Friday, December 19, 2014

Edge of 2014

22nd and Carolina Street, looking towards Twin Peaks

Just a little view on offer -- to get back into the swing of things after a bit of a blog hiatus. I was recently spending time on Potrero Hill, often walking in the early morning. You soon get the true measure of your condition as you head upwards. And I was reminded of how some of the most amazing vistas of the bay and downtown are to be found there. The inward views, like the one above, are best when the fog is still hanging on. After you reach the top of a hill it takes a few minutes of heavy recovery breathing, but when you look up and around you get your reward.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

A San Francisco Intersection, 1931 and 2014

At Masonic Avenue and Page Street, 1931

In his first years, my dad lived with his parents in the Haight Street neighborhood, first at an apartment on Waller Street, and then on Masonic, between Haight and Page. Here he is at 4 1/2 years old, in 1934, standing just down from his house. This corner of the city hasn't changed all that much in the intervening eighty-three years. The building at the intersection behind him is essentially the same--except for the trees in front!

My dad loved it when I moved to this neighborhood, as he retained boyhood memories of it and recalled his parents talking about those early days. Over the years I've walked by his childhood house countless times, as I did just this Friday. I was reminded that it was Father's Day weekend, and of how much he had loved the City. Here he is in front of his house with a Kewpie-faced little friend, "Luciele":

Masonic Avenue, San Francisco, 1931

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Pearlies on Powell Street

Mr. and Mrs. Tinsley in San Francisco
My mother has been sorting and cleaning her old files, and came across a news clipping from 1967, announcing the death of the charitable Pearly King of Southwark, London, Fred Tinsley. [1] I asked her why she had saved it, and she had no idea–except that maybe because he reminded her of Emperor Norton, our own titular local royalty. And it’s true, there’s a certain shared sense of whimsical pageantry. It’s easy to imagine that Emperor Norton would have recognized the regal standing of the Pearly King and his consort, and greeted them with all due decorum. The original Pearly, Henry Croft, started the custom of decorating his fundraising suit with pearl buttons in the 1880s, just after Emperor Norton expired at a corner on California Street.

Norton I (c. 1819-1880), Emperor of the US and Protector of Mexico

The accompanying news photo shows Mr. Tinsley and his wife with a Powell & Hyde Street cable car in the background, passengers peering out at them. It was taken on their visit for the “London Week Festival” in 1962. The Duke of Edinburgh made a visit at that time, as shown in a newsreel, so I’m guessing that might have been the impetus for the theme week. The principle event seems to be Prince Philip’s address for The English-speaking Union’s world conference at the Mark Hopkins Hotel, where he reportedly informed the delegates that their chief job was “…to keep things right and to prevent things from going wrong.” [2] And for some added color: Chelsea Pensioner “town crier” Alfie Howard [3] was brought in to hand out leaflets, a leggy model was stationed at Union Square with a mini-dress Beefeater costume, a Routemaster bus took on the City’s hills, and a “British Art Today” exhibit was held. 

The San Francisco Almanac [4] doesn’t include this British themed fanfare in its chronology for 1962, but does list President John F. Kennedy’s visit that same year; the passing of the $792 million dollar BART bond (“the first [new] rapid transit system since Philadelphia, 1907”); the infamous escape of three men from Alcatraz; the first boxing ring set up in Candlestick Park, for a Gene Fulmer/Dick Tiger middle-weight fight; and the closing of the Forbidden City Chinese nightclub. Pearlies, presidents, escaped convicts, boxers, and defunct nightclubs—just your garden variety year in San Francisco. 

In the Tinsley clipping, and another US article from the 1970s, it was lamented that this special tradition of fundraising was dying out, that the younger generation no longer cared about it, and were perhaps embarrassed by it. Adam Joseph, who briefly ran a Pearly Museum in the East End, is quoted as saying that “…today’s youngsters live in smart flats and think donkeys and barrows [the street carts that were the original Pearlies' livelihood] are a joke. ‘They’d prefer a car and a television set,’ he said.” [5] However, a quick Google image or Pinterest search shows the survival, or perhaps resurgence, of at least a lively aesthetic interest. The Tinsleys themselves have entered the canon of fashion history, as seen in Jay Calderin’s Fashion Design Essentials: 100 Principles of Fashion Design (p. 78). And, according to the London Pearly Kings and Queens Society, “about 30 Pearly Families continue the tradition to raise money for various charities.”

The 1967 clipping states that the pearly suits that Tinsley and his wife wore, “with about 70,000 buttons, may be sold to an American curio collector,” as they had no "heir to their 'empire.'" Sad, in a way, if that's what happened. 

I was recently at the Horniman Museum in South London, looking at a temporary display of the Pearly King of Dulwich’s costume and accoutrements, and a woman standing next to me said to her toddler: “Look, it’s the Pearly King’s coat!” The boy whizzed by the glass without looking in and exclaimed, “The Curly King, the Curly King!” She didn’t correct him, allowing him to enjoy his  museum experience in his own manic-toddler way, and I wondered what the possible attributes of a Curly King would be. It seemed no less fanciful than a Pearly King.
Henry Croft (1861-1930), the original Pearly King
You can visit this commemorative statue at the Crypt gallery in St Martin-in-the-Fields, London.

1 “A Cockney King Dead at 74.” Clipping, journal unknown (probably San Francisco Chronicle), 1967.
2 “British-U.S. Unity is Hailed by Philip.” New York Times (1923-Current file). Nov 14, 1962: ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2010), pg. 5. Accessed April 22, 2014 .
3 “London Town Crier’s ‘Hear Ye! Catches Fancy of Children Here...” By John C. Devlin. New York Times (1923-Current file). Nov 6, 1962: ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2010), pg. 35. Accessed April 22, 2014
4 Gladys Hansen. San Francisco Almanac. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1995, pg. 83.
5 “London’s Pearly Royalty A Dying Breed.” By Della Denman, Special to The New York Times. New York Times (1923-Current file). April 22, 1974: ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2010), pg. 41. Accessed April 22, 2014 .