De Young Museum

Midnight Specialists: Midnight Mass

0

› a&eletters@sfbg.com

The funniest line in movie history didn’t pass from the lips of Addison DeWitt in All About Eve (1950), Nora Charles in The Thin Man (1934), or Alvy Singer in Annie Hall (1977). That honor belongs to Taffy Davenport (Mink Stole) of Female Trouble (1974), who responds to the advances of her dentally challenged stepfather thusly: "I wouldn’t suck your lousy dick if I was suffocating and there was oxygen in your balls!" Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, who will die for your sin of omission?

The savior of midnight movies in San Francisco, Peaches Christ, that’s who. If she can fit it into her busy schedule, of course.

Joshua Grannell, the surprisingly subdued and clean-cut gentleman behind the character of Midnight Mass’s holy hostess, says so during coffee talk about the author of that historical piece of dialogue, John Waters, and the massive undertaking that is the Mass’s special 10th-anniversary season at the Bridge Theatre. Mink Stole and Tura Satana will kick off the summer program on Friday, July 13, with Waters’s equally quotable Desperate Living (1977; "Tell your mother I hate her! Tell your mother I hate you!"), while Waters will introduce Female Trouble the following evening. Cassandra Peterson, a.k.a. Elvira, will be on stage for both nights of Midnight Mass’s closing weekend.

Grannell was particularly keen on landing Waters, the only one of the four cult deities appearing this summer who has never done Midnight Mass before, because the director unknowingly played a role in the genesis of the show.

Back when Grannell and his friend Michael Brenchley were film students at Penn State, they brought Waters to campus to do a monologue performance. "John told us about the Cockettes," Grannell remembers. "He encouraged us to move to San Francisco and told us how much fun Divine and Mink had here."

The pair took his advice, arriving in 1996 in the city, where they would eventually become infamous as Peaches Christ and her silent sidekick, Martiny. One decade later, when Amoeba Records asked Peaches to introduce Waters at a promotional appearance for his CD A Date with John Waters (New Line Records), Grannell seized the opportunity to remind the trash auteur who he had been in college and who he’d become. Waters was aware of Peaches through Stole, who has appeared at Midnight Mass four times. "He kind of screamed and went, ‘Oh, I know Peaches!’<\!s>" Grannell says. The rest is scheduling history.

When Grannell moved to San Francisco, The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) had just left the Kabuki, and there was no midnight show in town. Peaches Christ, a character originally known as Peaches Nevada in Grannell’s senior-thesis film project, Jizzmopper: A Love Story, had already been appearing at the Stud’s Trannyshack for a year when Grannell pitched the Midnight Mass idea to Landmark Theatres, owners of the Bridge. (Grannell used to be general manager of the Bridge and is now paid by Landmark just to be Peaches.) At the time, he was told that midnight movies didn’t work in San Francisco.

Though Midnight Mass’s focus has always been on movies, it serves up a unique form of live spectacle. "Peaches is literally 20 people," Grannell says to me more than once, as much to emphasize the scale of the productions as to give due credit to people such as the show’s amazing costume designer, Tria Connell. During the summer of 1998, the debut season of Midnight Mass offered such entertainment as audience makeovers (for the first of many Female Trouble screenings), a Sal Mineo–<\d>inspired wet Speedo contest (in conjunction with the incredible Who Killed Teddy Bear? [1965]), and a ladies-in-prison parody sketch (for Jack Hill’s The Big Doll House [1971]).

"Landmark said, ‘We’ll give you one season, one summer, and we’ll reevaluate,’<\!s>" Grannell says. It didn’t take an abacus to see that the church of Christ was turning away as many people as were filling the seats. The first Midnight Mass humbly featured a Satana look-alike contest in celebration of the buxom spine snapper of Russ Meyer’s Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965). Ten years later, Satana herself regularly appears at Midnight Mass. The still-star-struck Grannell recently attended her birthday barbecue in Los Angeles, where he was surrounded by enough Meyer actresses to leave the ground of a decent-size backyard completely untouched by the sun. On his way back to SF, he was invited to stop by Peterson’s house, where she cooked him a spooky vegetarian dinner. "Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would know these women," he says. "It’s just so surreal for me."

Peterson and Satana seem pretty jazzed about their relationship with Grannell and Peaches too. Both icons make a point of noting the intense — sometimes alarming — devotion of Midnight Mass audiences. "There was one little guy who just cried the whole time," Peterson says, recalling a meet and greet after her appearance last year. "He stood there in front of me and just cried and cried and cried. I don’t know if he was crying because he loved me or [because] I was making him miserable."

Peterson spins some funny tales, including one about almost running over a bicycling Waters in Provincetown, Mass. But when it comes to Midnight Mass, Satana might earn bragging rights. Between pleasantly digressive reminiscences about her days as "the numero uno tassel twirler" in gentlemen’s clubs around the country (including a four-month stint at North Beach’s Condor Club, where she worked with exotic-dancing foremother Carol Doda before "the problem with the guy caught in the piano"), she told me about a fan at her first Mass who refused to be inconvenienced by a heart attack. "He wouldn’t let the paramedics take him away until he got my autograph," she insists.

Grannell has his own ER anecdote, of course. It was the summer of 2004. Peaches was showing Mommie Dearest (1981) and offering mother-versus-daughter mud wrestling as an aperitif. "Martiny and I were Chastity versus Cher," Grannell remembers. "We did this whole ridiculous buildup where I was singing Cher songs and she was out there with an acoustic guitar doing, like, Tracy Chapman and 4 Non Blondes." While fighting in the mud — an improvised cocktail of soft drink syrup, water, and popcorn — Brenchley dislocated his shoulder. He left the stage and was taken to the closest hospital. After declaring himself the winner and quickly introducing the movie to a crowd that wasn’t any the wiser, Grannell went to visit his injured sidekick, looking like a streetwalker who’d just taken part in a hog-chasing contest. He braced himself for the treatment he would get at the admitting window. "I walked in, and two male nurses came up to me and said, ‘Ms. Christ, she’s going to be fine,’<\!s>" Grannell says. "They knew exactly who Peaches Christ was and even how she might come to be covered in slop. They treated me like royalty."

That type of reception is indicative of Peaches’s breakout popularity. Midnight Mass has traveled to Seattle three times since 2005 and went to New York in 2006. (Grannell says there’s even a nightclub in Ireland that bears Peaches’s name.) The de Young Museum is hosting "A Decade of Peaches Christ" in September. And a new television show, Peaches Christ’s Midnight Mass, produced by Landmark-owning Internet billionaire Mark Cuban, is also set to air in August on the HDNet Movie Channel. Peaches will introduce her favorite movies, which will be shown uninterrupted in high definition, with footage from the live shows.

As for Midnight Mass, the upcoming season includes a screening of Xanadu (1980) that will feature drag queen Roller Derby and a sing-along (as if that wouldn’t happen anyway), a 10th-anniversary presentation of Showgirls (the 1995 movie Peterson admits to loathing and walking out of with friend Ann Magnuson), and Coffy (1973, a soon-to-be personal favorite of anyone who sees it).

The last thing I ask Grannell is the despised but inevitable question put to all movie mavens. I actually wait until a couple of weeks after our initial interview before finally deciding to e-mail him about it. "Oh god! I really don’t think I have just one favorite movie," he responds. "But my favorite John Waters movie is Female Trouble. My favorite slasher is Freddy Krueger. My favorite ’80s comedy is Pee Wee’s Big Adventure [1985]. My favorite actress is Joan Crawford and my favorite movie of hers is Strait-Jacket [1964]. I could go on and on…. Do you want me to?"<\!s>*

MIDNIGHT MASS

Desperate Living (1977), with Mink Stole and Tura Satana in person

July 13, midnight, $12

Female Trouble (1974), with John Waters in person

July 14, midnight, sold out

Midnight Specialists: Midnight Mass

0

› a&eletters@sfbg.com

The funniest line in movie history didn’t pass from the lips of Addison DeWitt in All About Eve (1950), Nora Charles in The Thin Man (1934), or Alvy Singer in Annie Hall (1977). That honor belongs to Taffy Davenport (Mink Stole) of Female Trouble (1974), who responds to the advances of her dentally challenged stepfather thusly: "I wouldn’t suck your lousy dick if I was suffocating and there was oxygen in your balls!" Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, who will die for your sin of omission?

The savior of midnight movies in San Francisco, Peaches Christ, that’s who. If she can fit it into her busy schedule, of course.

