Tuesday, November 5, 2013

From the Mission to the Presidio: A walk through early San Francisco


California Research Adventure: Day 44

Woke up at 7am. Out the door and on the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) train by 7:30 to travel from Berkeley to the 16th St. Station in San Francisco.

After arriving in the city, I had this lovely breakfast at a bakery/cafe called Thorough Bread on Church Street.

Yum! Blueberry scone and soy chai latte. Why not?

I was killing time because the Mission did not open until 9am. My plan for the day was to walk from the historic Mission Dolores to the Presidio (fort) on the other side of San Francisco: a walk of about four miles. Why do this walk? Because if we were walking through "San Francisco" in 1776, the year when the "city" was founded (it was not yet a city, and it was not yet San Francisco -- that was just the saint's name attached to the local mission), these would be the two major landmarks, besides Indian communities, to walk among: the church and the state—the mission and the presidio. The long arms of Spanish Empire in North America, here at the site of Spain's most northern exposure in the Americas in the eighteenth century. It is also clear from church records that at least a handful of Hawaiians found themselves at this mission, and at this presidio, in the early nineteenth century, so these are some of the only remaining places that I can go to and definitively say that subjects of my dissertation were here!
The 1913 basilica at Mission Dolores

The original 1776 adobe mission church

 Saw this fascinating map in an exhibit at the Mission Dolores. Shows what San Francisco Bay was like at the time of Spanish settlement. The two orange dots represent the Mission Dolores and the Presidio, both founded in 1776. Note how the mission was once pretty close to a bay of water that is now all landfilled, as far as I can tell.

 View between the 1776 mission church (at right) and the 1913 basilica (at left)

Now some pictures from inside the church. Is this perhaps San Francisco's only eighteenth century building still standing? Well, here we go. Let's fly into the mission complex on the back of a condor...
Condor eye's view of the mission, as it was back in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth centuries. The church still stands, but the rest of the complex—dormitories for workers, industrial spaces for manufacturing commodities to pay the mission's billsthat's all gone. The cemetery is still around though.
Inside the 1776 church. Interestingly, the mission's interpretive materials explained that much of the finely-crafted materials inside of the church came "from Mexico." But wait! First, there was no such thing as Mexico yet; this was "New Spain." And secondly, both during the Spanish and Mexican periods, this church here was in Mexico! It was only post-1848 that this church was in the United States and it could be said, teleologically speaking, that in the past these materials came from "Mexico," as if these were always two separate places. They were not.
An interesting find! On the floor inside the mission church is this memorial stone for William Leidesdorff. I had no idea he was a Catholic. What's important for me is that he was a sort of one-man labor agency in pre-American San Francisco—in the 1840s—for Hawaiian labor. He was always dealing out "kanakas" this way and that way to labor-scarce employers.

By way of comparison, here is the interior of the 1913 basilica nextdoor

After exiting the mission, I walked a few blocks up the hill to Dolores Park for a real nice view of downtown, a few miles distant, just emerging from the morning fog.
View of Dolores Park and downtown San Francisco in the foggy distance

Before leaving the Mission District, I had to check out the Women's Building, featuring this amazing 1994 mural of women's history and promoting all-around girl power. Very cool! (And this is just one side of the building... the mural continues around the corner!)

The Women's Building and its 1994 mural, MaestraPeace

Then it was off on my long walk to the Presidio. First stop along the way, the Castro.

Harvey Milk Plaza, in the Castro

The Castro, of course, is famous as San Francisco's LGBT district, at least historically it was, especially in the 1970s when a guy named Harvey Milk opened a camera shop on Castro Street that turned into a meeting place for LGBT activists. Milk later became the first openly gay elected official in U.S. history in 1977 but then he was assassinated the next year. The pride flag in Harvey Milk Plaza was put in, I believe, in 1997 on the twentieth anniversary of Milk's election to the city Board of Supervisors.

Harvey Milk's 1970s camera store is now owned by the Human Rights Campaign

Just off of Castro Street is the GLBT History Museum, apparently the first museum in the United States solely dedicated to the history of LGBT peoples and their struggles. The only other museum in the world, I was told, is in Berlin.
Things that Harvey Milk once owned. Now on display at the GLBT History Museum.

Let's continue on our journey from the Mission to the Presidio. After my visit to the GLBT History Museum, I really began my long walk north to the tip of the peninsula, site of the Spanish Empire's eighteenth-century fort. About one mile north of the Castro I made it to Alamo Square, a nice hilly park at which to take a break. It was noon.

