KITCHEN SISTERS: This is Raw Material, an arts and culture podcast from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. We are the Kitchen Sisters. Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva, producers of Raw Material Season 5, San Francisco—Stories from the Model City.
GARY KAMIYA: I had heard about this crazy model years ago. Some cryptic allusion to it, maybe in The Chronicle. They just said there was this enormous scale model of San Francisco that once was on display briefly and then vanish. The idea that there was a miniature world. There’s something just so irresistible to your child like brain.
KITCHEN SISTERS: Our story begins with this gigantic handmade model made up of over 6,000 tiny carved buildings and bridges—forgotten for almost 80 years.
It involves artists, curators, poets, planners, and a mega collaboration between SFMOMA and 29 branches of the San Francisco Public Library. This object has become the catalyst for over 100 public programs throughout San Francisco. It’s activated bicycle tours. It’s lured in thousands of locals and tourists and historians triggered people’s memories and generated questions and ideas about how we can go forward as a city. Keeping it dynamic and diverse and just and hospitable, protecting the environment a pretty tall order for an object.
Welcome to San Francisco—Stories from the Model City.
STELLA LOCHMAN: Okay wait. The 1938 model was made to the scale of 1 inch to 100 feet. Where considerable carving was required. Poplar and Sugar Pine were the woods used. Shrubbery growing on the map is made of wire wool, pieces of sponge, and beet seeds. I’m Stella Lochman, associate for public dialogue at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the current keeper of the model. Three quarters of a century of different keepers for this thing. It’s a very big object to keep.
GRAY BRECHIN: The entire model when it’s reassembled is almost 40 by 40 feet. Absolutely colossal. I’m Dr. Gray Brechin, geographer over at UC Berkeley. I was alerted that this model existed by some of the custodians of the UC Warehouse. Fortunately, they didn’t dumpster it. The reason for building it was to put a lot of people to work during the Depression.
STELLA: 1,200 man months of labor, according to the WPA records. About 35 people working every week for two years.
GRAY: The other thing was to create this model as a planning and educational tool that would always be on public display. This took place during the 1930s when the city was being completely transformed by the New Deal Public Works projects. The two bridges, the East Shore freeway, the airports, Treasure Island. This model, it’s a three-dimensional freeze-frame of what the city was like at the time of the Treasure Island World’s Fair, just before Pearl Harbor.
KITCHEN SISTERS: At the time of the World’s Fair, the Model City featuring every single structure in every single neighborhood was still under construction. But there’s a photograph of 11 women wearing Ingrid Bergman-style hats and capes lined up along a finished portion of the model, on display for the first time in 1939 on Treasure Island.
ARCHIVAL NEWSREEL: Here is a dream come true the Golden Gate International Exposition on man-made Treasure Island.
GARY: Treasure Island is an artificial island named after the Robert Louis Stevenson Island, made by piling up sand and rocks in the bay created for the great International Exposition, the World’s Fair of 1939-1940, sort of a UN-like feeling. The Brotherhood of Pacific Nations. I’m Gary Kamiya, author of Cool Gray City of Love: 49 Views of San Francisco.
ARCHIVAL NEWSREEL: Its shimmering reflections bring beauty from the sky.
GARY: The Whole World’s Fair Concepts were kind of psychedelic. Fantastic made up architecture and enormous courts and incredible lighting and the model would be a perfect fit for Treasure Island, The whole city in one room.
SFX: Waves on beach and seagulls calling.
KITCHEN SISTERS: Angel Island.
GARY: At the same time that there was this exuberant World’s Fair, probably less than a mile away as the crow flies, Angel Island the largest island in the bay was being used as a immigration and quarantine point. A place where Chinese immigrants were detained and often deported and not allowed into the country.
GENNY LIM: My name is Genny Lim. I’m a poet, playwright, second generation Chinese American born and raised in San Francisco. My father was detained on Angel Island and the play I wrote, Paper Angels, one of the characters, Lum, was kind of like a romanticized depiction of my father.
They’re in this jail-like barrack. They looked out the window. You can see the water, the lights within grasp, and it’s unreachable. Lum talks about wanting to go to the Expo and wear his Panama hat. Walking down the streets in his best suit and you know all the women ogling him because he looks so desirable. He’s going to make his mark in this new country.
SFX: Erhu playing.
He can imagine this Exposition Fair that shows all the best that this country has to offer an immigrant. The other guys are just saying “oh, go on, you know, big talker.” You’re never going to achieve all those things. And in the story he actually is the one that escapes. We never find out whether he makes it to shore or not.
SFX: Waves on beach and seagulls calling.
STELLA: Some things we haven’t found are these little ships that are going under the Bay Bridge. The Model City is built in 1938 to 1940, on view at City Hall until 1942. At that point it was boxed up planning department would occasionally take pieces out to do studies on and when they no longer wanted it was given to UC Berkeley as a teaching tool.
GRAY: But most of it was in these 17 wooden crates, sort of put in higgledy-piggledy.
KITCHEN SISTERS: The Model was hidden away until an artist duo, based in Rotterdam, heard about it. They’ve been invited by SFMOMA to create an art project engaging community and civic imagination.
CHRIS CARLSSON: These Dutch artists, this couple called Bik Van der Pol had this great idea. Like, let’s get that map they heard about it. And then let’s get it out of storage and let’s see if we can bring it back to life and make it part of the city’s experience again.