Joshua Grannell, the surprisingly subdued and clean-cut gentleman behind the character of Midnight Mass’s holy hostess, says so during coffee talk about the author of that historical piece of dialogue, John Waters, and the massive undertaking that is the Mass’s special 10th-anniversary season at the Bridge Theatre. Mink Stole and Tura Satana will kick off the summer program on Friday, July 13, with Waters’s equally quotable Desperate Living (1977; "Tell your mother I hate her! Tell your mother I hate you!"), while Waters will introduce Female Trouble the following evening. Cassandra Peterson, a.k.a. Elvira, will be on stage for both nights of Midnight Mass’s closing weekend.

Grannell was particularly keen on landing Waters, the only one of the four cult deities appearing this summer who has never done Midnight Mass before, because the director unknowingly played a role in the genesis of the show.

Back when Grannell and his friend Michael Brenchley were film students at Penn State, they brought Waters to campus to do a monologue performance. "John told us about the Cockettes," Grannell remembers. "He encouraged us to move to San Francisco and told us how much fun Divine and Mink had here."

The pair took his advice, arriving in 1996 in the city, where they would eventually become infamous as Peaches Christ and her silent sidekick, Martiny. One decade later, when Amoeba Records asked Peaches to introduce Waters at a promotional appearance for his CD A Date with John Waters (New Line Records), Grannell seized the opportunity to remind the trash auteur who he had been in college and who he’d become. Waters was aware of Peaches through Stole, who has appeared at Midnight Mass four times. "He kind of screamed and went, ‘Oh, I know Peaches!’<\!s>" Grannell says. The rest is scheduling history.

When Grannell moved to San Francisco, The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) had just left the Kabuki, and there was no midnight show in town. Peaches Christ, a character originally known as Peaches Nevada in Grannell’s senior-thesis film project, Jizzmopper: A Love Story, had already been appearing at the Stud’s Trannyshack for a year when Grannell pitched the Midnight Mass idea to Landmark Theatres, owners of the Bridge. (Grannell used to be general manager of the Bridge and is now paid by Landmark just to be Peaches.) At the time, he was told that midnight movies didn’t work in San Francisco.

Though Midnight Mass’s focus has always been on movies, it serves up a unique form of live spectacle. "Peaches is literally 20 people," Grannell says to me more than once, as much to emphasize the scale of the productions as to give due credit to people such as the show’s amazing costume designer, Tria Connell. During the summer of 1998, the debut season of Midnight Mass offered such entertainment as audience makeovers (for the first of many Female Trouble screenings), a Sal Mineo–<\d>inspired wet Speedo contest (in conjunction with the incredible Who Killed Teddy Bear? [1965]), and a ladies-in-prison parody sketch (for Jack Hill’s The Big Doll House [1971]).

"Landmark said, ‘We’ll give you one season, one summer, and we’ll reevaluate,’<\!s>" Grannell says. It didn’t take an abacus to see that the church of Christ was turning away as many people as were filling the seats. The first Midnight Mass humbly featured a Satana look-alike contest in celebration of the buxom spine snapper of Russ Meyer’s Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965). Ten years later, Satana herself regularly appears at Midnight Mass. The still-star-struck Grannell recently attended her birthday barbecue in Los Angeles, where he was surrounded by enough Meyer actresses to leave the ground of a decent-size backyard completely untouched by the sun. On his way back to SF, he was invited to stop by Peterson’s house, where she cooked him a spooky vegetarian dinner. "Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would know these women," he says. "It’s just so surreal for me."

Peterson and Satana seem pretty jazzed about their relationship with Grannell and Peaches too. Both icons make a point of noting the intense — sometimes alarming — devotion of Midnight Mass audiences. "There was one little guy who just cried the whole time," Peterson says, recalling a meet and greet after her appearance last year. "He stood there in front of me and just cried and cried and cried. I don’t know if he was crying because he loved me or [because] I was making him miserable."

Peterson spins some funny tales, including one about almost running over a bicycling Waters in Provincetown, Mass. But when it comes to Midnight Mass, Satana might earn bragging rights. Between pleasantly digressive reminiscences about her days as "the numero uno tassel twirler" in gentlemen’s clubs around the country (including a four-month stint at North Beach’s Condor Club, where she worked with exotic-dancing foremother Carol Doda before "the problem with the guy caught in the piano"), she told me about a fan at her first Mass who refused to be inconvenienced by a heart attack. "He wouldn’t let the paramedics take him away until he got my autograph," she insists.

Grannell has his own ER anecdote, of course. It was the summer of 2004. Peaches was showing Mommie Dearest (1981) and offering mother-versus-daughter mud wrestling as an aperitif. "Martiny and I were Chastity versus Cher," Grannell remembers. "We did this whole ridiculous buildup where I was singing Cher songs and she was out there with an acoustic guitar doing, like, Tracy Chapman and 4 Non Blondes." While fighting in the mud — an improvised cocktail of soft drink syrup, water, and popcorn — Brenchley dislocated his shoulder. He left the stage and was taken to the closest hospital. After declaring himself the winner and quickly introducing the movie to a crowd that wasn’t any the wiser, Grannell went to visit his injured sidekick, looking like a streetwalker who’d just taken part in a hog-chasing contest. He braced himself for the treatment he would get at the admitting window. "I walked in, and two male nurses came up to me and said, ‘Ms. Christ, she’s going to be fine,’<\!s>" Grannell says. "They knew exactly who Peaches Christ was and even how she might come to be covered in slop. They treated me like royalty."

That type of reception is indicative of Peaches’s breakout popularity. Midnight Mass has traveled to Seattle three times since 2005 and went to New York in 2006. (Grannell says there’s even a nightclub in Ireland that bears Peaches’s name.) The de Young Museum is hosting "A Decade of Peaches Christ" in September. And a new television show, Peaches Christ’s Midnight Mass, produced by Landmark-owning Internet billionaire Mark Cuban, is also set to air in August on the HDNet Movie Channel. Peaches will introduce her favorite movies, which will be shown uninterrupted in high definition, with footage from the live shows.

As for Midnight Mass, the upcoming season includes a screening of Xanadu (1980) that will feature drag queen Roller Derby and a sing-along (as if that wouldn’t happen anyway), a 10th-anniversary presentation of Showgirls (the 1995 movie Peterson admits to loathing and walking out of with friend Ann Magnuson), and Coffy (1973, a soon-to-be personal favorite of anyone who sees it).

The last thing I ask Grannell is the despised but inevitable question put to all movie mavens. I actually wait until a couple of weeks after our initial interview before finally deciding to e-mail him about it. "Oh god! I really don’t think I have just one favorite movie," he responds. "But my favorite John Waters movie is Female Trouble. My favorite slasher is Freddy Krueger. My favorite ’80s comedy is Pee Wee’s Big Adventure [1985]. My favorite actress is Joan Crawford and my favorite movie of hers is Strait-Jacket [1964]. I could go on and on…. Do you want me to?"<\!s>*

MIDNIGHT MASS

Desperate Living (1977), with Mink Stole and Tura Satana in person

July 13, midnight, $12

Female Trouble (1974), with John Waters in person

July 14, midnight, sold out

Midnight Specialists: Midnight Mass

0

› a&eletters@sfbg.com

The funniest line in movie history didn’t pass from the lips of Addison DeWitt in All About Eve (1950), Nora Charles in The Thin Man (1934), or Alvy Singer in Annie Hall (1977). That honor belongs to Taffy Davenport (Mink Stole) of Female Trouble (1974), who responds to the advances of her dentally challenged stepfather thusly: "I wouldn’t suck your lousy dick if I was suffocating and there was oxygen in your balls!" Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, who will die for your sin of omission?

The savior of midnight movies in San Francisco, Peaches Christ, that’s who. If she can fit it into her busy schedule, of course.

Joshua Grannell, the surprisingly subdued and clean-cut gentleman behind the character of Midnight Mass’s holy hostess, says so during coffee talk about the author of that historical piece of dialogue, John Waters, and the massive undertaking that is the Mass’s special 10th-anniversary season at the Bridge Theatre. Mink Stole and Tura Satana will kick off the summer program on Friday, July 13, with Waters’s equally quotable Desperate Living (1977; "Tell your mother I hate her! Tell your mother I hate you!"), while Waters will introduce Female Trouble the following evening. Cassandra Peterson, a.k.a. Elvira, will be on stage for both nights of Midnight Mass’s closing weekend.

Grannell was particularly keen on landing Waters, the only one of the four cult deities appearing this summer who has never done Midnight Mass before, because the director unknowingly played a role in the genesis of the show.

