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Neighborhood Stories- 3 Houses

At some point every day, I go for a walk in my neighborhood in Berkeley. It is a modest neighborhood of mostly one-story bungalows , an occasional apartment building, and a scrappy commercial district . But every few blocks, there is a larger house or building that isn’t part of the pattern. And I am fascinated with these exceptions to the rule. The Fish-Clark House … Continue reading Neighborhood Stories- 3 Houses

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100 Years of Houses- Walking Panoramic Hill

One of the conundrums of life during the pandemic has been getting meaningful exercise, something more than a neighborhood walk. Fortunately, in Berkeley, there are some very steep hills, and these walks have provided the necessary heart rate elevation. In fact, one in particular, at Claremont Canyon, is so steep that on several occasions I thought I might need to leverage my watch’s emergency function. … Continue reading 100 Years of Houses- Walking Panoramic Hill

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The Green Seam- My Pandemic Therapist

If one were to draw a cross section through the cities east of San Francisco Bay it might look like this. First of course, there would be the Bay itself. Then to the east, the gradual rise of the “flats”, peppered with modest bungalows and apartments, then the sharp climb of the East Bay Hills, dense with rustic shingled hillside homes, and finally, topping those … Continue reading The Green Seam- My Pandemic Therapist

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Walking Across Berkeley- 12 Stops During A Pandemic

For some time, I wanted to write a post about walking all the way across Berkeley. Essentially, the walk would be a cross section, starting at the Bay , winding through our flatland neighborhoods, and then on up to the campus and the hills. And I finally got around to it….now…in this surreal time in which we find ourselves. So this post will likely serve … Continue reading Walking Across Berkeley- 12 Stops During A Pandemic

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Moving Day- Packing Up The Family Home

Awhile back, I figured out I have had 19 different addresses since leaving for college. A long time ago to be sure, but I was still surprised that there were so many. Sure it counts a different dump each of my college years, and episodes like house sitting for 3 months on a cul-de-sac in Castro Valley, and a single month in a Denver apartment … Continue reading Moving Day- Packing Up The Family Home

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Dreaming Of Summer -The Intimacy of Rome

I have , on these dark wet winter days , taken to dreaming of summer. One such daydream has me wandering around sun-baked European towns and cities. It seems another lifetime, not just 5 months, that we found ourselves in Italy, each day some variant of that. I decided I would indulge this daydreaming with some reminiscing on a week spent in Rome, and some … Continue reading Dreaming Of Summer -The Intimacy of Rome

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Summer in San Francisco’s Richmond- The Art Of The Inside Day

When I first moved to San Francisco many years ago, there was much to grab my attention. Places and people new, different, even exotic. And I was kind of  prepared for that. But there was one thing that I didn’t know about, and the was this- the fog. I was instantly mesmerized by the fog. How one could go from baking in 90 degree heat … Continue reading Summer in San Francisco’s Richmond- The Art Of The Inside Day

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Welcome to The Dollhouse- In Praise of the Bungalow Court

  Back in the late 80s, I was living in Colorado, having just received my Master’s Degree in Architecture. Colorado was in the grips of a terrible energy related recession , and it really couldn’t have been a worse time to hit the job market. My first job ended after 6 months when the firm folded . That was followed by another gig, that lasted … Continue reading Welcome to The Dollhouse- In Praise of the Bungalow Court

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Two Modernists In Connecticut.

As an Architecture student way back in the 80s in Buffalo, one’s introduction to contemporary Architecture had two threads. First, the late 19th and early 20th century’s seminal works, many of which were in our back yard thanks to Buffalo’s incredible treasures of Wright, Richardson, Sullivan, and Burnham. The second thread covered the next generation of the modern movement, then gasping under the weight of … Continue reading Two Modernists In Connecticut.

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Travelogue – 10 Stops Through The American West

At the end of last year, the pull of the  wide open spaces of the American West was too great, and I once again undertook what has become an every 2 year ritual, a road trip through part of the American West. North of Palm Springs, and home, the tiny dot on the map that is Amboy, CA generally marks the start of these road trips. … Continue reading Travelogue – 10 Stops Through The American West

The Tiny Shops of The Tendernob

This is an update to a post from last year

We live on the backside Nob Hill. When you stand up at the top , near Grace Cathedral, and look south, your eye follows the canyon of the street down towards Market and the Tenderloin. Between the Tenderloin and Nob Hill, is the Tendernob. The Tendernob is one of the densest neighborhoods in the country outside of Manhattan. In fact, it feels to me like a slice of Manhattan right here, lined with 6-story apartment buildings end to end.

Its a neighborhood populated with a mish mash of working professionals, art students, seniors, and, as always, assorted characters. There is an eclectic mix of buildings in the neighborhood. More interesting perhaps,  a fascinating collection of   tiny mom and pop shops . Many of the apartment buildings have tiny spaces, sometimes almost closets really, on the ground floor available for lease. In the parlance of the industry, these shops are known as micro-retail, tiny business incubators. The shops reflect the neighborhood; hair salons, tiny clothing stores, and assorted tchotchke emporiums, selling everything from paperclips to paper dragons.  What’s been interesting over the past couple of years is to watch them . Some are stable and thriving, other spaces have hosted new tenants every 6 months. And in one sad case, a fire has brought the demise of another, in that case, the very spot where I get my haircut. Here’s a look around:

Leftover Spaces

As mentioned above, many of these spaces are at the base of apartment buildings. Often , a result of the sharply sloping streets, small leftover spaces are created, and  turned into leasable space. Here are a few just down the street. 

