About five years ago while running at the gym and desperate for some reading material I picked up a random magazine. The magazine, coverless and worn, contained a fascinating story. The story began with the writer meeting his interview subject, Michael May, in San Francisco somewhere in Russian Hill. Michael had told the writer that there was a special place that he wanted to share. The story continues and the two men step into a small and mysterious lane and Michael excitedly describes its unique beauty. Michael is fully absorbed in the lushness of the greenery, the color of the flowers, a quaint stone bench. The writer then reveals that Michael May is a man who had lost his sight at the age of 3 and who, now in his 50s, has recently and miraculously regained it through an experimental surgery. The story unfolds and we learn the story of a man who spent his whole life in darkness who now sees the beauty that surrounds him.
<span style="font-family: Helvetica Neue;"><span style="font-size: 9.75pt;">Two years ago, with not much to go on but an indelible memory of this remarkable story, I searched for the article I had stumbled upon years before – and I found it. Apparently that coverless magazine was an issue of Esquire from June 2005. The article I had so vividly remembered had gone on to win awards and the story had been turned into a book. That book was optioned for a movie. Most importantly though I found out the location of this garden oasis. The place is called Macondray Lane.
<span style="font-family: Helvetica Neue;"><span style="font-size: 9.5pt;">“Only one person keeps climbing, and he's talking, too; he's saying that you can't stop here, that if you just keep pushing, you'll see things no one else will see, that Macondray Lane is just over the hill and that it's the most magical place in all of San Francisco, but you'll never see it if you don't keep pushing, you'll never see Macondray Lane unless you really know how to look.”
Macondray Lane is a small alley between Leavenworth and Taylor streets, paralleling Union and Green. It greets you with an adorable awning and an outpouring of verdant lushness that mirrors its description in the article. It's a place you would never know was there but when discovered it's one of those places that makes you love San Francisco. Steeped in history it was the inspiration for Armistead Maupin's Barbary Lane from Tales of the City. Travel through it and you travel through time for each of its dwellings has its own story. Click on the slideshow below and you’ll see one-by-one each of their back stories – all of which I was led to by the story I couldn’t get out of my mind. Magical indeed.
Back in high school the route I took from the freeway exit to my parent's house was that of Monterey Boulevard. Don’t be fooled by the fancy Boulevard name – Monterey Boulevard is nothing but an uneventful corridor linking the 101 to the tony homes of St. Francis Wood, which then leads to the small town charm of West Portal, and even further to the expanse of the Sunset District. Even though Monterey Boulevard was arguably the most unremarkable part of my drive I would always notice a mysterious building whiz by me. It was set back from the street with abundant and overgrown foliage coming through its every orifice. One day I decided to check it out and that's exactly what it was – a forgotten jewel from another time. I believe we might have even had to break into the park to see it back then. That building and park is the Sunnyside Conservatory, that at that time (the mid 90s), was just a shell of once it once was back its heyday. <span style="font-family: Helvetica Neue;"><span style="font-size: 9.75pt;">
Well years have passed and the Friends of the Sunnyside Conservatory have rebuilt this once grand structure. It reopened in late 2009 and it's better then ever. The Conservatory's park maintains some of its original trees, many over 100 years old, but now has a fully restored interior and new gorgeous plants on its surprisingly lush grounds. It even has the quirkiest little sculptures hiding in little places. Check out the slideshow and you can see them in various spots. It’s open from sunrise to sundown and we caught it just at that magical time where the lights start to catch the centuries old palms. Apparently you can rent it out for events and parties as well. Cheers to that.
On the Marina Green past the yacht clubs is a tiny islet of land that looks as though it rose up from the bay like the lost city of Atlantis. Giant stones, some of which were unearthed from the old Laurel Village Cemetery, are placed together in hodgepodge patterns making up a landing area complete with a stone bench for one of the best views of The City.
The Wave Organs first completed in 1985 was a project from the nearby Exploratorium. Large cement tubes lay under the bay curl up and out of the various stones above. Place your ear up to one of the many submarine periscope-type openings and listen to gurgling and crashing of the waves below.
Check it out at night with a bottle of wine, when the water is still and The City lights sparkle in the distance. This was a favorite spot of ours in high school when we were too young for the nightlife of The City, so a night taking in The City was the best ticket in town.
Last year I went on a road trip with one of my best friends to New Mexico. Why New Mexico? Neither of us had been, no one I really knew had - which for me made it that much more interesting. It's like finding a hole in the wall bar that has the best jukebox and a bartender who could rival the best character actor in your favorite movie. All that and its all something you discovered first. Well we set off on our road trip with an offbeat itinerary that I put together - as somehow I knew we'd love the haunted hotel and the random occurrences even more then the obvious attractions. But my favorite part was our mobile OnSugar blog. It wasn't work - no opening a laptop or pouring over words. It's just that small document of that precise moment. Simple. Easy. Perfect.
Well it brings me to this blog. I thought to myself, how do I recreate in my everyday life the experiences that are memorable? How do I write those interesting chapters more often? Well I believe the answer is in my own backyard - my beloved City. Born and raised in this fair City, a first generation native but with 20 first cousins populating the 700k odd residents - I am setting off to explore and to enjoy. I am going to go out and find those hidden gems of San Francisco, the places that make it so unique. From the Seward Street Slides, a secret spot I only recently experienced, to places I have loved since childhood - I am going to be San Franciscoing. Welcome to a blog about the City I love. The City that I'm about to get to know just a little bit better.