Archives » August 18th, 2005

August 18, 2005

Our Day By The Bay

I finally broke down and signed up for an account with Flickr. I’m not sure why it took me so long. I think it’s partly because I still like having complete control over my photos by putting the galleries on my own site, and partly because I was waiting for the whole on-line photo-sharing arena to emerge with one clear winner. But, my reasons are eroding, so I’ve now joined the rest of the free world in using Flickr.

Looking up California Street from Market. Cable car coming downhill.

And the first photo set I’ve posted is made up of pictures from our trip to San Fancisco last week. I tossed up 29 photos that I took during our day in the city. We got a hotel in Fremont ($70 a night for a suite? Can’t beat that!) and rode the BART into the city. Since we were on a one-day mission to strictly visit tourist traps, we walked down to the newly-restored Ferry Building, then hopped on a historic streetcar down the waterfront.

The F-line historic streetcars on the Embarcadero.

The main street along the waterfront is called the Embarcadero, and for 30 years it was dominated by a hideously ugly double-decker freeway. But if you go today you’d never even know it was there. That’s because the freeway, which was unpopular from the start, was damaged in the 1989 earthquake. And that damage was the final ammunition that opponents needed to get the freeway ripped out, which finally happened a couple of years later. Now, when you go along the Embarcadero, it’s a nice wide thoroughfare with palm trees, plazas, and streetcar lines.

The Embarcadero then

The Embarcadero now

It’s a completely fascinating urban renewal effort, and it’s great to see it happen. And I’ve been finding tons of links about it. You can read more about the “Freeway Revolt” of at and A21 Design has an article about the Embarcadero Freeway, and one about other freeways that were planned for the city. But for the topper, follow this link and this one to read about the “Aquatic Freeway” plan that would have consisted of a freeway running through a tube in the bay. Nutty Californians.

Tourist-y goodness on Pier 39.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, talking about our vacation. I get sidetracked so easily. We took a quick jaunt out Pier 39 and back, which I’m sure will cause groans among anyone who actually lives in the Bay Area. But when you go to Reno you visit the casinos, right? So when we go to San Francisco we go to Pier 39. Deal with it.

Alcatraz. Building 64 is on the lower level, with the lighthouse and the burned Warden’s House up above.

After that we stepped next door to Pier 41 where we boarded a ferry to Alcatraz, probably the highlight of the trip. For all its fame, the buildings on Alcatraz are in pretty rough shape, pretty much crumbling right before our eyes. That’s the main reason it was closed back in 1963, because it was just too much trouble to keep it maintained. Before the famous cellhouse was built, there was a brick citadel on top of the island. And when the cellhouse was built in 1912, they built it on top of the citadel’s brick foundation and used crushed brick as filler for the concrete. 90 years later, those bits of brick are a fatal point of weakness in the concrete walls of the cellhouse. Renovations are in progress, but the old prision definitely shows its age.

The Warden’s House.

Yet, for all its problems, the cellhouse is in remarkably good shape compared to some of the island’s other buildings. Several buildings dating back to the early 1900s, including the Warden’s House, shown above, burned in 1970 while the island was occupied by Native American protesters. The cause of the fires was mysterious, with the Indians blaming the US government and vice versa. The burned-out shells have been left in place, and like most buildings on the island they are covered with several coats of white “paint” provided by helpful seagulls. And at the south end of the island, on the old military parade grounds, several buildings used to stand that were used as houses for the families of the prison guards. Those buildings were demolished by the government not long before Alcatraz was designated part of a National Recreation Area. The piles of rubble are still there, and you can even make out a few walls and windows that didn’t get entirely smashed. The parade grounds themselves are used by the gulls as a nesting ground.

Approaching Pier 41.

After Alcatraz we enjoyed a nice ferry ride back to the city, then walked along the waterfront to Aquatic Park. From there we grabbed another streetcar back to Market Street. This time we stayed on the streetcar all the way up to Powell Street, and since we had another hour or so until the last BART to Fremont was scheduled to leave, we took the hike up a few blocks to Union Square. This part of the city really is alive, and unlike the push of tourists down by the water, here people are just going about their everyday lives. Our time was up, though, and us country folk didn’t fancy staying in the city after dark, so we escaped to the cool underground lair of the BART and grabbed our train back to Fremont.

Powell Street BART station.

There was so much of the city left that we didn’t see. I think it would be impossible to see most of it in a week, much less one day. But for us, who hadn’t been there to visit for years and years, it was enough of a taste so that we can feel like we’re familiar with the city now. We’ve walked its streets, we’ve breathed its air. It’s not just another mythical place in a book anymore. We might head back there soon, and spend another day exploring other parts other city. But we stepped onto that BART train content that we could now find our way around San Francisco.


I think I’m starting to like Flickr. If you clicked on any of the thumbnails that I tossed into this essay, you’d find yourself on the Flickr page for that photo. It was pretty easy to add them all to this post, it just took a lot of copying and pasting. And of course there are many more pictures where those came from; go check out the whole set.

I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Flickr around these parts. Maybe soon I’ll put together something about our day at Six Flags Marine World. You have been warned.