Back when Grannell and his friend Michael Brenchley were film students at Penn State, they brought Waters to campus to do a monologue performance. "John told us about the Cockettes," Grannell remembers. "He encouraged us to move to San Francisco and told us how much fun Divine and Mink had here."

The pair took his advice, arriving in 1996 in the city, where they would eventually become infamous as Peaches Christ and her silent sidekick, Martiny. One decade later, when Amoeba Records asked Peaches to introduce Waters at a promotional appearance for his CD A Date with John Waters (New Line Records), Grannell seized the opportunity to remind the trash auteur who he had been in college and who he’d become. Waters was aware of Peaches through Stole, who has appeared at Midnight Mass four times. "He kind of screamed and went, ‘Oh, I know Peaches!’" Grannell says. The rest is scheduling history.

When Grannell moved to San Francisco, The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) had just left the Kabuki, and there was no midnight show in town. Peaches Christ, a character originally known as Peaches Nevada in Grannell’s senior-thesis film project, Jizzmopper: A Love Story, had already been appearing at the Stud’s Trannyshack for a year when Grannell pitched the Midnight Mass idea to Landmark Theatres, owners of the Bridge. (Grannell used to be general manager of the Bridge and is now paid by Landmark just to be Peaches.) At the time, he was told that midnight movies didn’t work in San Francisco.

Though Midnight Mass’s focus has always been on movies, it serves up a unique form of live spectacle. "Peaches is literally 20 people," Grannell says to me more than once, as much to emphasize the scale of the productions as to give due credit to people such as the show’s amazing costume designer, Tria Connell. During the summer of 1998, the debut season of Midnight Mass offered such entertainment as audience makeovers (for the first of many Female Trouble screenings), a Sal Mineo–inspired wet Speedo contest (in conjunction with the incredible Who Killed Teddy Bear? [1965]), and a ladies-in-prison parody sketch (for Jack Hill’s The Big Doll House [1971]).

"Landmark said, ‘We’ll give you one season, one summer, and we’ll reevaluate,’" Grannell says. It didn’t take an abacus to see that the church of Christ was turning away as many people as were filling the seats. The first Midnight Mass humbly featured a Satana look-alike contest in celebration of the buxom spine snapper of Russ Meyer’s Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965). Ten years later, Satana herself regularly appears at Midnight Mass. The still-star-struck Grannell recently attended her birthday barbecue in Los Angeles, where he was surrounded by enough Meyer actresses to leave the ground of a decent-size backyard completely untouched by the sun. On his way back to SF, he was invited to stop by Peterson’s house, where she cooked him a spooky vegetarian dinner. "Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would know these women," he says. "It’s just so surreal for me."

Peterson and Satana seem pretty jazzed about their relationship with Grannell and Peaches too. Both icons make a point of noting the intense — sometimes alarming — devotion of Midnight Mass audiences. "There was one little guy who just cried the whole time," Peterson says, recalling a meet and greet after her appearance last year. "He stood there in front of me and just cried and cried and cried. I don’t know if he was crying because he loved me or [because] I was making him miserable."

Peterson spins some funny tales, including one about almost running over a bicycling Waters in Provincetown, Mass. But when it comes to Midnight Mass, Satana might earn bragging rights. Between pleasantly digressive reminiscences about her days as "the numero uno tassel twirler" in gentlemen’s clubs around the country (including a four-month stint at North Beach’s Condor Club, where she worked with exotic-dancing foremother Carol Doda before "the problem with the guy caught in the piano"), she told me about a fan at her first Mass who refused to be inconvenienced by a heart attack. "He wouldn’t let the paramedics take him away until he got my autograph," she insists.

Grannell has his own ER anecdote, of course. It was the summer of 2004. Peaches was showing Mommie Dearest (1981) and offering mother-versus-daughter mud wrestling as an aperitif. "Martiny and I were Chastity versus Cher," Grannell remembers. "We did this whole ridiculous buildup where I was singing Cher songs and she was out there with an acoustic guitar doing, like, Tracy Chapman and 4 Non Blondes." While fighting in the mud — an improvised cocktail of soft drink syrup, water, and popcorn — Brenchley dislocated his shoulder. He left the stage and was taken to the closest hospital. After declaring himself the winner and quickly introducing the movie to a crowd that wasn’t any the wiser, Grannell went to visit his injured sidekick, looking like a streetwalker who’d just taken part in a hog-chasing contest. He braced himself for the treatment he would get at the admitting window. "I walked in, and two male nurses came up to me and said, ‘Ms. Christ, she’s going to be fine,’<\!s>" Grannell says. "They knew exactly who Peaches Christ was and even how she might come to be covered in slop. They treated me like royalty."

That type of reception is indicative of Peaches’s breakout popularity. Midnight Mass has traveled to Seattle three times since 2005 and went to New York in 2006. (Grannell says there’s even a nightclub in Ireland that bears Peaches’s name.) The de Young Museum is hosting "A Decade of Peaches Christ" in September. And a new television show, Peaches Christ’s Midnight Mass, produced by Landmark-owning Internet billionaire Mark Cuban, is also set to air in August on the HDNet Movie Channel. Peaches will introduce her favorite movies, which will be shown uninterrupted in high definition, with footage from the live shows.

As for Midnight Mass, the upcoming season includes a screening of Xanadu (1980) that will feature drag queen Roller Derby and a sing-along (as if that wouldn’t happen anyway), a 10th-anniversary presentation of Showgirls (the 1995 movie Peterson admits to loathing and walking out of with friend Ann Magnuson), and Coffy (1973, a soon-to-be personal favorite of anyone who sees it).

The last thing I ask Grannell is the despised but inevitable question put to all movie mavens. I actually wait until a couple of weeks after our initial interview before finally deciding to e-mail him about it. "Oh god! I really don’t think I have just one favorite movie," he responds. "But my favorite John Waters movie is Female Trouble. My favorite slasher is Freddy Krueger. My favorite ’80s comedy is Pee Wee’s Big Adventure [1985]. My favorite actress is Joan Crawford and my favorite movie of hers is Strait-Jacket [1964]. I could go on and on…. Do you want me to?"<\!s>*

MIDNIGHT MASS

Desperate Living (1977), with Mink Stole and Tura Satana in person

July 13, midnight, $12

Female Trouble (1974), with John Waters in person

July 14, midnight, sold out

Out of downtown

0

› steve@sfbg.com

It wasn’t going well for Ted Strawser, predictably. The alternative transportation activist faced an uphill battle March 14 trying to convince a San Francisco Chamber of Commerce committee to endorse Healthy Saturdays, a plan to ban cars from part of Golden Gate Park.

Representatives of the park’s museums and Richmond District homeowners had just argued their case against the measure. “Visitors want access to our front door, and we want to give it to them,” Pat Kilduff, communications director for the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, indignantly told the group of two dozen business leaders gathered around a large conference table.

Strawser gave it his best shot: he talked about following the lead of other great cities to create car-free spaces; he said, “Golden Gate Park is one of the best parks in the nation, if not the world”; and he made a detailed case for closure. But around the table there were scowls, eye rolls, and other obvious signs that Strawser was being tolerated, not welcomed. Some — including chamber vice president Jim Lazarus — even started to interrupt and argue with him.

Then the man sitting next to Strawser spoke up. “I don’t think this is fair,” he said. And suddenly, everyone in the room shaped up. Strawser’s ally — his only supporter in the room — was somebody no chamber member could or would dismiss. Warren Hellman doesn’t shout or bang the table — but when he speaks, downtown pays attention.

Hellman, a prominent investment banker, told the committee members that he expected them to show the same respect for Strawser that they had for the previous two speakers. The nonsense ended, immediately.

And by the time Strawser turned the floor over to Hellman, the mood had changed. The group listened raptly, smiled, and nodded as Hellman spoke in his usual folksy, familiar, disarming style.

“It’s not a lot of fun when friends fall out,” he began, “because the previous speakers and many of you all agreed on the necessity of the garage [that was built in Golden Gate Park], and we worked together.”

He pointed out that many in the group had promised during the fall 2000 election to support Healthy Saturdays once the garage was built, although Hellman was now the only member of the coalition honoring that commitment. But he didn’t chide or shame his colleagues. That isn’t Hellman’s style.

Instead, he spoke their language. The garage has never been full and needs the money it can charge for parking to repay the bonds. This isn’t a fight that’s going away, since “part of the conflict is because this park is everybody’s park.” But there are “about 100 compromises not acceptable to either side that would move this forward.” And if a solution can’t be found, there will probably be an expensive ballot fight that nobody wants.

