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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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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Grand Tour.9-Escaping To Treasure Island

Do not fear loyal reader -The Grand Tour (Recession Version!)  continues, after a brief hiatus. To recap, we have made our way south from the Golden Gate Bridge,to the south bay, and back up to the through East Bay. Part 9 takes us to our second island on the tour: Treasure Island. Here’s the route:map

As most know, Treasure Island is a man made island, linked by a causeway to the the “natural” Yerba Buena Island, through which millions of us have passed through on  arriving in San Francisco .The impetus for its creation was the hosting of the 1939-40 World’s Fair.

Being held as it was at the end of the 30’s; the World’s Fair  perhaps unintentionally marked the wind down of the glorious deco/moderne period in American architecture, a period of highly-stylilized and geometrically chiseled building facades and sculptural figurines. There is currently a show at the Presidio Officer’s Club that has some outstanding photos, guidebooks, and maps commemorating the 70th anniversary of the fair. Here’s a few remarkable excerpts.



The World's Fair- buildings to lower right still exist
The World’s Fair- buildings to lower right still exist
The promenade to Pacifica-goddess of the fair
The promenade to Pacifica-goddess of the fair
Pavilion buildings with moderne sentries
Pavilion buildings with moderne sentries

The plan at the time of the island’s inception was  to host the Fair, and then turn the island into the main bay area airport. But the navy offered  a land swap to the city, for some of their land on the penisula, (the future SFO). Treasure Island thus became a naval base, and stayed that way until it, along with the Presidio, were decomissioned in 1996. The island is part of the city of San Francisco, and while the Navy has not yet officially handed over the island, it functions as part of the city. It is home to about 1,500 residents housed in former naval housing, along with the Treasure Island Job Corp, and a film studio. There are very few services on the island, and public transit is limited to one Muni bus line- the trusty 108- that connects it to the city.

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Buffalo Tales- Part 2: Ghosts and the Shrinking City

Ghosts, and there are many, abound in Buffalo. They are alternatingly beautiful and heartbreaking. This a brief tour of some of what I saw, with some thoughts on the future.


The old waterfr0nt in Buffalo was the engine that got things rolling in the 19th century. Well into the 20th century, ships with cargo from Midwestern cities would travel the Great Lakes, unload in Buffalo, and then the cargo would be later shipped by train or canal to  East cities and beyond. The grain elevators, invented in Buffalo in the 1840’s, were basically large storage containers for grain  on its way to a final destination.

It must of been quite a site in its heyday. In the early 20th century, the French modernist architect Le Corbusier, who among other things, popularized those  glasses he’s wearing, came to the US and marveled at the industrial beauty before him, simple machine-like forms at a staggering scale. It had a profound influence on him.



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The Grand Tour.5- A Detour to Stanford

Part 5 in the the Bay circumambulation is a bit of detour inland, to Stanford. I have never really walked around this campus much, though I did a bit of work there  a number of years ago. The campus is studded with buildings by rock-star architects, but  the original quad is the most compelling part of the campus. The trip also included a visit, and tour, of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hanna House nearby. I’ll write about that later on. It was about a 5 mile saunter, down and back from San Francisco on Caltrain. Here’s the route:


First, a bit of background on Stanford.  Stanford was founded by railroad kingpin Leland Stanford, and named the school in honor of his only child, Leland Jr, who died of typhoid at a young age. The campus owns over 8,000 acres, making it the largest campus in the world in terms of contiguous land.  The initial conceptual planning was done by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead (of Central Park fame, among others). The University began accepting students in 1891, with the inner quadrangle completed (almost) for the opening. The quadrangle is rendered in the Mission Revival style; golden sandstone, muscular arches, deeply recessed windows, and red tile roofs. It establishes the character for the rest of the campus.


Stanford was on break the week I was there ( at least I assume so- it was a gorgeous day and no one was around- maybe a vastly more studious bunch than I imagined). As a result, this part of the campus felt extra Mission-y, one could imagine oneself living the monk’s life, quietly contemplating the deeper questions of life in the cool shaded arcades. On a depopulated day like this, the experience was memorable.

One of the challenges with a campus that has a very clearly defined(re:limiting) vocabularly, is how to add to it. A walk through the campus reveals the challenge of this, both the successes and failures, even for Star-chitects. Here’s Sir Norman Foster’s (they don’t mess around at Stanford) 2003 Biomedical Sciences Building; my favorite- a sinuous glassy u with offices and classrooms opening to the court on the inside, foster-3foster01,yet respectful of the campus rhythyms on the outside. One great thing about pristine glassy school buildings where students and profs work and teach, is all the interesting ‘lived-in’crap that ends up at the expensive glass facades; stuffed animals, pizza boxes, even skeletons.

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