Saturday, May 28, 2011

Bliss Dance on Treasure Island

"Bliss Dance," a 40-foot statue of a naked dancing woman by local sculptor Marco Cochrane...

...has just been installed on Treasure Island with her behind facing the San Francisco skyline.

"Bliss Dance" is very striking, both as a major piece of engineering and ecstatic sculpture (click here for a website detailing its manufacturing).

It first appeared at the 2010 Burning Man Festival, where it was the hit of the Nevada desert, and the dancing woman will be temporarily gracing Treasure Island from May through October.

On Thursday evening, hundreds of "burners" showed up on Treasure Island for an opening celebration, where they were greeted by food trucks, dance music and freezing cold winds pouring in through the Golden Gate Bridge.

My hostesses were from the Black Rock Arts Foundation, and they were a smart, funny collection of characters.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee (above left) gave a speech extolling art on Treasure Island, and promised to bring Hillary Clinton to see "Bliss Dance" when she rolls into town for a conference later this summer. He also hinted that some day he might even visit the Black Rock Desert for Burning Man himself, which made everyone chuckle.

The sculptor Marco Cochrane (above left with the mayor) was next, and he started his speech thanking his "hippie parents who allowed for a certain puppy-dog quality to be nurtured in my character."

We left just as the statue's changing, complex interior lighting display came on because the winds had grown too insistent and cold. This was my first visit to Treasure Island, and it confirmed a suspicion that the place is perfect for temporary large artists' studios and installations, while the plans for high-rise housing developments are completely insane.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

San Francisco Pow Wow in Civic Center

In Civic Center on Wednesday there was a ferris wheel in front of City Hall...

...and a huge tent in the plaza surrounded by lighting and smaller tents fronting Polk Street.

Other than the San Francisco Symphony's Black and White Ball, the neighborhood has rarely seen such an ambitious and sumptuous setup for a party.

The Wednesday evening event turned out to be the final party for the International Pow Wow, the U.S. Travel Association's largest annual tradeshow which had been meeting earlier in the week at Moscone Center. The Pow Wow, which focuses on international travel groups coming to the United States, hasn't convened in San Francisco since 1994, so you can probably expect to see an uptick in large foreign tour groups making their way through the city in the next couple of years.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Parkmerced Controversy

The Parkmerced housing development in the southwest corner of San Francisco was built in the 1940s by Metropolitan Life Insurance as an investment in middle-class rental housing, with a visionary mix of high-rise towers and two-story garden apartments landscaped by lawns set up as a circular "city within a city." (Click here for a fascinating history of the place at the Cultural Landscape Foundation website.)

According to Wikipedia: "Metlife owned and carefully maintained the property until the early 1970s, when it sold it to [Queen of Mean] Leona Helmsley and the property began to deteriorate...There were a succession of owners and management companies beginning in the late 1990s."

The current ownership group has decided they want to keep the decaying old high-rise towers but demolish most of the two-story garden apartments, replacing them with more high-rise towers, and hugely increasing the density, all the while proclaiming that it's a "Green Project."

Helping to fast-track the project after years of meetings with tenants and neighborhood organizations, Board of Supervisors President David Chiu made a number of backroom agreements with the developers intended to make the deal supposedly more tenant and transit friendly, and then scheduled a Land Use and Economic Development Committee meeting at 9AM where he handed out the 14 pages of amendments as a fait accompli.

There were a host of commenters on the proposal from both sides, but after a while it became obvious that just about everybody testifying for the proposal was a white male, often from one of the trade unions. As somebody remarked, "the trade unions around here would be in favor of paving over Golden Gate Park for condos if there were union scale jobs involved." Those testifying against the proposal were mostly senior women and an assorted collection of West Side neighborhood activists who made a very convincing case that the deal as proposed would be a personal disaster for them and a collective disaster for San Francisco.

Supervisor Weiner (above) from the Castro soon realized he was in a landmine zone, and that there was not going to be any "consensus" so he had to choose one side over the other. Weiner, whose deadpan demeanor sometimes comes across as a caricature of a mortician, is a real estate developer enthusiast, so the decision was probably not a difficult one.