“My conclusion is we should attempt this test,” Hellman told the group. Ultimately, when the vote was later taken in secret, the chamber didn’t agree, although it did vote to back a trial closure after the California Academy of Sciences reopens next year.

At the meeting, Hellman openly called for Mayor Gavin Newsom to get involved in seeking a compromise, something Hellman said he had also just requested of the mayor at a one-on-one breakfast meeting. A couple of weeks later Newsom — who had already indicated his intention of vetoing the measure — did broker a compromise that was then approved by the Board of Supervisors.

As usual, Hellman didn’t take credit, content to quietly play a role in making San Francisco a better place.

Healthy Saturdays isn’t the most important issue in local history — but the significance of Hellman’s involvement can’t be underestimated. His alliance with the environmentalists and park advocates might even signal a sea change in San Francisco politics.

Warren Hellman represents San Francisco’s political and economic past. And maybe — as his intriguing actions of recent years suggest — its future.

This guy is a rich (in all senses of the word) and compelling figure who stands alone in this town. And even though his leadership role in downtown political circles has often placed him at odds with the Guardian, Hellman consented to a series of in-depth interviews over the past six months.

“Our family has been here since early in the 19th century, so we had real roots here,” Hellman told us. His great-grandfather founded Wells Fargo and survived an assassination attempt on California Street by a man who yelled, “Mr. Hellman, you’ve ruined my life,” before shooting a pistol and barely missing.

The Hellman family has been solidly ruling class ever since, rich and Republican, producing a long line of investment bankers like Warren.

Yet the 72-year-old comes off as more iconoclast than patrician, at least partly because of the influence of his irreverent parents, particularly his mother, Ruth, who died in 1971 in a scuba-diving accident in Cozumel, Mexico, at the age of 59. “She was entirely nuts,” Hellman said, going on to describe her World War II stint as a military flier in the Women’s Auxiliary Service Pilots and other colorful pursuits. “She just loved people, a little like I do. She collected people.”

Hellman grew up wealthy and cultured, but he also attended public schools, including Grant Grammar School and Lowell High School. In between, the young troublemaker did a stint at San Rafael Military Academy — “reform school for the rich,” as he called it — for stunts such as riding his horse to Sacramento on a whim.

After doing his undergraduate work at UC Berkeley, Hellman got his MBA from Harvard and went on to become, at the age of 26, the youngest partner ever at the prestigious Manhattan investment firm Lehman Bros. He developed into an übercapitalist in his own right and eventually returned home from New York and founded Hellman and Friedman LLC in San Francisco in 1984, establishing himself as the go-to financier for troubled corporations.

“He is really one of the pioneers of private equity,” said Mark Mosher, a longtime downtown political consultant and the executive director of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s California Commission on Jobs and Economic Growth, on which Hellman sits.

Hellman became what Business Week called “the Warren Buffett of the West Coast,” a man of extraordinary wealth and power. Among other accomplishments, Hellman took Levi Strauss private, recently made billions of dollars in profits selling DoubleClick to Google, and manages the assets of the California public employee retirement funds (CalPERS and CalSTRS), which are among the largest in the world.

Like many financial titans, Hellman has always been a generous philanthropist, giving to the arts, supporting schools in myriad ways, and funding the San Francisco Foundation and the San Francisco Free Clinic (which his children run). He vigorously competes in marathons and endurance equestrian events, often winning in his age bracket. And he has his humanizing passions, such as playing the five-string banjo and creating the popular Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival.

But he’s also been a prime facilitator of downtown’s political power, which regularly flexes its muscle against progressive causes and still holds sway in the Mayor’s Office and other city hall power centers.

Hellman founded, funds, and is a board member of the Committee on Jobs, which is perhaps the city’s most influential downtown advocacy organization. Hellman and his friends Don Fisher, the founder of the Gap, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein also started SFSOS, which now wages the most vicious attacks on left-of-center candidates and causes.

When the de Young Museum and other cultural institutions were threatening to leave Golden Gate Park, Hellman almost single-handedly had an underground parking garage built for them, in the process destroying 100-year-old pedestrian tunnels and drawing scorn from the left. The Guardian called it “Hellman’s Hole.”

“We at the Bike Coalition very much started out on the opposite side of Warren Hellman,” San Francisco Bicycle Coalition executive director Leah Shahum told us. “We couldn’t have been more like oil and water on the garage issue.”

But over the past two years or so, Hellman’s profile has started to change. He went on to become an essential ally of the SFBC and other environmentalists and alternative transportation advocates who want to kick cars off JFK Drive in Golden Gate Park on weekends, crossing the downtown crowd in the process. He has shared his wealth with progressive groups such as Livable City, which often fights downtown, and has stuck up for edgy fun seekers over more conservative NIMBY types. He has also publicly repudiated the attacks of SFSOS and its spokesperson, Wade Randlett, and withdrawn his support from the group.

Hellman is still a Republican, but a thoughtful and liberal-minded one who opposed the Iraq War and wrote an article for Salon.com in February titled “If the United States Were a Company, Would George Bush Be Our CEO?” (His answer: hell no.) And to top it all off, Hellman sports a few tattoos and even attended 2006’s Burning Man Festival and plans to return this year.

Unguarded and reflective, Hellman’s comments to the Guardian foreshadow the possible future of capitalism and influence in San Francisco and point to potential political pathways that are just now beginning to emerge.

Our first conversation took place at the Guardian office two weeks before the November 2006 election, when it was starting to look like Nancy Pelosi had a good shot at becoming speaker of the House of Representatives.

“I think this election in two weeks is going to be really interesting,” Hellman told us.

This Republican was cheering for the Democrats to win. “They aren’t my kind of Republicans,” he said of the people in power. Hellman didn’t support the war or approve of how the Bush administration sold it, and he wanted Pelosi and the Democrats to hold someone accountable.

“What I’d like her to do is admit that we can’t get out [of Iraq immediately], but start to talk about what the fallout has been. Discuss the enormous cost in human life as well as money, and how it’s possible the war united the Middle East against us,” Hellman said.

The one thing he can’t abide is disingenuousness. Hellman speaks plainly and honestly, and he asked us to keep particularly caustic comments off the record only a few times during almost six hours’ worth of interviews. He was self-effacing about his political knowledge and seemed most interested in working through the problems of the day with people of goodwill.

Asked what he values most in the people he deals with, Hellman said, “It’s authenticity. Do they believe things because they believe in them, or do they believe in things because they’re cynical or they’re just trying to gain something?”

Locally, Hellman has reached out to people with varying worldviews and come to count many friends among those who regularly battle against downtown.

“I love to know people,” he said. “That’s probably the single thing that motivates me. When someone says to me, ‘How can you be friends with [then–head of SEIU Local 790] Josie Mooney?’ I say, ‘Look, I want to know Josie Mooney. And if she’s awful, then we won’t be friends.’ I’m just fascinated by getting to know people. And virtually always, they’re a little like Wagner operas: they’re better than they sound.”

Hellman was the chair of the Committee on Jobs when he got to know Mooney, who chaired the San Francisco Labor Council and was a natural political adversary for the pro-business group, particularly when Hellman was leading the fight to do away with the city’s gross receipts tax, which has proved to be costly for the city and a boon for downtown.

But after that victory, Hellman turned around and cochaired a campaign with Mooney to retool and reinstate the gross receipts tax in a way that he believed was more fair and helped restore the lost revenue to the city.

“We lost, but he put $100,000 of his own money into that campaign,” Mooney told us, noting that the proposed tax would have cost Hellman and Friedman around $70,000 a year. “I think he just thought the city needed the money. It was a substantive point of view, not a political point of view.”

Mooney considers Hellman both a friend and “an extraordinary human being…. He has made a huge contribution to San Franciscans that doesn’t relate to ideological issues. A tremendous thing about Warren is he’s not ideological, even in his political point of view…. On politics, I’d say he is becoming more progressive as he understands the issues that confront ordinary people.”

Mooney is one of the people who have helped bring him that awareness. When they first met, Mooney said, Hellman told her, “You’re the first union boss I ever met.” That might have been an epithet coming from some CEOs, but Hellman had a genuine interest in understanding her perspective and working with her.

“In a sense, I think that was a very good era in terms of cooperation between the Committee on Jobs and other elements of the city,” Hellman said. “Josie and I had already met, and we’d established this kind of logic where 80 percent of what we both want for the city we agree on, and 20 percent [of the time, we agree to disagree].”

Committee on Jobs executive director Nathan Nayman — who called Hellman “one of my favorite people in the world” — told us that Hellman feels more free than many executives to be his own person.

