Wednesday, July 25, 2012

#Lunchinginpublic: Presidio, UCSF-Laurel Heights

As Tolstoy didn't say, friendly public spaces are so comfy you don't remember to take pictures, but unfriendly public spaces are unfriendly in their own special ways, so when they unfriend you, it's easy to remember to take a picture.

Hence, in what follows, there are no pictures of the homey Digital Arts enclave in the Presidio, but many pictures of the funereal UCSF-Laurel Heights campus.

So this past Sunday J&I walked over the hill from SoMa to do some telecommuting in the Presidio Starbucks in the Digital Arts area. This is in the southwest corner of the Presidio uphill from the Palace of Fine Arts just west of the Lyon Street Steps. As many comments on this Yelp page agree, it's one of the nicer Starbucks open to the public, welcoming people into a comfortable setting with what one reviewer calls a "calm University Campus-ish vibe."

We had lunch-type snacks at the Starbucks, got out our computers and worked a bit, got fed up with work, sat on a grassy hill in the sun for a bit, decided to head on home.

Walked up through the Presidio woods. Saw a good hawk on the way. Don't know what kind: looked plumper than the Cooper's hawks we see downtown but the tail was black and white bars, not reddish. Immature redtail?

Got up to California Street around the Laurel Heights longitude. Bought some great cold lentil salad in the Cal-Mart. (La Cascada brand -- tasty in an original way: crispy lightly cooked vegetables giving a lighter overall texture. Also, the surprising touch of lime juice instead of lemon.)

Looked for somewhere to eat the lentil salad. Wandered up to the Laurel Heights campus of UCSF. A place much less like a university campus than the corner of the Presidio where we'd been earlier. UCSF-Laurel Heights is basically a large '70s-style building with conference rooms (the UC Regents often meet there), medical/administrative/research offices including these and these and these and these, and many zealously fenced-off parking lots. Also, apparently, a small campus of a private preschool. For the public, at least on a weekend, what remains to be enjoyed is the landscaping outside of the fences.

The UCSF-Laurel Heights landscaping, as far as it goes, is pleasant, but it put us in mind of the area's history: this is the site of the old Laurel Hill Cemetery. Here's a map of the old cemetery. Here's a map of the current Laurel Heights Campus. Might take a moment to realize the campus map is oriented facing south -- i.e. with southward points toward the top of the map.

Thought about the wonderful footage in Rick Prelinger's "Lost Landscapes of San Francisco #6" that showed 1950s hipsters [Oops, he has noted a correction: the date on the footage is 1941 -- graves may have been removed even earlier -- cf this Twitter thread. MB 10-23-13] cavorting in the Laurel Hill Cemetery mausoleums shortly before they were removed. His show is available online here -- see segment #18. (Link found via this report on the Ocean Beach discovery of displaced Laurel Hill gravestones.)

The graves were, they say, moved, but then Joel used to know a guy who had held a job moving graves from one cemetery to another. The ex-grave-mover said there was a lot of squinting and shrugging at much-decayed remains, followed by brisk shoveling into a box and, "OK, here's your grandpa."

Anyway, as in cemeteries, there are pointy iron-picket fences at UCSF-Laurel Heights, there are low brick walls and higher brick walls. There are flowers and trees that are, as J. puts it, "very tightly, neatly manicured." It's not by any means desolate, but it does in a way fit Mr. Auden's crystallization of the unhomelike: "nothing to eat and nowhere to sit down".

(In fairness, this Yelp page, a little dated-looking, says there is or was a nice place called The View Cafe inside the campus -- but to get there I guess you'd have to be on the inside of the fences and brick walls. On, presumably, a weekday.)

Eh, well, we had brought the lentils. There were no actual signs saying we couldn't picnic on the grass.

Also, the lower brick walls, the ones holding the flowerbeds, could be sat on even if they didn't exactly invite sitting.

Pleasant enough spot for picnicking. Just there was this nagging feeling that we were uninvited and out of place.
 
Setting aside the feeling-unwelcome factor, the flowers are pretty, the grass well-kept, and the views panoramic. Especially on the lobe of lawn that has been allowed to remain outside the fence on the southwest corner of the property at Euclid and Laurel.

It does, well, vaguely all look funereal. One of these instances of land retaining a subtle sense of its past even when all appears to have been done over.

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