The major problem is that these particular developers are about as unsteady, bankrupt, and demonstrably corrupt as Wall Street real estate investors get. In a great article in the Bay Guardian from March 29th of this year by the reporter Rebecca Bowe, she details the two major players and their CEOs:
Fortress made headlines in 2009 after it stopped providing funds to Millennium Development Corp. for the Olympic Village project in Vancouver, British Columbia leaving the city on the hook for hundreds of millions to finish the job in time for the winter games. Meanwhile, Fortress CEO Daniel Mudd recently got formal notification from the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) that he could potentially face civil action relating to his former job as CEO of Fannie Mae, the government-backed mortgage giant, for allegedly providing misleading information about subprime loans.

Stellar, a New York City company run by real-estate tycoon Larry Gluck, was profiled in a 2009 Mother Jones article about Riverton Homes, a 1,230-unit Manhattan rental housing project built in a similar style to Parkmerced, which Stellar purchased in 2005. Although Stellar assured residents that their affordable rental payments would remain unaffected, hidden from view was its business plan estimating that half the tenants would be paying almost triple the rental rates by 2011. Since rents couldn't ultimately be raised high enough to cover the debt payments, the complex went into foreclosure — but Stellar was shielded against loss because, on paper, Riverton was owned by a separate LLC.

In another Rebecca Bowe article from last week, she writes about the San Francisco Civil Grand Jury's recent report ripping apart the proposal as ""The Parkmerced Vision: Government-by-Developer." There was nothing much Supervisor Mar (above) could do because even with all these warning signals, it soon became obvious that the fix was in, with Board of Supervisors President David Chiu below doing much of the fixing.

The Land Use Committee ended and ninety minutes later the full board met at their weekly 2PM Tuesday Board meeting where the Parkmerced plan was being rushed to a full vote. Chiu, in what has become a pattern since his election, has become the swing vote on just about every bad developer-influenced decision that comes before the Board and the measure supporting the proposal passed 6-5.

In a front-page article in this morning's "Chronicle," Will Kane writes:
Early in the meeting, Cathy Lentz (above), a resident of Parkmerced, had to be dragged out of the board chambers by sheriff's deputies after she began yelling at supervisors.

As three deputies held her outside of the meeting room, her eyes filled with tears.

"I've lived there 50 years," she wailed. "What are they doing?"

The conservative Supervisor Sean Elsbernd above, who has made it abundantly clear over the years that he doesn't much care about poor people outside of his neighborhood, may be in trouble over this one because Parkmerced is in his district, and he's not tearing down the homes of black people in the Western Addition. Many of the rent-controlled tenants in their garden bungalows, from the evidence at these hearings, are elderly white women who are not going to take this lying down. There are already plans to stop this deal with a ballot initiative, and possibly a recall petition for Supervisor Elsbernd, who is going to be having some difficult times at the nearby Irish Cultural Center when one of these soon-to-be-evicted grandmas goes after him.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Asian Heritage Street Celebration 1: Tiaras and Police Cadets

The 7th annual Asian Street Celebration took place Saturday in the Little Saigon area of Larkin Street, and the balloon approximation of this year's logo was having a hard time staying aloft in the neighborhood's cold springtime winds.

The event was started by the Fang Family and their AsianWeek magazine, moving about from one predominantly Asian San Francisco neighborhood to another, but the Larkin Street area near Civic Center has seemingly become the permanent location of this "Street Celebration."

As is usual with Asian-American events in San Francisco (and elsewhere for all I know), there were plenty of tiaras resting on the heads of titleholders in evidence.

There were also a lot of organizations recruiting new members, such as the ROTC-style Police Cadets above and the actual San Francisco Police Department, which until fairly recently was very much an all-white boys' club.

Read the "historical essay" by Kevin J. Mullen here at the FoundSF website for a glimpse of the traditional "Chinatown Squad" during the Golden Dragon Massacre of 1977, where only about three people (including recent chief Heather Fong) even spoke Chinese in a force of thousands. (Note to Beth Spotswood: For a book-length account of the massacre, with lots of gory detail, check out the online "Bamboo Tigers" by Brockman Morris here.)

There were also a number of booths hawking Asian-themed goods...

...and Safeway was giving away groceries with various carnival type games.

The main hit of the "Street Celebration" was the food...

...although the block-long culinary area was a mob scene made more claustrophobic by the placement of food trucks directly across from the booths.

