Searching for the city’s secrets

Mural at St. John Coltrane African Orthodox Church at 1286 Fillmore Street.

Mural at St. John Coltrane African Orthodox Church at 1286 Fillmore Street


For the last few years, Miles, my beautiful Rhodesian Ridgeback, and I would walk through the neighborhood every morning. Down to Fillmore, up to Broadway, over to Lyon, back to Sacramento. I would point things out to him. I am a designer, by trade and by nature, and I am finely tuned to detail: the font in a logo, the frame on a window, the way a painting is lighted, the clasp on a woman’s handbag.

I would remark at the details as we walked along. Sometimes Miles would look disdainful, as though to say, “Why are you so fascinated by that?” And so we would go on. He held to his mysteries; I held to mine. Then one day he died. He was 14.

It was Miles who first got me thinking about the nature of interesting places in the city. Our journeys led me to start a blog about art, architecture and unusual places in the Bay Area, which led to my new book, 111 Places in San Francisco You Must Not Miss, one of a series of 111 Places books published by the German publisher Emons Verlag.

I covered many of the customary places in the city, including such landmarks in our neighborhood as the Swedenborgian Church, the Lyon Street steps, the Gold Coast on outer Broadway, and the St. John Coltrane African Orthodox Church.

111-PlacesI also discovered new places around the city. Andy Goldsworthy’s Building 95 at the Presidio was one, along with the Chinese Telephone Exchange on Washington Street; Sunny Jim Rolph’s “love nest” in Noe Valley; the Antique Vibrator Museum on Polk Street; the Interval, a bar opened by the Long Now Foundation at Ft. Mason; the extraordinary Warrior-Surfer mural on Noriega, on the walls above the Devil’s Teeth Bakery.

The publisher’s format called for only 111 places, so some of my choice spots did not find their way into the book. One of those was the nearby Neptune Society Columbarium. It’s a mix of whimsy and sentimentality. It’s also a designated landmark with a fabulously rich history.

Some wild characters had to be left out of the book, too, including “Horsetrader” Ed Balatti, one of the original 49ers and the owner of a used car lot on the corner of Eddy and Van Ness. A Pacific Heights matron once said about him: “He was a football player, a crook and a con artist, and these people have a lot of aggressive energy, which is why he was such a draw in San Francisco society, where the women have been sitting around with men whose true love is for each other, (and) for playing dominoes down at the club. So along comes this man with real masculine energy, who for once wasn’t like a brother or a pet.”

Since Miles left I still take daily walks through the neighborhood. And I still remark on its fonts and shades.

PREVIEW: “111 Places in San Francisco That You Must Not Miss

Floriana Petersen — born in Slovenia,  educated in European art history and practiced in the restoration of medieval frescoes — is an interior designer who lives in the neighborhood.