Each of these spaces is no more than 10 feet wide, and maybe 25 feet deep. This particular group includes a small graphic designer and a accupunturist. Here’s a close-up of the accupuncturist, this space can’t be more than 8 feet wide, the waiting room a single chair:

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Palm Springs- Where The Grass is Sometimes Greener

Maintaining  a blog is a lot of work. But it also a labor of love, and sometimes, the juice to write and compose pieces is simply not there, and that’s been the case for me the last few months. But I have been keeping  a list of topics I’d like to write about, and am now feeling the urge to launch back into it. There … Continue reading Palm Springs- Where The Grass is Sometimes Greener

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The Taylor and Jones Shimmee

During the past year, I have described travels down a single street, and the changes one encounters along the way. We traveled from the bottom of Market Street to the top, and journeyed up Polk Street from one end to the other. I took that up again last week, getting out for a trek along Taylor and Jones Streets. It started amidst the insanity of Mid-Market , shimee-ed up and over Nob and Russian Hills, and then spat us out in a different kind of mayhem; Fisherman’s Wharf. Here’s the  route:

Author’s Note: As some have followed these tours previously, I should caution that the first part of the trip, at least from Market to O’Farrell, should not be taken at night. Also, this walk, about 2.5 miles all told, traverses several hills, including a couple of pretty steep blocks. I’m just sayin’ .

Part 1- Stepping Tenderly

We begin our trip at the confluence of Taylor Street, Market, and 6th Streets, one of the more colorful intersections in our fair city, to say the least. There is much to take in here, a goodly portion of it legally questionable, at a minimum. One of the best places to take this all in is the newly opened ShowDogs on the corner; you can sit in the prow of the building with a fine Porter or Stout and contemplate the madness in front of you. 5 star street theater. Think of it as a bracer for the hike ahead. Taylor Street begins at Market, and in these parts is standard issue Tenderloin, chock-a-block with low-rent fleabag hotels  next to some terrific new affordable housing; and community serving non-profits next to dive bars (also community serving). The sidewalks are usually full with locals walking, talking, and yes, sometime staggering and sleeping.

Bar Names are dispensed with down here, just an address. No chaser.

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Grand Tour.15-A Journey To The Googleplex

A couple of months ago, I set out on my latest “Grand Tour” Amble. But this was no ordinary amble, no this felt more like a journey to the center of the earth. For on this day I was traveling to Google’s world headquarters, or as it has come to be known, the “Googleplex”. Here’s the route, and as always, it was accessed via public transit, in this case, via CalTrain’s San Antonio station, and included a sojourn out to nearby Shoreline Park. Here’s the 5-milish route, and, of course, courtesy of Google ™ :-/

As you might imagine, in these parts, walking through this suburban neighborhood to get there can generally range from bland to grim to inhospitable, and that was the case most of the way, though there were sidewalks at least:

I was really not sure what was waiting for me. I knew the Googleplex was some kind of campus. The notion of the suburban corporate campus is a relatively recent one in the grand arc of building design, really taking off in the 1950’s. One of the prime examples was Eero Saarinen’s General Motors Technical Center outside Detroit. Of course, in the hands of the 1950’s modernist, the campus was meant to embody the promise of the corporation, expressed in a pristine modern language, with every detail reinforcing the whole.

But the champion of  every detail re-enforcing the whole was Frank Lloyd Wright. Mr. Wright often insisted, and was often given the chance, to design everything down to  the napkin holders. His most noteworthy shot at the corporate campus was the Johnson Wax Building, with its infamous wax-like interior columns:

But of course, that was the 50’s. Its a different world, not to mention this is laid back Silicon Valley, and Google. I wondered, was there security? Was it gated?  Was it more of a collegiate campus, a “traditionally bland office park”, or a new model, an emerald city on the hill, pointing us all in a new direction, whilst embodying the company’s internet ingenuity.

I was not sure where the ‘campus’ began, or when I had entered its hallowed grounds, but suddenly two people whooshed past me- and not in a car, but on bikes, painted suspiciously with Google’s telltale rainbow. Then I saw a sign, then another, and that was it, I apparently, had arrived. I was underwhelmed- it did as it turns out have the styling of a very bland 80’s office park. In fact, here is it what it looks like from the air , and of course, courtesy of GoogleMaps  ™:-/ :

The only real hint that this might be a bit different than your run of the mill office park were the bikes. But I intended to venture in , look inside if I could. Again, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but when I thought about what I might find, I couldn’t shake this image:

Uh , Mr. Oz, why does my Google Ap keep crashing?

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Last Call For The TransBay Terminal

Last week, Urban Ambles wandered down to the Transbay terminal for one last time. The terminal has been , for years, the terminus of transit to and from the East Bay, and the terminal is slated  for demolition. In its place is planned a spectacular new station that is hoped to be a nexus for not just East Bay commuters, but Peninsula trains, in-city passages  to Bart and Muni, and the coup de grace; high speed rail from Southern California. They were giving tours of the station, and I joined in. It was an odd mix; a small horde of camera toting enthusiasts set against the usual commuters for whom it was just another day, and the “residents”  who call it home.

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