Asian Heritage Street Celebration 2: Dancers and Fighters

On a Golden Gate Avenue stage directly in front of the Federal building, two children were dancing what I assumed to be a traditional Filipino dance...

...illustrating a fisherman with a net snaring his catch...

...and though they both look terrified to be performing before a crowd, they couldn't have been more charming.

On Eddy Street, Chinese dragons were holding court... the site of mats laid down on the road for martial arts competitions.

There were fighting branches from all cultures...

...which seemed to be where the white/Asian multiculturalism was seriously taking place.

I have no idea what "heritage" the girl above claims, but she certainly knew how to kick ass in her age and weight category.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Vice Palace: The Last Cockettes Musical

The Thrillpeddlers theatre troupe, led by Russell Blackwood (below left and above, as the diva Lucretia performing as Caligula), has recently opened their version of the 1972 musical "Vice Palace." It is the third in a trilogy of wildly successful Cockettes revivals that started with "Pearls Over Shanghai" and continued last year with "Hot Greeks."

The Cockettes were a late 1960s/early 1970s hippie gender-fuck theatrical collective, centered in San Francisco and Berkeley, who performed midnight shows at the Palace Movie Theatre in North Beach for an appreciative audience that was liberally fueled with psychedelics, as were many of the performers onstage.

There's a good 2002 documentary called "The Cockettes," featuring the stories of Hibiscus and Sylvester and other notables who died young. The movie features interviews with in-house composer Richard "Scrumbly" Koldewyn who is one of the few surviving working artists from the group (above left, singing with The Jesters at the San Francisco Symphony earlier this year, and below, accompanying "Vice Palace" at The Hypnodrome).

1972's "Vice Palace" was a let's-get-back-together-for-one-last-show after the Cockettes had already disbanded, and included a part for the John Waters star Divine. The current version of "Vice Palace" has been massively reworked, with songs interpolated from other Cockettes shows, along with Koldewyn's huge personal songbook, and a few brand new tunes written for this run.

The original book was by the late Martin Worman, and it's an interesting take on Poe's "Masque of the Red Death" done in the style of early 1960s Fellini films, in particular "La Dolce Vita" and "Juliet of the Spirits." The costumes for the huge cast by Kara Emry are astonishing and witty, a mixture of Cecil Beaton, Piero Gherardi, and Danilo Donati.

The structure of the Poe tale, with its seven colored rooms involving different entertainments, is perfect for a loosely structured revue, and most of the show consists of a series of Cole Porter style novelty numbers by Koldewyn that are very funny, from "Moochie Coochie" sung and danced by Tina Sogliuzzo above... "Swami HotPastrami" performed by Ste Fishell with the assistance of the two "boy toys" Steven Satyricon and Joshua Devore.

The story is set during a recurring Italian plague, evidenced by the theme song "There's Blood On Your Face." The wealthy aristocrat Divina (Leigh Crow, above right, with an excellent T.J. Buswell as Paolo the singer and swinger) decides to sit out the pestilence in her palace with her decadent "La Dolce Vita" era friends.

Rather like "The Decameron," Boccaccio's 14th century escape-from-the-plague tale, each guest is required to perform an entertainment, which become progressively more tasteless as the evening wears on, with L. Ron Hubby (above) insisting on singing "A Crab On Uranus."

Of course, The Red Death arrives uninvited during their final entertainment, a masquerade ball, and the piece ends in literal darkness. Though there's not a single AIDS reference in the updated book, the disease haunts the musical as many of its originators died from the modern plague.

It's still an enormously entertaining evening. Koldewyn has rescored much of the music for piano and Casio organ, played by Birdie-Bob Watt, to give it that perfectly bouncy Nino Rota, 1960s EuroPop "Juliet of the Spirits" sound. To order tickets for this summer's run, click here.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Fototales Episode 7: New York, New York

This evening's episode of FotoTales recounts a pleasure trip to New York City for my birthday ten years ago from May 18-23, 2001. We stayed for one night in the weird, ritzy Waldorf-Astoria hotel...

...stumbled across the Celebrate Israel parade on Fifth Avenue and a street fair in Hell's Kitchen, and went to a bunch of culture, including an off-Broadway matinee of "Urinetown."

It's airing on San Francisco cable TV, Channel 29, at 7:30 PM, and you can livestream it over the internet at that time by clicking here, or watch the episode any time you feel like by clicking here.