“He’s not with a publicly held company, and he doesn’t have to answer to shareholders,” Nayman said. “He takes a position and lives by his word. You don’t see many people like him in his income bracket.”

Hellman has become a trusted hub for San Franciscans of all political persuasions, Nayman said, “because he’s very genuine. He’s fully transparent in a city that likes to praise itself for transparency. What you see is what you get.”

Hellman expects the same from others, which is why he walked away from SFSOS (and convinced Feinstein to bolt as well) in disgust over Randlett’s scorched-earth style. Among other efforts, SFSOS was responsible for below-the-belt attacks on Sups. Chris Daly, Jake McGoldrick, and Gerardo Sandoval (whom a mailer inaccurately accused of anti-Semitism).

“If all things were equal, I’d just as soon that SFSOS went away,” Hellman said. “SFSOS started doing the opposite of what I thought they would be doing, so it was fairly easy for me to part company with them. What I thought we were doing is trying to figure out ways to make the city better, not just being an antagonistic, nay-saying attack organization. I’m not a huge fan of Gerardo Sandoval, but I thought the attacks on him were beyond anything I could imagine ever being in favor of myself. And it was a series of things like that, and I said I don’t want anything more to do with this.”

Downtown, they’re not always quite sure what to make of Hellman.

“Every once in a while, he does things that irritate people who are ideologically conservative,” Mosher said. “He took an immense amount of heat for supporting the Reiner initiative [which would have taxed the rich to fund universal preschool].”

He’s given countless hours and untold riches to public schools, doing everything from endowing programs to knocking on doors in support of bond measures and often pushing his colleagues to do the same.

“My connection to him has been through the school district, and he’s really been a prince,” Sup. Tom Ammiano said. “He has even stopped calling me antibusiness. He put a lot of his energy into improving public education, and so he shows it can be done.”

Progressives don’t always agree with Hellman, but they feel like they can trust him and even sometimes win him over. “If you get a relationship with him and you’re always honest about the facts and your own interests, he will listen, and that’s pretty remarkable,” Mooney said. “He shows a remarkable openness to people who have good ideas.”

His appreciation for people of all stripes often causes him to reject the conventional wisdom of his downtown allies, who viciously attacked the Green Party members of the Board of Education a few years ago.

“Everybody said, ‘Oh my god, Sarah Lipson, you know, she’s a Green Party member, she’s the furthest left-wing person on the board,’ blah, blah, blah,” he said. “And I phoned her up one day and said, ‘I’d really like to meet you.’ And she’s — leave aside the fact that I think she’s a very good person as a human being, but she’s a very thoughtful, analytic person. Listening to her opinions about things that are happening in the school district, I really respect that. I mean, what do I know about what’s going on in the school district? I know more now than I did then. But just getting to know people, and maybe get them to understand my point of view, which isn’t that penetrating.”

Many of his efforts have received little publicity, as when he saved the Great American Music Hall from closure by investing with Slim’s owner Boz Scaggs and helping him buy the troubled musical venue. “There are things that you and I don’t even have a clue that he has done,” Nayman said.

“He’s an interesting guy,” Mosher said. “He’s one of a dying breed, a liberal Republican. He has a social conscience and wants to use his money to do good.”

Actually, calling Hellman liberal might be going too far. In the end, he’s still very much a fiscal conservative. He doesn’t support rent control, district elections for the Board of Supervisors, taxing businesses to address social problems such as the lack of affordable health care, or limits on condo conversions.

He also opposes the requirement that employers provide health care coverage, which downtown entities are now suing the city to overturn, telling us, “In general, I don’t think it’s a good idea, because I’m still, even in my aging years, a believer that the marketplace works better than other things…. Universal health care I do believe in, but what I worry is that it’s going to be another damned bureaucracy and that it’s not going to work.”

Yet he doesn’t believe wealth is an indicator of worth, saying of his fortune, “It is luck. Most of what you do you aren’t better at than everyone.”

He doesn’t believe in the law of the jungle, in which the poor and weak must be sacrificed in the name of progress. In fact, he feels a strong obligation to the masses.

As he told us, “My mantra for capitalism — and I didn’t invent this, but I think it’s pretty good — is that capitalism won, and now we need to save the world from capitalism.”

Hellman looms large over downtown San Francisco. His Financial District office offers a panoramic view of the Bay Bridge, Treasure Island, the Ferry Building, and the rest of the city’s waterfront. He likes to be personally involved with his city and the companies in which Hellman and Friedman invests.

“Usually I’m directly involved,” he told us in an interview earlier this year. “I’ve always said that I don’t like to go to the racetrack to just look at the horses. The fun of being a principal is that you’re standing at the track and not saying, ‘Gee, that’s a beautiful gray horse.’ You’re saying, ‘Come on, he’s got to win!’ So I’m almost always invariably invested in the companies that we work with, either individually or through the firm.”

Unlike many Wall Street barons who strive to control a company and bring in new executives, flip it for a quick profit, or liquidate it, Hellman said his firm tries to identify solid companies and help facilitate what they do. “We don’t usually take over companies. I always think that we provide a service to help the businesses,” he said. “Our job is kind of the opposite of owning a factory. Our job is to be sure the people who run the business feel like it’s their business.”

Similarly, he thinks capitalists need to feel a sense of ownership over society’s problems, something he thinks is taking root in San Francisco and other economic centers, particularly among the younger generations. “It’s about understanding how much suffering there is on the other side and trying to figure out how that suffering can be alleviated,” he said. “I think it’s partly good economics that as you bring people up, they’re able to do more for society. If nothing else, they’re able to buy more and shop at a Wal-Mart or something — probably someplace you would wildly disapprove of — and buy goods and services. But I don’t think it’s that narrow.”

Rather, he believes that everyone has a little progressive in them, a little desire to cooperatively solve our collective problems rather than pass them off to future generations. He sees a marked change from his days at Lehman Bros.

“Everybody was into making it,” he said, noting that many capitalists then did charity work as a means of attaining social status but focused mostly on the accumulation of wealth. But, he said, the new generation of capitalists seems genuinely interested in improving the world.

“The feeling for giving back in the next generation, in the now 25- to 35-year-olds, it’s just an order-of-magnitude difference than it was for people who are now in their 40s and early 50s,” Hellman said. “I’m very encouraged.”

Yet the flip side is that, in Hellman’s view, downtown doesn’t wield as much power as it once did. Low political contribution limits have made politicians less dependent on downtown money, creating fewer shot callers, while democratizing tools such as the Internet have broadened the political dialogue.

“For the last 30 years we have become an increasingly tolerant city, and that’s great,” he said. “In the old days, [the Guardian] complained about downtown, and yeah, no shit, downtown really did control the city. The benefit was as that slipped away, the city became fairer and more open to argument. So now downtown hardly has any power at all anymore. In a sense, that’s a good thing. Tolerance grew tremendously when the city wasn’t dictated to.”

That tolerance caused street fairs to pop up all over town and festivals such as Hellman’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass to blossom in Golden Gate Park. Bike lanes have taken space from cars, events such as Halloween in the Castro have gotten crazier, street protests have gotten bigger and more frequent, and people have felt more free to fly their freak flags. And all that freedom eventually triggered a backlash from groups of isolated NIMBYs who complain and often find sympathetic ears at city hall.

“Sometimes you get the feeling in this city that in the land of the tolerant, the intolerant are king,” said Hellman, whose festival has endured noise complaints even though the music is shut off by 7 p.m. “There is a continuing pressure to do away with fun, because fun is objectionable to someone, [but] we need to think about not creating a new dictatorship of a tiny group of people whose views are not in line with the opinion of most of the people of San Francisco…. You should try to balance the good of a lot of people versus the temporary annoyance of a few people.”

Preserving fun and a lively urban culture is a personal issue for Hellman, who plays the five-string banjo and calls his festival “the most enjoyable two days of the year for me.” He helps draw the biggest names in bluegrass music and acts like a kid in a candy shop during the event.

“I feel very strongly that an important part of our culture is built on the type of music and type of performance that goes on at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass,” Hellman said. From parables set to music to songs of struggle and the old union standards, “that kind of music is the conscience of our country.”

He considers bluegrass a vital and historically important form of political communication, more so than many of the upscale art forms that the rich tend to sponsor. “I’m glad that we have first-rate opera, but it’s equally important that we foster the kind of music, lyrics, etc., that support all this,” he said. “Somebody once said that most of the great Western philosophy is buried in the words of country songs. And that’s closer to the truth than most people think. A big passion of mine is to try to help — and people have defined it too narrowly — the kinds of music that I think have a hell of a lot to do with the good parts of our society.”

Perhaps surprisingly for a Republican venture capitalist from the older generation, Hellman also considers the countercultural freaks of San Francisco to be some of the “good parts of our society.” That’s why he attended Burning Man for the first time last year and why, he said, he loved it, as much for the culture and community as for the art.

“I went to Burning Man because as much as possible I want to experience everything,” he said. “I want to just see directly what it’s like. I knew I’d enjoy it. I never doubted that. But what really overwhelmed me is it was 40,000 people getting along with each other. I mean, it’s pretty intense. There were dust storms and the world’s most repulsive sight: nude men over 70 just dangling along. But I never saw an argument. It was 40,000 people just enjoying each other.”

It was most striking to Hellman because of the contrast with the rest of society. As he said, “I’ve never seen this country so divided.”

While Hellman supports Schwarzenegger — calling him “a good advertisement to California” — he has nothing good to say about his fellow Republican in the Oval Office. He calls Bush’s tenure “an absolute four-star disaster.” The invasion of Iraq is the most obvious problem, he said. “Our war policy has slowly veered from being ‘Don’t tread on me’ to we’re going to jump on your neck.”

But his antipathy to certain aspects of the Republican Party began even earlier, when the religious right began to take over.

“I thought we were not that polarized during the Clinton administration. I was somewhat encouraged,” Hellman said. “Maybe there was an undercurrent of strident religious behavior or strident conservatism, but not the conservatism that I think the Republican Party used to stand for, which was fiscal conservatism instead of social conservatism. Somehow, there was this angst in this country on the part of religious people who I guess felt this country was being taken away from them, and they were the kind of stalwart or underpinnings of society. And they took it back.”

But in the wake of that disaster, Hellman thinks, there is an opportunity for reasonable people of goodwill to set the future political course. As Nayman said of Hellman, “He does believe there is a middle way pretty much all the time.”

Politically, that’s why Hellman gravitates toward the moderates of both major parties, such as Schwarzenegger and Newsom. He looks for people who will marry his economic conservatism with a regard for things such as environmentalism and social justice.

“It’s very tough to be a big-city mayor,” Hellman said. “[Newsom is] probably the best mayor we’re entitled to. He’s got this fantastic balancing act.”

Hellman said downtown hasn’t been terribly happy with Newsom for supporting striking hotel workers, getting behind Ammiano’s health insurance mandate, supporting tax measures, and generally letting the Board of Supervisors set the city’s agenda for the past two years.

“Their measure is he has 80-percent-plus popularity, and he ought to spend some of it. Well, they might not agree with what he would spend it on. And he’s been unwilling to spend very much of it. In some parts of the business community there is disappointment with him, but I don’t think that’s right. He didn’t hide what he would be like.”

What Newsom said he would be — a big reason for his popularity — is a mayor for the new San Francisco, a place where the city’s traditional economic conservatism has been tempered by a greater democratization of power and an ascendant progressive movement that expects its issues to be addressed.

“I don’t like people who are intolerant,” Hellman said. “I don’t like people that are telling you something to get some outcome that, if you understood it, you probably wouldn’t want. I like people that are passionate.”

Asked, then, about Sup. Chris Daly, the nemesis of downtown and most definitely a man of strong political passions, he said, “I admire Chris Daly. I disagree with Chris on a lot of things he believes, but there are also probably a lot of things I would agree with Chris on. And I respect him.”

Hellman is the rare downtown power broker who wants to bridge the gap between Newsom — whom he calls a “moderate to conservative establishment person” — and progressives such as Daly, Mooney, and the Bicycle Coalition. The middle ground, he said, is often a very attractive place, as it was with Healthy Saturdays.

“I’m sure you spend time in the park on Sunday, and it’s a hell of a lot nicer in there on Sundays than Saturdays,” Hellman said. But even more important to him, this is about integrity and being true to what Golden Gate Park garage supporters promised back in 2000.

“They were proposing Saturday closing at that time, which I’ve always thought was a good idea,” he said. “And we made a commitment to them, or I thought we made a commitment to them, that let’s not have Saturday closure now, but as soon as the garage was done, we’d experiment with Saturday closure.”

We brought up what Fine Arts Museums board president Dede Wilsey has said of that pledge, that it was under different circumstances and that she never actually promised to support Saturday closure after the garage was completed.

“There’s a letter. She put it in writing,” he said of Wilsey. “She signed a letter on behalf of the museums saying that when the de Young is done, we should experiment with Saturday closings.”

The Bike Coalition’s Shahum said that even when Hellman was an enemy, he was a reasonable guy. But it’s in the past couple of years that she’s really come to appreciate the unique role he plays in San Francisco.

“He showed decency and respect toward us,” she said. “We never saw him as a villain, even though we disagreed completely. Later he really stepped up and has been a leader on Healthy Saturdays. And what I was most impressed with is that he was true to his word.”

Supervisor McGoldrick, who sponsored the measure, echoed the sentiment: “Hellman was certainly a man of his word who acted in a highly principled way.”

So why does Hellman now stand apart from the downtown crowd? Has he parted ways with the economic and cultural power brokers who were once his allies?

No, he said, “I think they parted ways with me.” *

 

Love machine

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› a&eletters@sfbg.com

REVIEW To look at the formally austere self-portraits made by the American artist Charles Sheeler (1883–1965) at various points throughout his career, you might surmise, from the repeated images of his stiff, unsmiling visage, that he toiled in obscurity for dry, dusty decades as an administrative underling at a low-level law firm, forever obsessed with organizing his paper clips, pausing from his tedious task only long enough to clean his spectacles on a crisply starched pocket handkerchief and tie the laces of his uncomfortable shoes, polished deep black the previous evening while listening to news of the Lindbergh kidnapping on his wooden Philco tube radio. As the crotchety stepfather of modernism, Sheeler cultivated a stern yet slightly mewling look of quotidian routine, as if neither he nor any other mere individual should assume particular importance amid the daunting technological advancements of his era. Like all true-blue men of meager means in the early part of the 20th century, Sheeler was enthralled with industrial progress and glorified all things steel and chrome. If this clerk allowed himself one indulgence, it was basking in the cult of the machine.

If modernism taught us anything, however, it’s that appearances can — no, should — be deceiving. Hat, coat, and desk chair notwithstanding, Sheeler was no paper-pushing nine-to-fiver. Indeed (a word I imagine he uttered frequently, accompanied by a nearly imperceptible tilt of the head), this self-proclaimed precisionist was rather radical in behavior, artistic methodology, and aesthetic philosophizing — though always politely so. Working with deliberate pacing and patience as a filmmaker, photographer, and painter and alarmingly proficient at drawing and printmaking, Sheeler established a unique dichotomy between new and old, rendering the former as oddly antiquated and the latter as the cat’s pajamas. Fittingly, his remarkable body of work remains strikingly contemporary; thus the "Charles Sheeler: Across Media" exhibition, handsomely installed in the upper galleries of the appropriately angular de Young Museum, has not the aged patina of a haphazard retrospective begrudgingly granted to a doddering éminence grise of yesteryear but the luminous sheen of a classy chassis careening into J.G. Ballard’s Crash by way of the icy David Cronenberg adaptation. Sheeler is Vaughan, so turned on by cogs and shafts, bolts and pylons, that he becomes the ghost in his own machine.

Born in Philadelphia, Sheeler studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, then booked passage for Paris, where he looked askance at Pablo Picasso’s and Georges Braque’s cubist conundrums before returning to the States, plonking down a fiver on a Brownie camera and taking up commercial photography with an emphasis on architecture.

In 1920, Sheeler collaborated with photographer Paul Strand on Manhatta, a six-minute city-symphony film ostensibly based on portions of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass yet excising virtually all traces of the bearded bard’s insatiable lust for life in favor of abstractions formed by bridges, skyscrapers, and the sun setting over the Hudson River. Widely considered the first American avant-garde film, Manhatta screens repeatedly in the gallery and is surrounded by related photographs that further reveal Sheeler’s New York state of mind.

Sheeler soon settled in a rented farmhouse in Doylestown, Penn., with fellow artist Morton Shamberg, but it was the home’s 19th-century stove that Sheeler referred to as his "companion," so enamored was he of its utilitarian exactitude and sensuous shape. Comfortably ensconced in the farmhouse, Sheeler spent years deftly rendering his kitchen and bathroom in ink, paint, and the darkroom’s chemical bath.