LIESBETH BIK: My name is Liesbeth Bik. I’m an artist. I live in Rotterdam and I work with Joss Van der Pol.
JOSS VAN DER POL: I’m Joss Van der Pol, part of Bik Van der Pol.
LIESBETH: 30 pieces will go to 30 library branches. We want to organize discussions around the model.
Not only nostalgia, but for example affordable housing, sea level rising, homelessness, issues of public space, citizenship. How do you make these issues discussable while looking at where you are?
JOSS: The model is really triggered the whole project.
LIESBETH: Everything fell together. There is an historic layering fantasy opens up. Imagination opens up. Other stories in that model start to sort of move around.
SFX: Waves on beach and seagulls calling.
KITCHEN SISTERS: Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: It’s an old myth going all the way back several centuries of San Francisco is an island. We’re surrounded by water on three sides and with the melting of the icebergs, the water will rise. Just a few feet or even a foot or two and it’ll flood over the very low-lying land mass between San Francisco and the San Francisco Peninsula. And then San Francisco will be island again.
There was always an island mentality when I arrived in San Francisco. By ferry from Oakland, having come on the train across the continent. San Francisco is like a Mediterranean city of small white buildings. No skyscrapers, just a few high-rises. Maybe only twelve-fourteen stories in 1950. I felt San Franciscans felt they were San Franciscans first and then only secondarily members of the United States.
SFX: City noise with cars driving and honking, and bicycle bells ringing.
LISARUTH ELLIOTT: Alright, I think we’re all here now. Welcome to our Historic Shoreline Bicycle Tour visiting the library branches in town. All of them actually have pieces of the San Francisco scale wooden model built– whoops watch behind you there. The Model is the main subject today and Chris Carlsson and myself, LisaRuth Elliott, we direct Shaping San Francisco.
We try to get people together in real time to talk about history. How things have changed in the city. How we can imagine our city going forward. We’re going to hug the shoreline…
CHRIS: Let’s stick together in a group. The more we can congeal as a group, the more fun we’re going to have on our ride and the safer we’ll all be. So that’s what we learned a long time ago in critical mass, density is the key.
KITCHEN SISTERS: The City Front.
SFX: Cars driving and cable cars.
GARY: The time of the 1938 model, San Francisco was completely oriented to the Bay. The Embarcadero was known as the City Front. The vast majority of people came in by ferry and that was what you saw. That was San Francisco. Ferry Building was one of the most bustling transportation hubs anywhere in the world. It handled millions of people a year and every single form of transportation in San Francisco came to it. Cable cars, street cars, trains, the omnibuses. The whole water front was at the height of its working powers then. Just four years earlier, there had been the infamous bloody Thursday and the Great Water Front Strike of 1934, which was a significant victory for organized labor.
ARCHIVAL NEWSREEL: Open warfare rages through the streets of the city as 3000 union pickets battle 700 police. Guns, tear gas, pumps and fist…
GARY: Longshoreman were one of the main occupations in San Francisco. Whose Blue Collar it was muscular and hard drinking and it was a whole different town. There was a great romance to it. Those finger piers to stick out into the bay handled different types of cargos. Copra, which is like dried coconut meat, coffee. You can just smell the coffee, bananas and..
SFX: Bike bells.
CHRIS: By the way, this building over here, the China Basin building, which is, once upon a time, a place for offloading bananas from Central America was turned in 1974 into a food distribution center by the kidnapping of Patty Hearst. The ransom demands of The Symbionese Liberation Army was that the Hearst Family give away food to poor people that had a big impact on…
STELLA: Can someone check Crate 6 or C4? Telegraph Hill.
KITCHEN SISTERS: Cleaning the Model City.
JIM BOYER: The Coit Tower is right here. They call it Signal Hill like 38 I guess was so this is like Chinatown here. Jim Boyer, volunteer at MOMA. I am a commercial artist. I worked in the Advertising District over there on the C4 area.
STELLA: We are doing a cleaning of downtown and Tenderloin today.
JIM: First of all, we start off a little brush to get the dust off. A lot of dust. So that’s why we wear masks because I don’t know where this dust has been.
LIESBETH: 50 people cleaning. Yeah, I think this cleaning process is really important. You don’t only get to know the Model but there’s a different relationship…
STELLA: So that’s the model on view at City Hall til January 1942, when they needed the room for war purposes.
The thing is that it’s kind of just so huge that keeping track of all the different stories. That come out of it, it’s just it’s a lot. Where’s the ferry building?
GARY: When the lights went out on the last day of the World’s Fair, Herb Caen, the great columnist of the city, wrote that everyone knew that that was like the end of their youth, the shadow of World War II was descending over the world. That was this halcyon period that was never going to come again. The U.S. entered the war soon after that and there was no more going out having frivolous days wandering around on artificial islands in the bay. San Francisco Bay became a huge arsenal ring by guns and anti-aircraft submarine that’s under the Golden Gate Bridge.
It was a massive transformation of the whole way of life that happened right after this fair.
ARCHIVAL NEWSREEL: Women have invaded another field usually reserved for men. 35 women butcherettes started training today in San Francisco in a step to relieve the shortage caused by the departure of 1,000 male butchers for the armed services. That’s the news.
UNIDENITIFIED SPEAKER: It was like every night was Saturday night. The hours were 24 hours a day. Not only three shifts at the shipyards, but they had three shifts for the movie theaters, the restaurants, the bowling alleys. I mean those boys spent money 24 hours a day until they were called back to the bases and had it…
SFX: Sirens and intercom warning announcement.
