Houghton Hall and the Stairway to the Sky to Touch Your Heart

From now until January 18 at the Legion of Honor you can step into an 18th century Georgian mansion as part of their special exhibit, Houghton Hall: Portrait of an English Country House. Although you will not be greeted by servants a la Downtown Abbey, if you can’t visit the real Houghton Hall in Norfolk, England, Thoroughbred painting at Legion of Honor San Franciscoit’s worth the trip to see the scrolls of Chinoiserie wallpaper, the paintings, porcelain, jeweled crowns, furniture, and other artifacts of wealth that the Walpole and Cholmondeley families amassed. While the John Singer Sargeant portraits were superior as usual, I was most struck by Théodore Géricault portrait (above) of thoroughbreds – horses posed to resemble the upper echelon to my mind.

Lunch Break
Traveling Companions (TC) were my wife and friends from Portland, OR so it was time for some Touch Your Heart (literal Chinese meaning of dim sum) at Ton Kiang, http://www.tonkiang.net/ heartily recommended (FC and I have lunched there a half dozen times).

Mosaic Stairway to the Sky – Off the Usual Tourist Track
Mosaic Stairs San FranciscoMosaic Stairs San FranciscoTen minutes away, on Moraga Street and 16th Avenue in the Sunset district a tiled staircase of composed of 163 mosaic panels ascends to the sky – and 15th Avenue. It’s a dazzling sight as there are so many gorgeous individual elements to take in along with the stunning overall designs. I forgot to count how many flights of steps – 6-8 is my estimate but will count next time. If I don’t caught up again. There is too much to take in so multiple visits are in order.

The staircase was a giant community effort and has embedded tiles of the people who worked gratis to create it. The day we were there volunteers were clearing away brush and replanting the beds to the side of the steps.

Once you reach the top of the staircase you spy a park above. Climbing an ordinary set of cement steps with old wooden bannisters, you reach Grand View Park which lives up to its name with a 360° view of the city. Also worth re-visiting.
Grand View Park San Francisco

November 27, 1978

On this date San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone were assassinated by ex-Supervisor Dan White while in their offices at the Civic Center. Finally this year, Milk, the man who left his stamp on the city and the world, got a stamp of his own.
Harvey Milk Stamp
Some facts you might not know about Milk …

  • He was born May 22, 1930 in Woodmere, New York to Lithuanian Jewish parents.
  • He served in the Navy from 1951-55 and was a diver during the Korean War.
  • He was so tightly closeted during college that classmate described him as ‘man’s man” who no one suspected was gay.
  • He was Republican in the early part of his life who worked in the Barry Goldwater campaign in 1964.
  • In 1969 he moved to SF with lover who was a stage manager for the musical Hair.
  • In 1970 a downtown investment firm fired him for refusing to cut his long hair.
  • In 1974, disgusted by the Watergate hearings, he decided to enter politics because, he said, “… I had to become involved or shut up.”
  • He organized the first of many Castro Street Fairs in 1974 which continued to this day.
  • In 1976 when Mayor Moscone appointed him to the Board of Permit Appeals, Milk became the first openly gay commissioner in the U.S.
  • Although he had his volunteers worked with Jim Jones and his People’s Temple, Milk warned them that Temple members were weird and dangerous “and you never want to get on their bad side.”
  • In 1977 he became the non-incumbent to be out of the closet and win an election in the U.S.
  • In 1978 he toured the state with Sally Gearhart, a speech professor at UCSF, Milk, debating Briggs (who deemed SF a “sexual garbage heap”) about his infamous, anti-homosexual statewide initiative, Prop 6. In the movie Milk, starring Sean Penn, Gearhart was omitted and her quotes given to Milk.
  • Dan White’s lawyer put up the famous “Twinkie Defense” claiming White’s over consumption of junk food caused him to kill his two ex-colleagues and won his client a 7 2/3 year sentence.
  • The “White Night” riots ensued with police cars set afire and cops attacking gays in the popular Elephant Bar at 18th and Castro (now called Harvey’s).
  • Milk made a tape, anticipating the possibility of assassination, saying, “If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.”
  • In 2009 Governor Schwarzenegger designated May 22 – Milk’s birthday – as Harvey Milk Day and on that date in 2014 the U.S. Postal Service issues a Forever stamp in his honor.

Where to begin, fusing past with present

There’s so much to say about San Francisco, it’s hard to know the perfect place to start. So I’m just going to jump in. Since my book marries past and present, so shall my first blog. Literally, in photographic form.

Shawn Clover composited a series of images of SF after the 1906 quake with the city in modern times. His photos weld people and a devastated city then with people going about their ordinary business today.

San Francisco Alamo Square

Alamo Square (famous from the opening credits of the TV show “Full House”) then and now.

Clover positions his camera at the same as the original photographer and duplicates the focal length, lighting, and other aspects of the original photo. “I take plenty of shots, each nudged around a bit at each location. Just moving one foot to the left changes everything,” he states.

See more in the series here.