Having gained a reputation as a fastidious exemplar of precisionism, Sheeler was hired by the Ford Motor Co. to photograph and make paintings of its factories. Soon after, Fortune magazine commissioned Sheeler to produce a half dozen paintings that "reflect life through forms and trace the firm pattern of the human mind." Naturally, Sheeler looked not to living things for inspiration but to objects simultaneously beautiful in their simplicity and threatening in their potential to destroy: waterwheel, railroad, airplane, dam, steam turbine, and hydroelectric turbine (he really loved turbines).

Among many other career and exhibition highlights are the iconic, ironic American Landscape, in which human-made structures — cylinders, silos, smokestacks — have entirely supplanted natural splendor (score one for culture); experimental photographs of the interior of an 18th-century Quaker fieldstone house; and the dazzling The Artist Looks at Nature, from 1943, in which Sheeler paints himself in the process of sketching his 1932 drawing Interior with Stove, which in turn was based on his much earlier photograph The Stove. In this singular work, Sheeler links various media in which he excelled, positions himself in a perfectly logical space-time continuum, and moves into the realm of the uncanny. For an artist who implicitly championed the places, products, and processes of capitalism and whose every invisible brushstroke stoked the fires of the first corporation generation, this tricky bit of derring-do signals a metarebellion against the industry under whose wheels Sheeler’s entire century would soon be crushed. It’s enough to make you fall in love with that old stove all over again. *

CHARLES SHEELER: ACROSS MEDIA

Through May 6

Tues.–Thurs. and Sat.–Sun., 9:30 a.m.–5:15 p.m.; Fri., 9:30 a.m.–8:45 p.m.

De Young Museum

Golden Gate Park

50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, SF

$6–$10 (free first Tuesday)

(415) 750-3614

www.thinker.org/deyoung

>

Frock you: Givin’ it for Viv — and Funky Chicken 4 Life!

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This just in from drag icon Juanita More and more …

A More Perfect Union: Mr. David and Fauxnique Stage a Fashion Uprising

vivienne.jpg
Uprising, upfrocking

This Friday, two of my favorite performers — Mr David and Fauxnique — have put together a fashion extravaganza in honor of fashion luminary Vivienne Westwood’s show at the De Young. It’ll be a punkrock-drag-drunk-politico-darlings revolution — full of SF’s most flamboyant underground stars. All up in DeDe Wilsey’s DeDe Young garden no less.

Friday, April 13, 2007
6 – 8:30 PM / Show @ 7 PM
de Young Museum / Wilsey Court
Golden Gate Park
50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive
SF, CA 94118
Free

PLUS — FUNKY CHICKEN: Dining Out For Life (after the jump)

Stop the McGoldrick recall

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EDITORIAL Jake McGoldrick isn’t perfect, but he’s been a pretty good supervisor most of the time, and the recall effort launched against him by a Geary Boulevard merchant is baseless and inappropriate.

The recall is a potent weapon, part of the Progressive Era reforms that gave California the initiative and the referendum. But it can also be easily abused to threaten an incumbent who has done nothing wrong except show political courage on tough issues.

And that’s exactly what’s happening here: McGoldrick, who represents a relatively moderate district, is taking the lead on two key attempts to challenge the city’s car-driven transportation culture. He’s the author of a measure that would close Golden Gate Park to cars on Saturdays, at least for a six-month trial — something the trustees of the de Young Museum have been fighting bitterly. And he’s the chief backer of a plan to add bus-only lanes to Geary Boulevard, which would create a relatively cheap, efficient rapid transit system along one of the city’s main commute arteries.

Those positions have angered a small group of people, led by David Heller, who owns a beauty supply store on Geary and is adamantly opposed to anything that would reduce car traffic or parking on the street. Heller — who ran unsuccessfully against McGoldrick in 2004 — now wants to recall the supervisor, who has less than two years left in office anyway. Heller insists that McGoldrick is defying the will of the voters, because a majority of District 1 voted against Saturday road closures in 2000 and because McGoldrick hasn’t adequately addressed the concerns of some merchants who fear the loss of parking spaces under the transit plan.

Let’s get a couple things straight: the 2000 ballot had a pair of competing road-closure measures that left a lot of voters confused — and the museum people ran a misleading campaign that helped muddy the waters even more. The vote that year was hardly an accurate reflection of how San Franciscans or people in the Richmond view weekend road closures.

In fact, the car-free Sunday in the park is one of the city’s most popular regular events — and a study commissioned by Mayor Gavin Newsom, who is not a fan of road closures, showed that the traffic and parking impacts on the neighborhoods are almost nonexistent. McGoldrick has been willing to stand up to the mayor and the powerful museum board on this, and that’s a good thing.

The Geary transit corridor is tough: any solution that improves transit on the road — and that’s a priority for the city — will leave less room for cars. But that’s the direction the city has to go in. Public transit will only be effective in this city if it can operate quickly and reliably on routes such as Geary — and that can’t happen without some disruption to car travel. The proposal McGoldrick supports would close one lane to cars (possibly by eliminating street parking) and dedicate it to buses only; the buses would have the ability to control traffic lights and would thus in theory be able to operate almost like underground or elevated trains, avoiding the delays caused by car traffic. Digging a subway below Geary would cost several billion dollars and take years; giving buses one exclusive lane in each direction is cheaper and can be done fairly quickly.

No, it won’t be painless, and it’s not perfect — ideally, there probably ought to be a light-rail line on Geary — but in an era of global warming, with all the costs associated with the use of private cars, it’s imperative that San Francisco move aggressively toward improving transit. McGoldrick is absolutely right to be looking for ways to encourage people to get out of their cars — and punishing him for it by forcing a recall campaign is a serious mistake.

Heller needs about 3,000 signatures to move forward. Don’t sign the petition. *

THE COCKS OF CORPORATE WOLVERINES: Punk’s Not Dead. It’s just rotting in Dede Wilsey’s asshole.

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By G.W. Schulz

Poor 7×7 magazine. They try so hard to sound authoritative on all the subjects they cover. And to be sure, they’re quite good at publishing photo spreads of wealthy philanthropists forcing bleached-white terrified grins like hostages hearing a your momma joke from a bank robber.

7x7.1.gif

But if the subject doesn’t involve skin-tight “Juicy Couture” maternity jeans (page 16 in the April issue), or how to get naked with a stranger using feng shui (page 54 in the April issue – it’s not nearly as exciting as it sounds), then their coverage is likelier to fall flat on its face with an embarrassing thud.

For instance, punk rock is all the rage these days at San Francisco’s rag for the richest. A magazine like 7×7 understands counterculture and punk rock about as well as a dog understands irony. They’ll just never quite get it. (Do we really have to point any of this out?)

But with the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park hosting an exhibit for queen-of-the-punk-aesthetic fashion guru Vivienne Westwood, and the documentary Punk’s Not Dead appearing at the upcoming SF International Film Festival, the city’s opulently rich have decided shit is all about curling your lips and pumping your Prada purses defiantly in the air.

What’s the matter with the De Young?

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All around the world, popular museums are situated in public parks with wonderful results for both the museums and the parks.

But here in San Francisco, the venerable de Young Museum is waging an intense and irrational battle to prevent more San Francisco families and visitors from enjoying Golden Gate Park — even at the expense of its own reputation and financial well-being. Our organizations are baffled.

The museum’s leadership is doggedly fighting a community proposal called Healthy Saturdays, which would extend the popular Sunday recreational space in the park to Saturdays on a six-month trial basis.

Why would the de Young fight this when its own figures show that museum attendance increases on car-free Sundays in the park?

Why, when a recent city study (available at www.goldengatepark.org) shows that car-free space does not significantly affect parking availability or traffic in the neighborhoods and doubles park usage, boosts local business, and helps drive traffic to (and pay off the debt for) the de Young’s unfilled 800-car garage?

Why, last spring, did the de Young spend thousands to send misleading letters to its members, falsely claiming that Healthy Saturdays would "severely compromise" access to the museum? Dozens of disgruntled de Young members pointed out the letter did not mention that the garage is accessible from outside the park and that visitors have front-door, drop-off access every day.

All of the high jinks and mistruths are especially baffling given the de Young’s past endorsement of the concept. In 2000 the museum supported and funded Proposition G, which called for car-free Saturdays just after the garage was opened. According to their ballot argument, de Young leaders believed the Saturday proposal "ensures access to the de Young Museum for all San Franciscans including families with children, seniors and the disabled; [and] ensures the maximum enjoyment and minimum inconvenience to park users."