TAMI TAKAHASHI: My name is Tami Takahashi. I’m a native of San Francisco. I lived my whole life here except for the four years of World War II, when the Japanese American population was removed from the Pacific coast. When World War II began there was a call out for anybody who could read and write Japanese. I volunteered. There was a makeshift a radio station on the top floor of the Palace Hotel on Market Street. I was working as a translator in the Office of Secret Service. We would have these headphones on our heads translating taped radio messages from Japanese battleships on the Pacific. Full of static. Then they said everybody if they had a drop of Japanese blood, 1/16th, we were all gathered up and taken to assembly centers. The one we were locked up in it’s called Tanforan, a racing field, where one Kentucky thoroughbred horse was stabled, five adults were put in. We lost everything, our civil rights. We were in camp almost four years. That’s a very long time to suffer, depravation, and miserable food.
I had to imagine things that I was fond of. An enchilada or a tamale, some Chinese food.
KITCHEN SISTERS: The Western Addition.
GARY: The Western Addition in the 1920s and 30s and 40s was known as the little United Nations that had Mexican Americans and Mexican immigrants, Filipinos. Had a very big Jewish component and robust Japantown centered around Post. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, they were all mustered, rounded up at Jackson and Van Ness. Mostly the Japanese in San Francisco went to a camp called Topaz in Utah. Right at this time, comes the great African American influx into San Francisco mostly from Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana. We needed to build ships and tanks. U.S. Government sent recruiters that brought African Americans in particular to shipyard towns.
All of the housing that had just been vacated by the Japanese and Japanese-Americans— all of that housing became available, suddenly.
KITCHEN SISTERS: Maya Angelou.
MAYA ANGELOU: In the early months of World War II, San Francisco’s Fillmore District on the Western Addition experienced a visible revolution. The Yamamoto Seafood Market quietly became Sammy’s Shoeshine Parlor and Smoke Shop. Yashigira’s Hardware metamorphosed into La Salon de Beaute owned by Miss Clarinda Jackson. The Japanese shops, which sold products to Nisei customers, were taken over by enterprising Negro businessmen, and in less than a year became permanent homes away from home for the newly-arrived Southern Blacks. The Asian population dwindled before my eyes as the Japanese disappeared soundlessly and without protest. The Negroes entered with their loud jukeboxes, their just released animosities and the relief of escape from Southern bonds. The Japanese area became San Francisco’s Harlem, in a matter of months.
KITCHEN SISTERS: During World War II, women replaced men on the street cars in San Francisco as conductors and motormen. Maya Angelou wrote the idea of sailing up and down the hills of San Francisco in “a dark blue uniform with a money changer at my belt,caught my fancy.” She applied for the job, was not well received, but she persisted.
MAYA: I would have the job. I would be a conductorette and sling a full money changer from my belt. I would. I was given blood test, aptitude test, physical coordination test, and were shots. Then on a blissful day, I was hired as the first Negro on the San Francisco street cars.
STELLA: Welcome, take a breath of the San Francisco Public Library. The model is inspiring conversations all over the city. There’s three other events happening right now. Our hope is that it can serve as a metaphor for the city at large to help us take a deeper look. We have had hundreds of conversations with themes came up over, and over again. I’m sure you can probably guess. Housing, technology, toxic land, gentrification, climate change, displacement…
JARREL PHILLIPS: Hello. I’m Jarrel Phillips, San Francisco native born and raised in Fillmore. My grandparents all came here from the South when that migration was happening. I’m a performer. I teach capoeira throughout the city. I’ve been doing a project called I Am San Francisco: Black Past and Presence, the African diaspora and its influence and impact. Growing up here in San Francisco, I grew up in a very Black world, which is probably hard to even imagine in this city now. And I went to all Black private school, predominantly Black church and I went to Bayview Hunters Point a lot. So I was bouncing between two very well-known Black neighborhoods.
We, African Americans specifically, have been, in some ways, wandering and going from place to place trying to create home and community for a long time now. As a people, we moved out of the South and we came over here. James Baldwin said “We came as far west as we could go.”
Now we’re at a point where African Americans have been going back, like boomerang going back, to the South and dispersing further out into places like Modesto and we moved out of the City when I was 17. I didn’t want to I had to. I came back a year later as soon as I was old enough, but my parents come back into the City every day.
My grandma’s house is still the house that everybody’s mail goes to. For a lot of families, their community center, whether it’s their church or whatever space it is, is still where people come to on the weekends and what not. I feel like that connection is still there. We have to be very mindful. The gentrification of change that happened in the Fillmore can happen, as far as I’m concerned, anywhere because I saw that change.
GARY: After the war ended, when the shipyard jobs dried up, this large group of people were suddenly unemployed. Facing racism in the hiring practices of unions and couldn’t get other kinds of jobs. Western Addition, the housing stock is really run down. In the eyes of city fathers, it’s seen as a blighted neighborhood.
They came up with this plan to redevelop the whole Western Addition. They ended up smashing down Victorian houses. Hundreds of Black owned businesses.
ALLISON ARIEFF: This is a very dark period of urban planning history in the 60s and 70s. Whole neighborhoods were demolished in favor of planned communities in high-rise developments.
What happened in Japantown and Fillmore is a perfect example of that. My name is Allison Arieff. I’m the editorial director of the urban planning and policy think tank SPUR. What that had the effect of doing is it put people in frankly some really bad architecture. Destroyed local businesses. Erased the connections for the people who live there in a way that I don’t think people have really gotten over.
I think it was also really damaging to urban planning. Certain communities will never have trust in the process. I think we’re at a really crucial moment of figuring out how best to involve respect and inform communities as new buildings and neighborhoods and communities are being built. I think that there’s a big paradigm shift in the way that we think about these issues, but it’s slow and coming.
LISARUTH: Chinatown and North Beach are sharing a piece of the model. Right now it’s at North Beach, which is great because it’s an extra hill you don’t have to climb.
KITCHEN SISTERS: The Libraries.
San Francisco has a very long history with libraries. As the Gold Rush boomed, the first library opened in 1852, in a room in a men’s temperance hotel. In 1877, a free library for all was established, spearheaded by Andrew S. Hallidie, who also invented the cable car.
From the start, the library success was astounding and it remains so today with its 29 branches throughout the city where 29 corresponding neighborhood sections of the model were put on display.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKERS: So each one of these can be left out. You can see the street that we bike down. So I’m used to seeing this in Google Maps, but seeing it 3D is and you really get a sense of scale of… My house is there. Your house is there?
STELLA: When they had it made, they sent people out to look at the color of every house. So the color of your house here is the color it was.
LISARUTH: The questions actually as we were writing was, “what was the point of making this model?” Some pieces were used for these planning exercises where the shadows would fall for larger buildings. As redevelopment happened in South of Market in the 1970s and they started razing the hotels, barber shops ,and cafes and put in things like the Moscone Center and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. They started playing around with what’s possible.
STELLA: One of the questions when we found it was “is there room for San Francisco in San Francisco?” At the Museum, we tried to find a place to put it all, but I realized it’s so large. So we worked with the library to get as many pieces as we could into the branches and that ended up being about 70 of the hundred and forty pieces.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: What do we have here?
STELLA: That’s Glen Park. Yeah Glen Park has these two pieces here.
KITCHEN SISTERS: The Glen Park Freeway Revolt.
ALLISON: We took my thirteen year old daughter to go look at the model that the Glen Park Library which is in the middle of our little quote unquote Downtown. Where I live on a big hill, everything above me was dairy farms and there were lots of earthquake shacks.
There was a developer who wanted to build a zoo in Glen Park as a way to attract people to buy homes in the neighborhood. In 1948 the California Highway Department decided they wanted to crisscross the city with freeways and a bunch of moms and housewives stopped that from happening. The Glen Park Outdoor Art League and the San Francisco Women’s Club managed to stop this freeway effort. Glen Park Freeway Revolt, women and moms have actually led quite a number of revolts like this around the Bay Area and including helping to overturn a really bizarre plan to pave over the bay. The Save the Bay Movement where this trio of women challenged companies, wealthy landowners, politicians, and reverse this idea that you should pave over the Bay to do more development. I’m so glad to see this model come back today because it presents a really fascinating history. Sometimes positive, lots of times negative of how this city has grown and developed.
NAIMA DEAN: In the Western Addition Branch, a lot of people came to see the model. You’ll notice a big red line going through. People who would never have a conversation with one another suddenly just talk about the redlining and people trying to figure out why is there a big red line here and people think that’s redlining and no but like what is it at because it’s redlining. The redlining basically delineated where people of color would live.
It’s segregation on a map. My name is Naima Dean and I am the manager of the Western Addition Branch Library of San Francisco Public Library System. My dad had a jazz club in this neighborhood in the 60s and 70s at the same time as Bill Graham doing his stuff at the Fillmore and they did a lot of projects together. Big Mama Thornton, George Duke, Bobby Hutchison, Miles Davis. I grew up in this neighborhood and it was all African American in the 80s. Still this was the Mo, This was the Fil-Mo and now it’s Alamo Square and Hayes Valley and NoPa and LoDi and all these nicknames. I mean, they’re real estate names, they’re sale names.
We had made a map to accompany the project. People could write a memory on a Post-It. Someone said my Japanese-American family came off into the Western Addition Library. My husband checked out the novels of Yamamoto Shugoro in Japanese, so many times that the library eventually gave these to him. [Chuckles], that’s great. Oh, I like this one Harvey Milk’s Wide Lens Camera Store. I remember my dad telling me that he really liked Harvey Milk. At the time because Harvey Milk was willing to integrate and not segregate. He worked hard because the Western Addition is adjacent to the Castro. Let’s see what we can find right in the Western Addition. “I live in a big building. I live in the Fil-Mo, I love my Mo. Junebug and Nia 2019.”
PEGGY MYLETT: 1133 Mission Street, the Knights of the Red Branch was a place where the Irish mass is, wasn’t it? Fancy Hall. It was just toss was the greatest and when there every Saturday night dancing and me all the Irish there and we had Johnny Callahan from Oakland. Nice big band. And we danced all night. From twelve o’clock until five o’clock in the morning we go to Mrs. Pickets house. She was Irish. Her husband was a peace officer I believe. He go to bed and she stay up with us all night long. She was so sweet. She used to give her basement for us young Irish people. Five o’clock, we take a bus and we go up to St. Ignatius. We had to get mass. Come home and go to bed for three four hours. And then I…
SFX: Bicycle bell ringing.
