I set out to walk to the doctor’s today without a plan, but was happy to know I had a couple of hours to go exploring, so I figured I would kind of play it by ear.

* * *

Starting off in the Mission in the sunshine…

Mr. Scooter on Mission Street

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The intersection of Market and Van Ness recently gained this large-scale mural on the corner…

Van Ness and Market mural

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Before, there were hints of the Civic Buildings, but mostly just a lot of urban clutter; now, the welcome addition of the nature-inspired painting really beautifies the area. It’s like finally hanging art on the walls of a space you’ve lived in for a while—it just makes the whole place come together. The mural is by Joshua Coffy, and is called “Bird Song Mural.” It was commissioned by the ArtSpan organization, who recently bought the 1540 Market Street building it adorns for use as studio space for artists.

It faces another recently painted mural on the donut shop across the parking lot—both buildings and the lot are in the development pipeline, but I’ll be grateful for the presence of both murals as long as they are there…

Van Ness and Market mural

* * *

Statue of Abraham Lincoln on the plaza side of City Hall (Haig Patigian, 1927)…

Lincoln statue outside City Hall

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Polk Street architectural contrasts…

Polk Street architecture

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Okay, is my imagination overactive, or does anyone else see the water valve on this building covered with an underwater mural, and picture all of the water draining from the painting if the valve is opened?!

Polk Street ocean mural

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Hand-lettered parking sign on Polk…

Polk Street Parking sign

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And the vintage neon version of same…

Polk Street neon sign

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Fairy lights across the nightlife section of lower Polk (hints of Bourbon Street when lit up after dark and filled with people)…

Polk Street

* * *

With my doctor’s appointment accomplished, I started walking towards Chinatown…

Bilingual sign on the garage of the Cable Car barn:

Cable Car crossing warning sign

* * *

“You know what would really complete the decor of our apartment? Giant googly eyes on the front door!”

(Dear San Francisco, you are a big weirdo and I love you.)

funny door in Russian Hill

* * *

Another instance of my brand new SF Public Library card-having self now noticing the library branches all over town…

Chinatown Branch Library

Chinatown Branch Library

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The lovely Chinatown/Him Mark Lai Branch library on Powell Street…

Chinatown Branch Library

* * *

I’ve passed by the Chinese Historical Society of America Museum before, and arrived just in time for business hours today, so I decided to check it out. It is free to visit, and is housed in the beautiful old YWCA Building. The structure was designed in 1932 by Julia Morgan, an inspirational and pioneering female architect. (She designed more than 700 buildings, including Hearst Castle.)

Chinese Historical Society of America Museum

* * *

At the museum, I learned a lot of pretty significant things I wasn’t aware of before; I would say that “history” in U.S. public schools is taught much like “Art History”: focusing almost solely on European history and art. It was eye-opening to learn things like how the Central Pacific half of the Transcontinental Railroad workforce was almost 90 percent Chinese—yet they are absent from most photos and records documenting the enterprise. The museum fills in the gaps with a lot of interesting info on this topics and many others…

In general, the museum has a great, wide variety of information and artifacts of all sorts, and I really enjoyed the overview and base of knowledge and art on display:

Items an immigrant might have brought over to North America…

immigrant possessions at Chinese Historical Society of America Museum

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Old gaming cards (of course I zero in on the vintage papers and ephemera!)…

bingo card at Chinese Historical Society of America Museum

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Immigration documents (these are copies you can handle and study)…

immigration papers at Chinese Historical Society of America Museum

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And an exhibit on the iconic “Mandarin Dress” fashions and style throughout history—can’t resist pretty dresses, robes, and textiles! Their actual name is cheongsam, or qipao in Mandarin. There are placards detailing their different and evolving roles in society, as well as explaining the symbolism in the decorative motifs and colors in each garment…

robes at Chinese Historical Society of America Museum

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As a designer, I love learning about the WHY behind the red or blue, flower or butterfly… Like logos and such today, so much of it communicated loudly to whoever saw it, and often worked like a talisman for the wearer (good luck in marriage, wealth, etc.)…

robes at Chinese Historical Society of America Museum

* * *

There is a whole lower level with an exhibit on the old, infamous “Underground Chinatown,” many other artworks and artifacts, and also, in his own exhibit back upstairs—this guy!

lion dancer costume at Chinese Historical Society of America Museum

* * *

He is, of course, a Chinese Lion costume for a lion dancer, and there is a great video about the tradition of the dancing and modern efforts to keep it thriving. I find the dancers completely transfixing and magical when performing—this is obviously a person in a costume, yet the motion and the movements make me believe, and I can’t take my eyes of off them. It was fun to see one up close, and take a peak inside his head…

lion dancer costume at Chinese Historical Society of America Museum

* * *

From the museum placard:

“According to custom, these costumes are symbolically brought to life and respectfully referred to as awakened lions.”

See? They’re ALIVE!

“This is a rare example of a custom-made Bai Yun style Foshan lion. The standout feature is its unusual carp horn … According to legend, any carp which manages to swim upstream to leap over the fabled Dragon Gate of the Yellow River transforms into a mighty dragon.”

So obviously, I will make sure to be at the Chinese New Year parade next year…

* * *

Headed home, I found alphabet letters in the sidewalk bordering a school building…

letter D in sidewalk outside school

* * *

The Stockton Tunnel. I’ve walked through once, more than a decade ago, and remembered it being creepy, sooty, and dingy… but it looked like it’s been cleaned up? Let’s go through and see…

Stockton Tunnel

Stockton Tunnel

* * *

What do you know. Fresh paint and all cleaned up. Not a bad escape from the sun…

Stockton Tunnel

* * *

Where’s Waldo?

* * *

Continuing on towards Union Square, I walked past this building.

It is very gold, and very ostentatious… but I kind of love that about it. It’s like that person who wears elaborate, costume-like, crazy outfits on a daily basis—and totally pulls them off! I travel past it often and just marvel at the GOLD, but today I am playing tourist-in-my-own-city so I figured I’d at least have a look at the lobby…

450 Sutter building

* * *

450 Sutter building

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I posted a photo on Instagram with the hashtag #artdeco, and a friend lovingly suggested #prettyfauxmayanlateclassicalrelief … Nailed it! 😉

450 Sutter building

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The information available on-site does, in fact, classify it as art deco and the motifs as Mayan, and tells about how it was designed by Timothy Ludwig Pflueger, who also designed some other buildings you may have heard of—Castro Theatre, Top of the Mark at the Mark Hopkins, the New Mission Theatre, and the Paramount in Oakland, to name a few!

Originally designed as a medical building in 1929, it still houses mainly doctors and dentists today. It is on the National Register of Historic Places, and was recently extensively restored. More interesting info can be found here and here.

450 Sutter building

450 Sutter building

* * *

Finally home! As a side note, a the start of my day I was gifted this giant zucchini, which I have been carrying around in my bag ALL DAY. I am the Vegetarian Log Lady…

zucchini lady


Where should I go tomorrow?


  • MILES WALKED: 5 miles
  • NEIGHBORHOODS: Civic Center, Tenderloin, Chinatown, Union Square
  • DESIGNATED LANDMARKS: Chinese Historical Society of America (no. 122)