Thursday, May 10, 2012

Mapping Twain Town

I'm getting a handle on mapping options online to help orient readers to locations mentioned in these posts, but also to lay out urban planning circumstances and play with changes, to speculate on the future of a street or neighborhood as much as describe it or consider its history.
With that in mind, consider the blocks surrounding Columbus Avenue, Montgomery and Washington Streets in a zone between the Financial District, Jackson Square, Chinatown, and North Beach. A friend refers to it cleverly as Chi-Fi Beach. I like that, but the mashing of named parts is a tired construction overused by real estate agents and fresh residents. I propose Twain Town in honor of Mark Twain who once lived in a fabled artist colony on the 'Monkey Block' where the Pyramid now rises. This was his neighborhood and a short street off the Redwood Grove at the base of Pyramid is named after him. "Twain" also means 'between' and 'Town' is a nod to both Chinatown and the area's earlier importance as the very center of town from the Gold Rush era through the Barbary Coast times until the 1940s and subsequent Redevelopment.
The map I've created here happens to also mimic the afternoon shadow cast by the omnipresent Pyramid that looms over it. The boundaries stop short of North Beach, which really begins at Broadway. Chinatown's boundaries have always been in flux, tending to move northward and retreat from the Financial District and Union Square while its core remains Waverly Place, the two block long home street between the tourist shopping-centered Grant and the busy wet and dry markets of Stockton Street. Jackson Square to the East of Columbus Avenue seems to have gone completely quiet with money and secluded residential communities like Golden Gateway that are distinctly separate and literally above the surrounding neighborhoods. The original Produce District of San Francisco was here around Front, Pacific, Davis, and Jackson Streets but was relocated to the Bayshore District in the city's semi-industrial Southeast in the 1950s to make way for the residential towers on the waterfront.
The spine of Twain Town is Columbus Avenue, but there are also important small side streets here like Commercial, Hotaling, and Leidesdorff.

View Twain Town in a larger map

These days, the area is melding together again after a number of huge architectural and city scape changes, notably the Hall of Justice (former site of City Hall) moving from Kearny Street to South of Market in 1962, replaced by the 1970s brutalist megalith of the Hilton Chinatown. Portsmouth Square was raised into a plaza for an underground parking garage and the bridge over Kearny Street never lived up to any promise of uniting one side of the street with the other. It is now a spur, a dead-end that never fails to confuse tourists. Between the Hilton and Sacramento Street the blocks once known as Manilatown have slowly morphed into partly a mix of Chinatown offices, small businesses, and a few restaurants but as the remnant of the 4-story brick buildings of the old Downtown they are nearly surrounded by skyscrapers that will likely replace them within a decade's time. The Filipino Community has largely left for SoMa, The Excelsior District, and Daly City.

The new City College of San Francisco tower (above, as seen along Washington from Columbus) and adjacent new St. Mary's Catholic School are in the final construction phase. This Fall, a huge number of students and teachers will bring yet another factor to the street life.
I expect a few more restaurants to open alongside Bask, the spot that debuted this week in the old Pickle's/Clown Alley place on Columbus at Jackson. The Comstock Saloon has done well for itself with its revival menu and fancy cocktails. I also hope the nightlife moves on from its somewhat stale Beat hangover and jocks'n'chicks party animalia. The area could use a performance space or two like the Purple Onion (always being revived) or the old Cocodrie on Pacific and Kearny. This neighborhood has a rich entertainment history, especially jazz and punk. All the massive changes over the decades have left the area in various states of decline and gentrification, but the current moment feels like the first pages of a decidedly new chapter.

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