CHRIS: If you just look to your right, you’ll see the last little stump of Irish Hills still there. Once upon a time. There was a third peak of Potrero Hill called Irish Hill, which is all filled up this entire airspace. We’re about to go hurtling down through at 98 steps to get to the top of…
KITCHEN SISTERS: The Hills.
GARY: In the early days rich people didn’t live on the Hills. They were completely inaccessible. You couldn’t even get a horse to go up them. Either covered with sand dunes and scrub brush, but after the cable car that opened up Nob Hill and all of a sudden Nob Hill became where the rich people lived. Nob, Telegraph, Russian. The main downtown Hills prevented the expansion of the city for decades.
That was one of the reasons that there was this mania that went on in San Francisco until the early 20th century for filling in every single bit of water that they could fill in. What is now the Financial District that was all underwater that was filled in using ships scuttled. They’re sunken ships that formed part of the bay bottom in the Financial District.
GRAY: What interests me as a geographer is these buildings were built after the 1906 earthquake and fire to replace buildings that were leveled but they’re built on the same property lines that were left over from the Gold Rush. With no regard for the hills and the wetlands, which it shouldn’t have been built on because they liquefy in earthquakes. Simone de Beauvoir when she visited San Francisco remarked that it looked like the city had been laid out by somebody who had never been here before.
LISARUTH: We’re going to head down until we get to Beach Street Aquatic Park.
CHRIS: The bay is much shallower today because of how much mining debris is coating the bottom of the bay. We had washed away the equivalent of six Panama Canal’s worth of debris to get the gold out of the hills and mountains of California into the waterways and into the bay and it’s full of methylmercury. So if don’t eat fish out of the bay unless they’re very short-term visitors like herring. Herring are safe. Striped bass or not.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Fisherman’s Wharf. Just passing the Aquatic Park. You know, all the tall ships. Big blue and white building to my right is the Dolphin Club.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKERS IN CONVERSATION: I guess its black tide, right? High tide. Might start going out on you. Farewell.
LOU MARCELLI: My number one thing about swimming in this stuff look at in the eye and go. You don’t have to swim to Alcatraz, just go up to here. My name is Lou Marcelli. This comes with here since 1887 and it’s a swimming and boating club. We swim in the bay all year round with know what’s is. I started to fish when I was 12 or 13 years old.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Lou Marcelli, Lou “the Glue,” he sort of the custodian of the Dolphin Club and he lives in a little attic there and he’s one of the old stoves of North Beach. At the Dolphin Club, there are a lot of old Italian men like firemen and policemen and waiters and they exercise a little, swim a little, and then they cook for each other and they have a lot of wine. They just sit around and talk about the old days and talk about sex and what’s going to happen to somebody if he has testicular cancer, and you know, and I know you got to give him a certain kind of liver and they have all these theories based on what their mothers told them and they cook food for each other and I think it really keeps them going. It’s really a problem for old people because where can they cook if they’re relegated to smaller and smaller spaces and then they’re given terrible food. No wonder they die.
KITCHEN SISTERS: North Beach.
The area known as North Beach was once an actual beach. It was filled in around the late 19th century and warehouses, fishing wharves and docks were built on the newly formed Shoreline. This is the piece of the model that has Coit Tower on it and Saints Peter and Paul Church. Here’s Peggy Knickerbocker at Porchlight.
PEGGY KNICKERBOCKER: I’m Peggy Knickerbocker. I’m a native San Franciscan for three generations. I grew up over on Pacific Avenue, but at about 8 or 9, I had an Aunt Eda Borroneo and she bring me over on the bus to North Beach. We come for pickled pig’s feet, basil, you know, no stores had anything like that in those days. And we’d have a date with some of her older friends. They’d have little Cotton House dresses on with their nylons kind of rolled down and they come out in their house shoes and I knew there was something happening here. And the day that we left, we’re waiting for the bus. It looked like there was blood coming down Filbert Street, and it was a garage wine making setup of, you know, some old Italian guys. And then when I was in high school, I’d come over with my two best friends. We’d wear our mothers’ trench coats put on black tights and we’d sit in cafes and read poetry and think we were beatniks, little shiny face beatniks. And then I came when I was in college, and we went to see Carol Doda and to the jazz workshop and we hung out at a bar called Mooney’s Irish Pub up on Grand Avenue.
The barkeeper was Sean Mooney and he never ate and we’d come and we’d bring him sandwiches. He said, “Well if you guys want to feed me so much, why don’t you take over the kitchen?” So we decided we start the next day and we had leotards on, no bras, two or three skirts lots of necklaces. We had no idea of what we’re doing.
We went down to the butcher, Mr. Bruno Jakoby, who was half a block away and said, “We’ve run out of everything and it was about eleven o’clock and we were open till 2:00. We need help. What are we going to do?” He said, “We’ll always have sausages. Make Portuguese bean stew. The bakery was right next door get nice hot bread. As a matter of fact, go over to the bakery and get you know a roll and he cut some teleme cheese that had a special taste because it was May. The cows have been eating some special clover.” And he’d hold, he was huge and he had blood all over his apron and he’d hold a sandwich to his ample breasts. And by the time you got it was a grilled cheese sandwich.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: The Olive Tree, that’s what we need. He’s in poetry.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Having an olive tree? I mean it’s a symbol of life.
SFX: Crowd murmuring.
