Thursday, July 12, 2012

#Lunchinginpublic: the 7th Street Federal Bldg.

The rules really are strict but, at least with us, everyone was incredibly nice about it. You really do have to take off your shoes and run them through the scanning machine with the rest of your things. At least the bins are deep, which is a nice touch; the high sides kept the flaps at each end of the scanner from messing up our lunches in their flimsy take-out boxes.

Market Street at the edge of the "Off the Grid" setup.
That's the Federal Building behind the red brick Strand
Theater. BTW, that's the theater soon to be rehabbed by ACT.
This was at the Federal Building on Seventh Street -- professional photos of which are available over here. We had bought the lunches half a block away in the small "Off the Grid" food-truck corral that now joins the Thursday craft market in UN Plaza. Vietnamese chicken with noodles and Southern U.S. pulled pork, both tasty.

At the Federal Building, while the guard at the machine reviewed our lunches, a different guard reviewed our IDs. He wrote down name and state driver's license number -- which is, OK, no more than the desk clerk would at a nonprofit-run SRO.

Working to write down the numbers carefully, the second guard reassured us, "Everything takes time." Also we had to sign in -- which is, OK, no more than the lobby guard asks at many downtown office buildings. I forgot to sign. He caught up with us and asked for my signature without severity.

They told us about a rule against taking pictures of the security area or any people within the building, which is why some of the pictures with this item may look a little sterile.

Plaque in the Sky Terrace explaining about
the neon frame (click to enlarge).
That frame is part of our local nighttime sky.
It's a change of perspective to think of it as art.

When you go to eat lunch on the 11th floor it's officially for a "self-guided tour." They show you where to pick up a guide sheet with information about the architecture, the terrace, and the public art, including artist James Turrell's big neon frame in changing colors that we see nightly from our own street. Also where to find the restrooms in the basement.

A pleasant older man in the elevator guessed we were headed for the 11th-floor Sky Terrace.

"I opened this building," he said, meaning, it seemed, that he had been part of the life of the building from its start. He told us with pride that people from all over the world came to the terrace: tourists from China, Korea, Japan... students... lots of people. (The chattier guard downstairs had said the same. Also, he said, architects and college groups.)

I asked the man in the elevator, did local neighborhood people come in?

"Sometimes they come in," he said. "It's not bad."

We took him to mean that the local turnout wasn't bad. He was such a nice man.

Later I wondered, though, did he mean that, as nice people, we shouldn't fear being bothered by local riffraff?

Sad to think that "the neighbors" could have such a distasteful connotation to a proud and kindly maintainer of a neighboring landmark in our own neighborhood.

But then, the people of the Federal Building may not have occasion to meet those of their neighbors who work in the daytime. I suppose what they see of our neighborhood is mainly the Seventh Street daytime streetscape of people who have nowhere else to be. They're admittedly a rough-looking crowd, worse than on Sixth in some ways. Maybe partly because of the check-cashing place on the corner. I think also because of social patterns left over from many years ago, when there was a methadone clinic near Seventh in a building running through from Market to Stevenson.

From inside the Federal Building, with middle-class double vision, I could imagine a sense of maintaining an embattled island of civility against entropic disorder outside.

There does seem to be real concern at the Federal Building about street crime: just inside security we saw a couple of big fuzzy stuffed penguin dolls. Happy first impression -- Ooh, Linux! -- but, no, they're part of a display urging the office workers to "buddy up" when walking to BART. A surprise to see. Seventh and Market notwithstanding, is our area really that bad? I mean, I would escort a guest who was hampered by a suitcase in walking to the station, but otherwise -- ?

One advantage of tight security: the ping-pong tables just inside the doors to the terrace are in good condition, and there are paddles and balls, in good condition, in a side caddy on at least one of the tables. The indoor setting feels a bit forbidding but we'll have to come back and play some time.

So at last we got out on the terrace. It's a genuinely pleasant place.

The terrace is protected from the wind because its north-facing side is glassed in. On a nice day you almost don't feel that the front of the terrace is open to outside air, though it is. Lots of cafe tables in the terrace. Lots of office-type people eating, talking in groups, reading the paper alone.

Looking at our SoMa neigborhood from the terrace.
We tried to see our own roof from up there. Not quite, just many of the neighbors'. Joel noted how hard it is to pick out Eighth Street because many of the prominent buildings in the streets just south of Market are not actually facing onto Eighth.

Looking north, through the glassed-in side of the terrace,
at UN Plaza and Hastings' McAllister Tower
Really our experience was only marred by my having to get back home to take an office phone call. Pulled pork is not a good food to eat quickly (urp). We'll have to come back some other time and lunch at leisure. Maybe with some ping-pong.

Also, there was a moment of unpleasantness near the food trucks: three people went shouldering aggressively through a lunch crowd that did not need to be shouldered. Two women led in quasi-formation by a large man who moved with an unusual challenging swagger. They did this under official city sponsorship, to judge by their black "Community Ambassador" vests. (Compare this Chronicle photo of black-vested Ambassadors, though I don't know if the same people are shown). Maybe they had just emerged from a bad moment of something, but the unreciprocated attitude seemed a bit much.

[To clarify, the "Ambassadors" didn't touch anyone that I know of. They just gave off the kind of gratuitous attitude that makes people step back.]

So different from those gracious security men at the Federal Building who did their best to welcome visitors pleasantly and respectfully while enforcing their rules with care.

1 comment:

  1. no kidding. I wish you would have gotten a video of that. those are the new 'ambassadors' directly paid by the city, as opposed to the Mid market CBD brown coats who always been great

    in fact, those black/yellow coats are mayor Ed Lees new project

    the yellow/black should be the same group, unless something funny is going on. I've seen some questionable stuff from those guys already

    the CBD brown coats have always been great and done their job properly