Monday, January 21, 2008

Tanforan Cottages

I’ve passed these tiny houses dozens of times on my walks around Delores Park but never with camera in hand. It’s amazing how much more I see, now that I have a camera. I’ve been taking photos of all sorts of old houses and trying to find out their history. I certainly struck the jackpot on these two.

In the early 1850s Toribio Tanforan, an early Mexican era settler erected a pair of matching cottages on Dolores Street, north of 16th Street. Set on a very large lot, they served originally as farmhouses for him and his family. They are among the oldest houses surviving in San Francisco.

The "Tanforan Cottages," so called because members of the family of Toribio Tanforan occupied them from 1896 to 1945, are simple frame structures with modified late Classical Revival facades. Though very nearly identical in appearance, they were not constructed at the same time; 214 Dolores is said to have been built a little before 1853, 220 not long after that date. This dating is questionable, though, as the first substantiated date is 1866, when Revilo Wells, owner of 214, had water piped in. There is still a small carriage house behind 220 Dolores--occupied as late as 1940 by one of the Tanforan carriages. The large gardens of these houses have been well maintained and contain many specimens of turn-of-the-century San Francisco taste in flora (Olmsted and Watkins 1969,

Toribio Tanforan was actually from Chile and passed away in 1884. His wife (called his relict in the SF Morning Call) passed away a few months later. He was only 54 and his wife 52 which gave me a real understanding of 19th century life-spans –unless they died in one o the numerous epidemics that swept through SF before the city had a reliable system for providing clean water and disposing of sewage.

They must have been a wealthy and influential family because they didn’t lose their land during the Gold Rush, as did so many Spanish land grant families. The fact that they kept their property during the skyrocketing rents of Gold Rush San Francisco also speaks to their prosperity as well as the fact that the Tanforan Racktrack (located on the former site of Rancho Buri Buri, a Spanish land grant farm), was named after Toribio. During the Gold Rush, small buildings in the Portsmith Square area were renting for $6000 a month and one building on the square rented for $150 a day, proving that high rents are nothing new in SF. The family survived fires and vigilante groups, corrupt mayors and even an unpaved Delores St as I found an image from the 1860’s which shows that the area that we now know as Delores St. was an unpaved mess, muddy during the winter and dusty during the summer.

In the 1860’s, SF had its first amusement park just two blocks away. Located at 16th and Valencia, it was called “The Willows” and its prize exhibit was a Emu. That inspired one of Bret Harte’s early verses (not very well known but maybe better so).

“O say, have you seen the Willows so great,
So charming and rurally true,
A singular bird, with the manner absurd,
Which they call the Australian Emu?”

Well, maybe you had to be there.

In the 1860s, the population had bloomed up to 56,000 and Kearny St. was the city’s chief shopping center. Horse drawn cars went up and down Market St. and for the fee of a whole .5 cents (maybe high for the time); you could ride all the way to the Ferry Building. The Tanforan family wouldn’t have had to use public transportation; after all, they had their own carriage and a building to house it in. The city had its first newspaper, the San Francisco Call Bulletin, its first theatre (The Jenny Lind), and the city had grown from a motley collection of tents and shacks to mid-sized city. They even had paved streets in the downtown area and a succession of officials, some corrupt and some not. Some were efficient and some....were not. Obviously, some things never change.


Various on-line data bases for San Francisco

The Great Quake: 1906-2006: A city walker steps back 100 years

Tom Graham, Special to the Chronicle, Sunday, April 16, 2006

Oscar Lewis, San Francisco, Mission to Metropolis.

“Here Today” SF Architectural Heritage, JR League of San Francisco

The old carriage house, now rebuild- but you can still see the "bones" of the original building.
Side View - along Albert. St.
The back of 220 which is now a kitchen - I wonder where the original kitchen was for the cottages or if the family had an outside cook house which was common in the early days. Since fire was a constant hazard, it made sense to have the cook house separate from the main residence. I don't even want to speculate on the location of the outhouse or the well as water wasn't hooked up until almost 10 years after the cottages were built.

Serene Haven

One of the cottages today serves as a hospice for AIDS patients (Alexander and Heig 2002: 120); the other also provides rehab houing. The rehabilitated Tanforan Cottage provides eight residents with HIV/AIDS an affordable, independent living environment. One of the residents let me in to take photos; he was grateful for such a serene environment. I have to agree with him. The garden is beautiful and peaceful and must be a haven for those who live here.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Afternoon at Cafe Fiore

Finally finished! My photo flattens out the various areas (including the faces) which gave me so much trouble. They look much better in the original. I will be taking this to a critique group on Saturday as I'm curious to see if I get any decent feedback. But I like the narrative, the story between the two central figures. I have my own version of the story but I want those who look at it to make up their own stories. Will these two have a happy ending? I think that the central figure has just asked a question but how will the woman answer it? Is she thinking or avoiding the gaze. I even like the gender ambiguity of the main person. My technique is not good enough for what I want to do but the only way to get better is to slog along and keep on painting.

Morning Coffee

I gave myself a number of challenges on this piece. First of all, the face was much more difficult than I anticipated and I'm not completely happy with the results but I don't want to tinker with it any more for fear that I will mess up what I have. At one point, I was almost finished with the face but let a friend critique it. When I tried to apply his suggestions, the color was completely wrong and I had to paint over the area and start from the beginning. I wanted to work with more impasto and I'm moderately happy with that as well as the over all composition. I do have concerns that I am not being very original. I'm reading Richardson's biography of Picasso (the third volume) and it's very clear to me how traditional my work has become. But I don't much care for what passes for original these days so feel that it's best to just follow my own muse. Who knows? Maybe the world will catch up with me one of these days. Or maybe not. In any case, this was another difficult piece and it's given me a lot of satisfaction to finish it.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Christmas and New Year's in the Castro

My beautiful, tatty, tolerant, wise and foolish city - may 2008 bring you better government, cleaner streets, active and engaged citizens and cheaper rents.