Sunday, June 10, 2012

#LunchingInPublic: Sky Terrace, Westfield Mall

The magic button, in one elevator only.
Like finding an Easter egg on a DVD.
The Sky Terrace is a great #POPOS (privately owned public open space). And an uncrowded one.

It's uncrowded because it's hard to find. You get there from the northeast corner of the basement food court by blundering past the first bank of elevators to the other bank of elevators farther on, waiting for the elevator in the back left corner of that bank, and taking it all the way up to the ninth floor.

So, yes, the convenience of access to this and a lot of other places could change soon because on Thursday night the Planning Commission did pass the new rules requiring clearer POPOS signage.

For now, though, it's pretty easy to get lost.

We blundered around a lot before finding the Sky Terrace elevator. And that was after reading all the funny Yelp reviews, many of them including tips on access. The reviews had warned us to look for the elevator in the back left corner, and to ask the security guard for help. Except we didn't know which elevators they meant, nor where to find the security guard. We didn't see one.

[Meant to add, there's another good prior profile of the space at the SF Citizen.]

We started yesterday (Saturday), about 1 p.m., in the crowded basement food court with lunches in hand: Sorabol (Korean) and Amoura (Mediterranean). (Great food in both cases, but, Amoura, can you please get sturdier cardboard take-out trays?)

Amenities list, sans terrace.
There are two sets of elevators in the northeast corner of the basement food court, back there between the Amoura counter and what recently used to be an "Out the Door" branch of the Slanted Door restaurant group. The first elevators are reasonably easy to find but they don't help with finding the terrace. There's a map facing you as you walk into the corridor where those first elevators are. It says nothing about any kind of roof terrace. Not even under "Amenities."

Map at first and less helpful rank
of elevators. Unobtrusive note at
bottom reads: "Note: This shows
only the levels reachable from this
elevator." Thanks a million.
A map at the first set of elevators purports to show a cross-section of the building, by floor. It's less than no use because it leaves out the floors not reached by its particular group of elevators.

So we were up blundering around in the San Francisco State classroom area on the fourth floor, and then up another floor in one of the wrong elevators on the second elevator bank, and then I think at some point downward  -- forget exactly -- and then blundering upward again in that special back-left-corner elevator, to the actual ninth floor of the building and, miraculously at last, out on the roof.

Gorgeous up there. Views look straight across at the rotunda of what was once the Emporium and now is the Westfield Mall. Views east to City Hall, and a short way across Market to the Flood Building, south across the Mission and the outer subdivisions.

Here's a picture of our lunch setting. Great that it was possible to see a bit beyond the parapet while seated. The whole terrace is in full sun at lunchtime but there's shade. A good refuge.

Joel said it would be great to go up there on a January day when, elsewhere, it's not quite warm enough to sit outdoors.

Potted trees are all across the terrace. Dead branches in the tops of some trees suggest the prevailing wind out of the west could get pretty strong, but mainly above sitting level.

There are ashtrays. Only complaint would be, there aren't compost or recycling bins. Modern Up-To-Date Urbanists Would Disapprove. (Eh, if you're aching to recycle, it's not so tough to pack out your own polyethylene. Certainly easier than finding the terrace in the first place)

Anyhow it's a nice big amount of space. The John King review from 2008 says it's 3,600 square feet. Compared with that, the 1 Kearny roof terrace is a crowded little postage stamp.

Which brings up an encouraging aspect of the access situation: that 2008 review, like some of the Yelp comments (e.g. these sweet descriptions by Manabu M.), says you have to ask the security guard to activate the elevator for you, and/or you have to change elevators. You don't, not any more. Hooray for that.

This is the directory you see after
you've found the right set of elevators.
After the comical difficulty of finding the terrace, we thought of assigning a "leopard rating" to these privately owned private spaces. In honor of Arthur Dent's community planning frustrations in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy:
"But the plans were on display ..."
"On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them."
"That's the display department."
"With a flashlight."
"Ah, well the lights had probably gone."
"So had the stairs."
"But look, you found the notice didn't you?"
"Yes," said Arthur, "yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying 'Beware of the Leopard'."
This is one of the spots where a nice helpful
sign isn't. You keep going and turn right.

In this case, before finding the right elevator for the terrace, you have to blunder down a blank corridor at serious risk of being asked to explain your business, feeling anticipatorily flat-footed and sheepish about having to say you're just going up on the roof to see what it's like. Because, I mean, what security guard is gonna believe a story like that? (Class, again, becomes an issue here: if you're at a level in life to believe that security guards exist for your own protection and convenience, this whole process gets a lot easier.)

Since the elevator is no longer actually locked, I'd give the Westfield Center Sky Terrace a score of four out of five leopards. Five being the worst sort of "beware." (More leopards should be scarier than fewer leopards, right?)

Despite the Sky Terrace's high leopard rating, we did see other visitors on the terrace. Not a crowd like we found at 1 Kearny, but we rode up with a smiling young couple who, like us, were visiting for the first time, having read about the terrace online. Also riding up with us, two Westfield maintenance guys. They had a hook with them to lift the paving squares in what seems to be a raised flooring over the mechanical guts of the roof.

Somewhere around the time of our own arrival on the roof, we decided not to bug people -- not the maintenance guys, not anyone. Bad reporting, maybe, but the roof garden didn't feel like a sociable place. More of a place to go and be alone among others.

Up on the roof already, one woman reading a book by the parapet. Arriving while we were up there: three women in heels and suburban bright colors. They seemed to be together, but the one with the striped shirt sat down alone with her cell phone and a sushi lunch; the other two kept going to the far end of the terrace. Also a guy wearing inadvisable white-rimmed sunglasses came and went.

Come to think of it, we didn't check for WiFi this time. Sorry, forgot. I guess that sunny corner was too nice for messing with electronics. (We did get as far as checking the SPUR POPOS PDF guide on a Kindle. Except, that guide is really for the Financial District. The Sky Terrace isn't on it -- too far west.)

As we were heading to the elevator (concurrently with striped-shirt woman), three newcomers stepped out onto the roof, laughing, one woman saying, "I've never been up here!" Down on the first floor, a young family stepped into the elevator past us, heading on up.

We met the security guard on the way out. He sits between the two banks of elevators at a desk on the first floor. Turns out the quick way to get to the proper elevator the first time from the street is to go in the 835 Market SFSU entrance.  From there you go straight into that aforementioned back left corner.

The security guard said, yes, the terrace is popular. As it does, yes, seem to be, obstructions notwithstanding. "You should go up," he said. Yes, thank you, we said, we already did.

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