View of downtown San Francisco from Alamo Square

From Alamo Square, I still had a few miles to go to get to the Presidio. The question was: what street to take. I decided to take Fillmore Street. Known as it is for its significance in music history, Fillmore did not fail: lo and behold I stumbled upon a jazz quintet performing at a farmer's market. I picked up a few plums and had a snack while listening to the music.

A little snack along Fillmore Street. Two plums.
From there I then had to hike through a neighborhood known as Pacific Heights. Pretty posh. And then finally I made it to the corner of Lyon Street and Pacific Avenue, at the edge of Presidio Park, part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area

Made it! View of the Bay from Lyon Street. There's something very nineteenth century about this scene.

So what was/is this Presidio? Well, in 1776 it was a Spanish military outpost. Then, post-1821-ish, it was a Mexican military garrison. Then, post-1848 it was an American military base, and it continued to be an American military base until the 1990s! Until the Cold War was over, and then finally the U.S. military handed over the site to the National Park Service. 

To get the center of the historic fort, I had to walk another mile down a path known as Lovers' Lane. An interpretive wayside said that Lovers' Lane was part of the original eighteenth-century path that connected the Presidio to the Mission. So I was doing something right, I guess, in this crazy walk.

Walking down Lovers' Lane through a forest on my way to the Presidio. Golden Gate National Recreational Area.

Well, the center of the Presidio was not that interesting at all. There is no real architectural or material cultural presence left over from the Spanish or Mexican periods. It just feels like an old U.S. military base, kind of like Governors Island in New York harbor.

So I grabbed the free PresidiGo bus (nice name!) down to Crissy Field. It used to be an airfield in the twentieth century, part of the U.S. military base, but now it has been restored to its marshy, wetlandly old former glory.

A cold beach at Crissy Field on San Francisco Bay

As I walked around the marsh, someone's dog got off its leash and ran into the protected pond area, sending scores of seabirds into the air in fear for their lives. This dog ran wild in the protected area for like 20 minutes... Just shows you how chaotic "nature" can be, especially when humans decide what is okay (seabirds) and what is not (dogs). Here's a photo of the scene:
Hundreds of seabirds, one crazy dog (look in the water), and a "protected" habitat at Crissy Field, with the Palace of Fine Arts in the background.
 
This was cool. At the pond at Crissy Field there was this pole showing how high sea level would be if the Arctic ice cap completely melted.... which is probably bound to happen in the next few hundred years. The red ball at the very top of the pole shows projected sea level in that case: that's about 19 feet higher than it is now! The lower ball that is visible shows the high-end projection for sea level rise by the end of this century, by 2100 CE.

Interpreting the future of climate change at Crissy Field, Golden Gate National Recreational Area.

And then it was just another short walk to the incredible 1915 Palace of Fine Arts. Built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition, a major world's fair and important event in not only San Francisco history but also Hawaiian history, because many Americans really came to"know" Hawaiʻi, their new colonial possession, for the first time at this exposition.

Can't beat the way the sun is setting upon this scene. The Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco. Look at the tiny people inside. 

The rotunda of the Palace of Fine Arts.

And then, wouldn't you know, if that was not beautiful enough, some of us spotted a heron just chilling by the pond next to the rotunda building. Heron + Palace = super beauty!

 Note the heron in the bottom center of the image.

Hey there.
Sublime ruins from the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition

From there it was time to go home. Back to Berkeley. I had accomplished my mission. I had walked from the 18th-century Mission to the 18th-century Presidio and took in eighteenth-, nineteenth-, and twentieth-century history along the way.

I grabbed a bus at the Palace to take me to Chinatown. There, on one last stop, I visited this narrow alley where, at least according to my guidebook, Sun Yat-Sen plotted his revolution—the one that would eventually overthrow two thousand years of imperial rule in China in 1911.

Spofford Alley, Chinatown, San Francisco
Also, St. Mary's Church, on the border of Chinatown and the Financial District, built in 1854. It surely is up there on the list of oldest structures still standing in San Francisco.

What a day! I was on the BART train by 6pm and back at the Y in Berkeley by 7. I had walked many miles, perhaps five total miles over the course of the day. And I saw more history in this one day than I think I have ever seen in any of my previous trips to San Francisco.

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