CARLA SHORT: Good morning and thank you for coming out here today on this beautiful Monday morning. My name is Carla Short, I’m the superintendent of the Bureau of Urban Forestry in San Francisco.
For the last 15 years, we have honored people with a signature tree. Ruth Asawa was an honoree. Wangari Maathai, Nelson Mandela, Cesar Chavez. Irene Precios, an activist in the Portola District.
LISARUTH: We are in North Beach neighborhood. Not far from City Lights Bookstore.
CHRIS: This neighborhood would not look like this neighborhood had Lawrence Ferlinghetti not actively, actively, champion the thriving writers and artists community.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: The Book Star was always in the same location, 261 Columbus Avenue. We had this anarchist slant right from the beginning and at that time North Beach was populated by looks like 90% Italians. Some of the first publications we sold were two Italian anarchist newspapers in Italian. And among the people who would buy the newspaper were the scavengers on the garbage truck.
I remember one guy wearing a derby and baggy pants with Russian off the garbage truck and get his copy of Umanità Nova or L’Adunata that was the other one.
GENNY: My father bought a little house. We lived in an alley called Winter Place in North Beach, one of the first Chinese families living in that neighborhood in the 50s and it was all Little Sicily. The smell of coffee and the bread, ravioli factory. Howard Mason Street car runs down could hear it every day and I would listen to it like my music box. The fog horns and the cable cars. Then I was secure and I could go to sleep.
I’m Genny Lim, poet playwright. My father was a working class immigrant. Took on jobs working at the Fairmont Hotel as a janitor and then became a busboy.
My mother was a sewing woman and worked all day and all night of this sewing machine. We children, that were seven of us, and we were just on the loose, running the streets of Chinatown in North Beach.
KITCHEN SISTERS: Chinatown.
HERB CAEN (archival): This is Herb Caen from San Francisco. The Magic City. That’s a sight to behold. We’re walking down the narrow shop-line Main Street of San Francisco’s Chinatown.
We call it Grant Avenue, but to the Chinese it’s still “Dupont Gai.” A block away is Portsmouth Square the scene of a San Francisco tradition, the Chinese Moon Festival.
GARY: The Chinese were not allowed to live west of Powell until as late as the 40s or 50s. Those covenants, it’s incredible how long they remained on the books.
SFX: Cymbals clanging and drumming sounds.
GENNY: [Sings in Cantonese]
My mother sang wooden fish songs, the itinerant folk songs of the peasants and I remember the old folks singing these songs in Chinatown. This one is when that my mother sang whenever she mended our clothes. Whenever there’s a hole in a piece of cloth that’s a portal for negative spirits to enter.
GARY: Before the earthquake, Chinatown looked more like the rest of San Francisco. Mostly western style architecture. After the earthquake, in response to this concerted movement on the part of the white establishment to move Chinatown out of downtown San Francisco, found a Hunters Point. The Chinese managed to start rebuilding right away.
Chinese merchants working with white architects came up with an idea where they would take elements of traditional Chinese architecture. Pagodas and corbels, wrought iron—those all have structural function in Chinatown. They’re just tacked on to conventional buildings to make it look wild and exotic and Chinese and enticing. They put a lot of neon and a lot of electric lights.
So it became this kind of Fairyland environment and that was very successful.
GENNY: We hired a marching band funeral procession for my father have them march from the mortuary to Winter Place.
CLIFFORD YI: We go back to the original grassroots at the first marching band in Chinatown. My name is Clifford. Last name is Yi. People come out to look to see if they know the person. Many people are respectful— bow. People take their hats off, because out of paying respect to the deceased.
JOHN COPELAND: My name is John Copeland and with the Green Street Mortuary Band.
Come down Clay and make a left on Grant. This is where we do our heavy things, you know is the biggest artist. So what we do is we slow down we’re going to this one particular dirge marched St. Jude Funeral March.
SFX: Marching band procession.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Lawrence Ferlinghetti at City Lights Bookstore. Green Street Mortuary marching band just passed by the backdoor of City Lights is in Chinatown. The front door is in the Western world. [Chuckles]
The Green Street Mortuary Band
marches right down Green Street
and turns into Columbus Avenue
where all the cafe sitters at the sidewalk cafe tables
sit talking and laughing and
looking right through it
as if it happened every day in
little old wooden North Beach San Francisco
but at the same time feeling thrilled
by the stirring sound of the gallant marching band
as if it were celebrating life
and never heard of death…
STELLA: We’re going to use the model today as a catalyst for a conversation around the controversial topic of the impact of tech capital on the city of San Francisco.
We’ll open with the panelists…
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKERS IN CONVERSATION:
And this hyper growth of tech has brought with it both extraordinary wealth and in influx of people.
This boom is phenomenal…
This is the most prosperous place in the world in this day.
This prosperity has also led to growing inequality, gentrification, demographic changes…
More billionaires per square inch.
Some would say a really unsustainable and unhealthy impact on housing costs, infrastructure, and the environment.
One thing we need to do is break up some of these big companies, impose much higher…
When did we have mass housing for the working people? After World War II, the collapse of the 20s plus the taxes of the New Deal plus…
We’ve got to have this conversation at a national level about income inequality and about a living wage about guaranteed national housing.
One more question.
Yes, the gentleman in the back with the glasses.
If you want to talk to the homeless problem for a second, the reason isn’t because of tech lords and STEM lords who are destroying the city. It’s because old people who moved here in 1975 never wanted to build a single house. You can’t build a homeless shelter. You can’t do anything and you’re wondering, “Oh, well, it’s I’m going to blame the newcomers,” but really maybe just kind of ..
