from Tank Hill. You lean against the rock outcrops (radiolarian chert rock – formed eons ago – 130 million years ago actually, on the ocean floor – and here now, 650 feet above sea level, providing comfy nooks and crannies to sit and lean upon, and gaze out over what to me, is one of the most beautiful cities in the world). Leaning against those rocks on the west side of the hill, you watch the sun slowly settle down into the ocean. And as it slowly sinks down, the sky pinks up, and the houses in Cole Valley are awash in shadow and gold, and the tall buildings downtown glimmer with shades of pink and their windows are set afire from the sun’s last rays. If you’ve any forethought, you’ve brought a bit of wine with you to Tank Hill and you can toast the town and bid the sun a good evening. If you’re very adventuresome, you can climb up Tank Hill in the dark and turn east, to watch the moon rise.

But the pics below were taken on a cool April morning, last week.

Crossing Twin Peaks headed to Tank Hill. That’s Mt. Corona with the City behind it.

A cloudy sunrise from Tank Hill

Mt. Corona from Tank Hill

The church spires of 90 year-old St. Ignatius on the University of San Francisco’s campus. You can just make out the top of the Golden Gate Bridge to the far left.

Looking west, out over Cole Valley and The Haight. The green swath to the left is part of Golden Gate Park and to the right, in the distance, you can just make out the twin spires of St. Ignatius.

A closer (but not very close) look at the Golden Gate Bridge

A broader satellite view of Tank Hill and the surrounding area.