My final day of exploration lead me around, north park, downtown, north beach, and south of Market. I was lead by architect and fellow alley advocate, David Winslow. Before heading over to David’s, I revisited the V.C. Morris gift shop, Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1948 masterpiece that I wrote my first paper in architecture school about. With a little more critical eye, this space only amazed me more.
After meeting David, we began by seeing his adaptive reuse of a warehouse off an alley into a mixed use catalyst containing a fold up coffee shop that draws a crowd out front throughout the day. the alley-like Linden Street is finally going through a remodel that David has worked for three years at getting constructed. As with most alley projects encountered this far, a serious political battle must be braved for even the simplest thing to happen in these spaces.
After reviewing construction progress and a few other north park alleys, we headed down to Commercial Street.
Commercial Street runs east-west and links the Chnatown neighborhoods with the financial district to its east, containing a myriad of shops, restaurants, and tabletop friendly dining experiences on the lunch hours during the day. After speaking to the Hair of the Dog restaurant manager, apparently tenants renew an annual permit to place tables and chairs into the alley from 10 am to 2 pm every day, providing an automobile free, pedestrian-friendly experience. This pattern is seen throughout San Francisco at places like Belden Place, the Irish Bank, and others. Coming from Seattle, this is remarkable policy, as it’s seemingly impossible to place a table and chair into an alley without doing it guerrilla. Not only is this simple permit great for the pedestrian experience, but it certainly grows an owner’s square footage and ability to draw a crowd. Apparently Maiden Lane and Belden Place both began as some of the roughest spaces in the city before brave entrepreneurs had ideas to transform them.
We then preceded to an amazing alley that recalls Lawrence Halprin directly east of the iconic Transamerica pyramid. This alley is one of my favorites thus far on the trip. Despite a lack of draw to the space, it tees into Redwood Park, a quarter block’s worth of large redwood trees in the middle of the city, and possesses a great level of detailing with plants breaking through a random paver pattern bearing ferns, flowers, and abundant seating. The alley is gated with no vehicular traffic and frames a view of the base of the tower behind it. Drainage is to the street in a simple slope style, but plant material and moss has started to grow between pavers giving it a great sense of being half landscape, half cityscape.
Hotaling alley is a collection of wanderfully small brick buildings that lined the edge of the old northeastern bank of the city before the fill began in the early twentieth century. This alley was apparently remodelled twenty or so years ago and has a lively paving pattern, ballards, and seemingly thriving planters. A map and plaque at the mouth of the alley tell the story of the area’s history.
My first alley study will take place from August 4- 10 in the alleys of San Francisco. I will be focusing on the work done in the Chinatown neighbirhood through the Chinatown Alley Masterplan. I will also be studying the various public and commercial activities taking place in downtown alleys like Beldem Lane, Maiden Lane, and South Park.
During my stay, I will be meeting with Jasmine Kaw, author of the Chinatown Alley Masterplan, Norman Wong of the Chinatown community Association Center, David Winslow, another architect interested in alleys, and various community members working and spending time in the alleys.
Above is a map outlining alleys of interest that I will study. I would again like to thank AIA Seattle and Perkins+Will for their generous sponsorship of this first city analysis.
If you have recommendations on things to see here, please comment. Look for a lot more activity on here beginning in August as the travels begin.