I basically agree with you…we’re talking about class and race.
If I may interject, as a fellow young person in…
Going to put up another half a billion dollars into immediate funding for navigation centers, and we need to work together as a rapid rehousing…
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: …together as one San Francisco.
KITCHEN SISTERS: The Mission.
SFX: Latin jazz.
JOSIAH LUIS ALDERETE: I got the Galería De La Raza Blues. I said I got the Galería De La Raza Blues.
I can remember me mama taking me to old India Maria movies at the Mission Theater. I can remember Valencia Street when it was nothing but a long stretch of appliance stores, Leather Tongue Video and the Chameleon Bar. I can remember the payphone on…
My name is Josiah Luis Alderete, full-blooded Pocho Indio Spanglish speaking poet. Raised here in La Liga Bhaiya, bred and spread throughout the Mission. My ma and papa met at the famous Sinaloa Mexican Spanish Nightclub, which was at the time in the middle of the Mexican barrio or the Mexican neighborhood which is you know, North Beach. My dad was working the Sinaloa Nightclub and you know, they wore those high waisted way their jackets back then. Tight like caballero pants, you know and live music, big orchestra.
I can remember George de Rato. I can remember Danielle Alarcon. I can remember that Sonia Sanchez has walked these streets. I can remember the Nancy Morejón has walked these streets. I can remember Alfonso Texidor’s limp.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: People associate the dot-com waves of gentrification has been going on since before the 2000s, you know, I remember first seeing that wave.
There’s the oxygen bar opened up on Valencia Street and you know also we start seeing these big puffy SUV vehicles around and…
SFX: Latin jazz.
JOSIAH: I remember so that I can get out of the way of the Ubers and the Lyfts and the Google buses that are not driving me anywhere…
UNKNOWN SPEAKER: The changes that have been the most startling and physical and painful to see in the neighborhood of definitely come from the dot-com changes in booms, but you know, on the flip side of that, the cuckoo has really dug in you know, I mean even the 24th Street declared the Latino Heritage Corridor that protects like a huge amount of those areas.
Is amazing transformations in the Mission with the Calle Veinticuatro Association reaching out to a lot of the older generation. A lot of the older ones are really sort of re committed to staying. It’s actually a beautiful thing.
When people move here and they come here and they think of the City what they’re thinking of is the contributions of the poets and the working people of made to this city. What I’d like to see happen some sacred space opening up for people to move back in and raise their families as much as the city does change, those roots are going to stay there. They’re way deep in the concrete. That’s the bones of this place.
KITCHEN SISTERS: Moving Through the City. Here’s Justin Vivian Bond, 2012.
JUSTIN VIVIAN BOND: My name is Justin Vivian Bond. I sing, I write, and perform. A trans-genre artist. I used to live in San Francisco. I lived there from ’88 to ’94 and the two things that drove me crazy about San Francisco were the weather which many people love but which I hate.
Let me preface all of it by saying I adore San Francisco. I loved living there. If there’s any city where I would feel like there are more people that I would have Thanksgiving or Christmas with, San Francisco’s the one. But having said that, I don’t like the weather and I almost got very very frustrated by transportation because I was at the mercy of the taxi cabs of San Francisco, and they’re notoriously unreliable.
So I came back to San Francisco. I guess it was for my record release. I was getting my hair blown out at Deena’s Glamarama on Valencia. My friend said Lynne Breedlove has started Homobile, call if you need a ride. And so I told them where I was and I needed a car. They sent…I think it was Musty Chiffon. Yes, it was the Musty Chiffon. She showed up and was my driver so all of a sudden this person who I had known in clubs, we were driving in a car and talking with each other. They asked for a suggested donation. And of course you just want to give them the entire contents of your pocketbook because they’re so lovely.
LYNNE BREEDLOVE: See, what did I tell you? Traffic. My name is Lynne Breedlove. I run Homobile (s), a community ride service for the LGBTIQQ, I don’t know, PQRST community at Dallas and San Francisco. You do not have to be a big fat queer to get a ride from Homobiles, but it does help. No, just kidding. But you need to understand that the real reason that we are here is for people that don’t get rides normally from anyone else and so we’re putting on all this padding, high heels, a wig, and three sets of false eyelashes and a bunch of glitter. You are high priority at Homobiles.
ALLISON: If we’re thinking about the most effective way to get people through cities, we should look at how different systems move people. Transit, you can move up to 25,000 people per hour through a city if they’re on public transit. Walking, actually comes after that and you could move approximately 9,000 people per hour through a city on foot. Biking, moving about 7,500 people per hour. Cars can only move about 600 to 1600 people per hour.
SFX: Classic theme park music and ambience.
GENNY: At a very young age, we took the buses all over town. Do get a municipal card with 10 rides. It was five cents a ride. They would punch a hole to use it up. We use that to get to go Downtown to Market Street. We used it to go to Playland.
GARY: Playland at the Beach. It was just a classic oceanfront promenade playground. Wonderfully dangerous physical attractions.
GENNY: Running through this barrel that kept turning…
GARY: The Barrel of Joy. You walk into the Barrel of Joy and it rotated and it was padded. They would drop you on your head.
SFX: Animatronic laughing.
