Sunday, December 11, 2011

San Francisco: The City By The Bay

Carefully consider the three photos above. What do they tell you about San Francisco? Did you guess that the city is built on hills with steep streets? What you can’t tell from the photos is the number of people who reside here. A congested city with over 18,000 people per square mile, San Francisco is home to 800,000 residents. Because of this, houses are crowded together and many people live in apartment buildings. In the mid 1800s, though, only 500 people populated the city. The Gold Rush of 1849 drew throngs of people west and in one year, the total population soared to more than 25,000. San Francisco continues to grow and expand as people are drawn to the area. Tourists, too, flock to the City by the Bay, as it is one of the most popular vacation destinations in the world.

When you have so many people in a relatively small area, mass transportation becomes a must. Even in the late 1800s, San Francisco had cable cars, but early ones were pulled by horses. In addition to cable cars there are buses and trains. BART—Bay Area Rapid Transit—has trains that speed people to where they need to go.
BART train
San Francisco is famous for its cable cars.
This unusual structure is the Trans America Pyramid. Built in 1972, for a time it was the tallest building in the west. If you see the Trans America building stretching high above the city, you know you are in San Francisco.
For many reasons, 1967 was called the Summer of Love. More than 100,000 young people descended into the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco. Several famous musicians lived in the area, too. Because of the Summer of Love, mainstream America became aware of the Hippie movement, which espoused peace and love and demanded an end to the Vietnam War.

For a time, this was the happening place to be.
 Early residents of San Francisco included both Domingo Ghirardelli, a chocolate maker and Levi Strauss who came west to make tents. Strauss quickly realized that there was more money to be made manufacturing sturdy pants for miners to wear out of his denim tent fabric. Then he strengthened the pants by adding rivets at the pockets so that the pockets wouldn’t tear. Both products are still popular all these years later. It is likely you have eaten Ghirardelli chocolate or have worn a pair of Levis.
This pair of early Levi jeans is about 100 years old. Do they still look like this today?
These pretty old Victorian homes are built very close to each other because land is at a premium. They are called the Painted Ladies and are famous in San Francisco. Even a relatively small, simple house can cost half a million dollars or more. These larger houses are much more expensive.
San Francisco's City Hall, one of the most attractive in the nation.
Outside of Asia, San Francisco has the largest Chinatown and the oldest in North America. Sometimes called a city within a city, the residents of Chinatown retain their language, culture and customs.
If you get tired of walking, you ca always hire a rickshaw to take you where you want to go.
As I walked around San Francisco, I began to see Santa Clauses everywhere. At first, I figured it was seasonal workers on the way to their jobs. Then I saw hordes of them and then a city park filled with hundreds of Santas. Finally, it was explained to me that one day every year thousands of San Francisco's residents dress up like Santa for a day and then parade around town. I couldn't believe how many Santas I saw, and I wondered what little children must think.  
This is one example of a building decorated with art work. I saw many.
In the heart of the city sits Union Square, a lovely gathering place. But it also is often the site of protests and there happened to be one going on when I visited the park, which was also decked out for the holidays. The next four photos show Union Square as it was on the day I visited it. In the center was a large holiday tree decorated and lit. The palms trees were festooned with white lights and when the breeze blew the palm fronds swayed back and forth. And there were the crowds of demonstrators. Why are people protesting across America this fall? What are the issues that are being debated? What does the Constitution say about our right to assemble? Look at the last two photographs and see if you can figure out what the issues are that are being brought to the city's attention.
In 1906 San Francisco was destroyed by a powerful earthquake. As buildings fell, gas lines were ruptured creating massive fires that burned for days. About 75% of the city was in ruin and half of the residents left homeless. Tent cities quickly sprang up. But the people of San Francisco were not defeated, and the city was rapidly rebuilt. Earthquakes are still a threat to the area. The last major one occurred in 1989. Now buildings are constructed so that they have a better chance of surviving an earthquake, and the Golden Gate Bridge has been upgraded to make it more resilient in the event of a quake.

No comments: