sf // theater tour + somarts


Going on a walking tour this past Saturday has made me realize how much I enjoy, well, walking tours. During my time visiting various European cities in winter 2015, I did my best to schedule at least one walking tour for every stop I made. The most memorable ones were those in Bruges and Copenhagen, but they were all extremely informative and a wonderful way to get to know a city from a local's perspective.

As a newbie resident of San Francisco (and the West Coast as a whole), the free walking tours offered by San Francisco City Guides provide the perfect opportunity for me to get acquainted with the history and architecture of my surroundings.

Titled "Theatre in San Francisco," this first walking tour I take is all about the vibrant performing arts scene in the city. We meet our tour guide at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA), a multi-disciplinary contemporary arts center very close to the bus stop I get off on to get to work. Our group consists of nearly two-dozen elderly folks (the average age, counting my own, must be seventy), all seemingly very excited about performance and much more knowledgeable on the subject than I ever will be.

We are first introduced to the early beginnings of theater in San Francisco. The first performance to have ever taken place in here was in 1849. During the 1850's, the city's theaters burned down due to six major fires.

We then head to the Palace Hotel. Its original owner, William Ralston, wanted to build the grandest hotel in the west. I'll leave it up to you to determine whether he accomplished his dream. Opened in 1879, the Palace Hotel hosted a number of famous guests, including authors Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain. In 1906, however, one of the major fires caused by the earthquake causes the building's entire interior to burn down. The structure we see today is the hotel that was rebuilt in 1909. The image above shows the publicly accessible ground floor. I'm definitely more of an AirBnB person, but I must say I wouldn't mind staying at the Palace if it means being able to stare at its ceiling all day. Or I could just do this on my way to work every morning.

In the middle of Market St., we gather around the Lotta's Fountain. Donated to the city by beloved actress Lotta Crabtree in 1875, it originally served as a drinking spot for horses. In the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake, San Francisco residents posted notices on the fountain in the search of lost friends and family members.

A few blocks west is our next stop, the Kensington Park Hotel. Built in 1924, the place is currently a boutique hotel, and houses the SF Playhouse on its second floor. The hotel features a Spanish Gothic style, and was designed by the same architect as the beautiful Orpheum Theater (which we don't get to see on the tour, but I highly recommend).

After a stop inside the Marine's Memorial Theater, one of the host venues of the Fringe Festival, we pass by the Pink Skye Nightclub. Though it is no longer used as a theater today, this early art deco style establishment was once the home of the Stage Door Theater. Fun fact: Hitchock's Vertigo premiered here in 1968.

The tour ends with some history about the ACT and the Curran Theater, two stunning pieces of architecture. I then make my way back to where we started, and visit the California Historical Society, followed by the Sketchpad Gallery, where I attend the vernissage of Girls Who Eat, an "all-female illustrated zine that celebrates food and the culture of food while challenging ideas surrounding disordered eating." Their manifesto? "We are not starving daughters, we are girls who eat." (I'm incredibly humbled to learn that proceeds from the zine's sales will be donated to Project Heal, one of my favorite eating disorder advocacy organizations.)

Final stop for the day: SOMArts, a multidisciplinary and multicultural arts organization in the SOMA neighborhood. Getting there by foot from Mission and 6th is an interesting journey, to say the least. In the space of minutes, I walk by a community garden, a Harley Davidson fanclub, and an array of enticing furniture consignment shops. Not to mention the leather-clad (but barely clad) crowd gathered around bars to celebrate the Folsom Street Festival. At SOMArts, I am able to visit the Annual Murphy and Cadogan Contemporary Art Awards Exhibition on its final day. The exhibit showcases a dozen of promising Bay Area artists working on various mediums, and they are all equally talented in my eyes. SOMArts also offers classes and workshops, which I will make sure to check on regularly!














  









  



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