GENNY: Laughing Sal? She really freaked me. I had a lot of nightmares about her freckled face and red hair. [Play laughing]
GARY: Confusing mirrors.
GENNY: You’d be fat. You’d be tall. You’d be squished
GARY: Jets of compressed air. They would release under the skirts of women and girls as they came in. The Wheel of Joy was a huge wooden platter that spun. They blow the whistle and everyone would crowd and get their butts as close as possible to the center, the centrifugal force would just pick them off. They go sailing off.
It fell on hard times and they tore it down and put up these god-awful condos that stand there now.
LISARUTH: I got to clean the Sutro Baths and Playland, much to the consternation of other people cleaning the model those days. Such a coveted place to clean and it was definitely fun to run the Q-tip down the shoots of Playland.
I also got to clean the Laurel Hill Cemetery which no longer exists along Geary. This big expanse of multiple blocks with trees and pathways and that tells the story of the removal of the cemeteries from San Francisco to Colma and down the Peninsula, where all of our bodies go now.
KITCHEN SISTERS: Reading the Model.
NICOLE TERMINI GERMAIN: My name is Nicole Termini Germain, Branch Manager and Children’s Librarian here at the Portala Branch Library. My look at this model, you could see all the different greenhouses. This was a major center of flower growing. Carnations and roses. Since we’re the Garden District people they would love it to be kind of a hub for green activity like gardening, community garden, bicycles, walking, trolleys. The air would be so…
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKERS IN CONVERSATION: Mysterious. What does it look like an eight hundred years? Will the third great quake scare us away? No, we’re gonna be here till the bitter end. So what’s the plan?
I would like to see more emphasis on the greenery.
I would envision building up rather than out, embrace the density.
I don’t want high-rises.
The roads are ridiculously wide. There’s a good amount of wasted space. Space is more precious now and could be used more intelligently.
Would this be before or after the snob? Yeah, right there…
NAIMA: It would be really great to see this San Francisco model as a whole and to do ongoing programming, hearing people’s stories. I’d like to see it under Plexiglas that you could just walk on top of and just lay down and look at, like protected but free so that you could really get in it.
GARY: Cities all change and have to change and anyone who wants to keep it frozen and wax so that it forever looks like 1938 model is delusional and is going to be disappointed.
This is the issue that everyone is trying to grapple with in this city is how do we preserve it, in all of its glory. But at the same time make places dynamic as possible and have make it as hospitable as possible. It won’t look exactly like the 1938 model. It won’t even look like the 2019 version and I think that there’s a way of achieving it without losing what makes it special.
Hopefully we can make a start.
LAWRENCE: It seems there are the beginnings of a new consciousness and a new generation of activists in San Francisco. And it seems to be a kind of wave of the future. The new coalition of young progressives that includes not only the Green Movement but also groups like The Bicycle Coalition with its vision of a carless city. Alternative cultural institutions.
There are also poetic rappers, seniors for peace, and performance artists. Farmers market selling local produce, raising the possibility of a self-sustaining ecoregion—free from ecologically disastrous agribusiness.
It’s a vision of a possible future society in America, but of course has yet to be realized. But it does exist in our consciousness.
KITCHEN SISTERS: San Francisco— Stories from the Model City was produced for SFMOMA as Raw Material by the Kitchen Sisters Nikki Silva and Davia Nelson with Nathan Dalton and Brandi Howell. Mixed by Jim McKee. Soundscapes and archival audio from Jim McKee and Andrew Roth. Additional recordings by Noah Landis, Grant Machemer, and from SFMOMA’s Public Knowledge program Take Part, in which the Museum partnered with the San Francisco Public Library and artists Bik Van der Pol, to engage the community in a series of talks and events around the model of San Francisco.
Thanks to Tomoko Kanamitsu, Stella Lochman, Erin Fleming, Valerie Wainwright, Kevin Carr, Erica Gangsei, and the entire Take Part and Raw Material project teams.
SFX: “Stand Up!” by Soltron
KITCHEN SISTERS: Deep thanks to author Gary Kamiya; keeper of the model Stella Lochman; Dr. Gray Brechin, UC Berkeley and the Living New Deal; poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti; poet Genny Lim; our bicycle historians and activists LisaRuth Elliott and Chris Carlsson of Shaping San Francisco; artists Bik Van der Pol; excerpts from Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, read by the author used by permission of Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group; teacher and historian Jarrel Phillips; Allison Arieff, SPUR Think Tank; Naima Dean, Western Addition Branch Library; food writer Peggy Knickerbocker, courtesy of Porchlight Storytelling series; poet Josiah Luis Alderete; Nicole Termini Germain, Portola Branch Library; Peggy Mylett, courtesy of the Irish American Crossroads Oral History Archive; performer Justin Vivian Bond; Lynne Breedlove founder of.Homobiles; and thanks to the internet archive and the Kitchen Sisters Archive.
For our music, we thank Blue Dot Sessions, Soltron from San Francisco’s Mission District; Ted Savarese, Richard Fenno, John Chiang, Nathan Dalton, [Viasuov Pokrovsky] and Jim McKee.
And to all the citizens, librarians, and keepers who took part in the model project throughout San Francisco, we thank you.
And yes, you can see the model online. Go to TakePartSF.net, zoom in and find your favorite spots. And while you’re up there signed the petition to find a permanent home for San Francisco in San Francisco.
For SFMOMA as Raw Material, I’m Nikki Silva, the Kitchen Sisters. Thanks for listening.