At times the de Young has claimed that it is fighting out of concern for disabled access, but the tactics of the museum folks suggest otherwise. Why did they not actively support Supervisor Jake McGoldrick’s legislation, which passed unanimously last year, to add more accessible parking, drop-off zones, and a free accessible tram in the park on Sundays?

And why are museum leaders suggesting that the car-free space be moved out to the west end of the park, far from transit, the parking garage, and local businesses?

Finally, if the de Young were working in good faith to improve its own attendance and revenue (and we all want a successful de Young Museum), why would this partially public-funded museum deny city officials’ requests to make its attendance figures public, relenting only after a Guardian reporter filed a Sunshine Ordinance request? The figures, when they were begrudgingly shared last year, showed a boost in de Young attendance on car-free days — which of course brings us back to our original question:

Why is the de Young fighting so intensely against its own interests and those of Golden Gate Park visitors? *

Amandeep Jawa, Rick Galbreath, and Leah Shahum

Amandeep Jawa, Rick Galbreath, and Leah Shahum represent, respectively, the League of Conservation Voters, the San Francisco Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club, and the SF Bicycle Coalition.

Ending the road-closure stalemate

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EDITORIAL There’s really only one way to look at Mayor Gavin Newsom’s response to Saturday road closures in Golden Gate Park: the fix has been in from the start. The mayor is willing to discard his own evidence, break his word, ignore the obvious facts, and damage his environmental credentials — but he won’t risk offending the rich society swells who run the de Young museum.

It’s been 40 years since the city began shutting down a stretch of JFK Drive to cars on Sundays, and by any account it’s one of the most popular regular programs in the city. On nice days the park is packed with bikers, joggers, skaters, walkers, families. There are free swing dance lessons. It’s one of the few opportunities for young kids to learn to ride bikes in a safe environment.

But the trustees of the museum, such as socialite Dede Wilsey, are adamantly opposed to expanding the road closures to Saturday. Their arguments make little sense: since there’s now an underground parking garage, there really isn’t any problem finding a place to park or getting access to the museum.

Yet under pressure from the de Young folks, the mayor vetoed legislation last year to expand the road-closure program to Saturdays, saying he didn’t have enough information on how the program would impact traffic and parking in surrounding neighborhoods. He asked for a study; the study was done. As Steven T. Jones reported ("Unhealthy Politics," 3/7/07), the evidence clearly shows that road closures have minimal negative impacts on anyone.

Newsom’s response: nothing has changed. He’s still opposed to Saturday closures.

So either he was lying last year when he said he wanted more data or he’s ducking today when he says the study hasn’t changed his mind — or he’s just afraid that going against the will of the almighty de Young board will tarnish his political star with the movers and shakers in town. In the end, it doesn’t matter: the mayor apparently can’t be moved on this, and the only way Saturday road closures will happen is if eight supervisors — enough to override a mayoral veto — support Sup. Jake McGoldrick’s road-closure bill, which has been reintroduced and will be heard in committee soon.

The measure got seven votes last time, and since it’s highly unlikely Sups. Sean Elsbernd, Michela Alioto-Pier, or Ed Jew will defy the mayor, the swing vote is Sup. Bevan Dufty.

Last time around he voted to uphold Newsom’s veto, but now he says he’s keeping an open mind. Dufty has a strong tendency to support neighborhood programs and services, and it’s clear that most of the neighborhood people are behind road closures — and now that the city’s own study shows there are no associated parking or traffic problems, this ought to be an obvious one for him. Dufty should announce that he’ll support McGoldrick’s bill — and end this stalemate for good. *

Killing closure

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By Steven T. Jones
How desperate is the pro-car crowd to kill Healthy Saturdays? Sources tell us that De Young Museum matriarch Dede Wilsey and other allies talked rookie Assembly member Fiona Ma into writing state legislation that would have required voter approval for creating car-free spaces in San Francisco parks, and that she was talked out of doing so by financier and backer Warren Hellman — a supporter of Healthy Saturdays — just before the Feb. 23 deadline for introducing bills. Contacted by the Guardian, Hellman confirmed the basic story, telling us, “We talked and she had an idea of proposing something, but I thought it was unnecessary.” He thinks the issue is likely to end up before voters either way, either through a referendum on the passage of Healthy Saturdays or a measure placed on the ballot by four supervisors if it fails. Ma’s office refused to comment on whether she pursued legislation to prevent Healthy Saturdays — which she opposed last year as a member of the Board of Supervisors — and would say only, “I do not discuss private conversations with constituents in the media.”
Saturday closure is an emotion-packed issue for both sides, which may be why Newsom decided to announce his opposition fairly early, just to avoid the acrimony. But that left Sup. Bevan Dufty (who voted against it last year) as the swing vote and someone who admits that his phone has been ringing off the hook lately. But he’s pledged to stay engaged and try to do the right thing: “I’m trying to stay refreshingly open on the issue of Healthy Saturdays and consider different viewpoints.”

SATURDAY

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March 3

MUSIC

Steve Porter

A porterhouse is a choice cut of meat, but to nutritionists it’s a fatty, cholesterol-filled food best eaten sparingly within a balanced diet. For DJ-producer Steve Porter, it’s his diverse and energetic style, best showcased on his new 57-track club album, Porterhouse Volume 2 (EQ Recordings), which fans previously savored on 2006’s mix LP Porterhouse and 2005’s Homegrown (both Fade Records). What makes Porter house popular is that it is no mono diet. (Joshua Rotter)

With DJs Eli Wilkie and Friz-B
8 p.m., $15
Ruby Skye
420 Mason, SF
(415) 693-0777
www.rubyskye.com

VISUAL ART

“Vivienne Westwood: 36 Years in Fashion”

Vivienne Westwood, the iconoclastic British fashion designer, could have been speaking of her own when she remarked, “You have a much better life if you wear impressive clothes.” Indeed, her work has shaped the very culture whose conventions she set out to subvert. In 1970, Let It Rock, her first clothing store, opened in London, and it wasn’t long before her outrageous and provocative designs found their way onto the backs of punk bands such as the New York Dolls and the Sex Pistols. (Nathan Baker)

Through June 10
9:30 a.m.-5:15 p.m., museum admission plus $5 surcharge
De Young Museum
50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive
Golden Gate Park, SF
(415) 750-3614
www.famsf.org

Car-free support

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› steve@sfbg.com

Sup. Jake McGoldrick plans to reintroduce his Healthy Saturdays legislation this week and told the Guardian he’s confident that a new city study paves the way for its implementation by this summer.

Healthy Saturdays — which would create a six-month trial Saturday closure to cars on the same streets in the eastern portion of Golden Gate Park that are now closed Sundays — was approved by the Board of Supervisors last May but vetoed by Mayor Gavin Newsom, who ordered a study of the impacts of the Sunday closure.

That study by the Transportation Authority and Department of Parking and Traffic brought great news for Healthy Saturday supporters, concluding that road closure is extremely popular with park users and has no significant negative impact to attendance at the park’s museums, access by those with disabilities, availability of adequate parking, or traffic congestion at the intersections around the park.

"It spells out a very positive picture," McGoldrick told us. "Anecdotally, we knew all this, but now we have the empirical data laid out."

The study found that closing the roads encourages 40 percent more nonvehicular trips to the park. Almost 40 percent of those surveyed said the road closure makes them more likely to visit the park, while 10 percent said it made them less likely, and the rest said it had no impact.

"I see no good reason why this shouldn’t fly through the board and Mayor’s Office," Leah Shabum, executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, told us. "The report shows without a doubt there are no negative impacts to creating car-free spaces in the park."

Yet the proposal last year drew strong visceral reactions from opponents in adjacent neighborhoods, some representatives for those with disabilities, and those affiliated with the de Young Museum and other cultural institutions in the park — some of whom say they still aren’t satisfied with the report’s conclusions.

A group called Park Access for All sent out a press release urging the city to reject closure. Member Ron Miguel of the Planning Association for the Richmond said the city shouldn’t do anything until the Academy of Sciences reopens late next year. And disabilities advocate Tim Hornbecker said he was concerned that the city still hasn’t put in place a tram and other improvements that were approved along with Healthy Saturdays last year.

Those improvements have stalled at the Recreation and Park Department, which answers to the Mayor’s Office. The Guardian asked Newsom about the report Feb. 15, and he said, "I haven’t seen that," and ignored further questions. Newsom spokesperson Peter Ragone told us, "We’re in the process of digesting it and deciding how to move forward."

But Healthy Saturdays advocates point to statements Newsom made after the veto, noting that the study seems to satisfy all the concerns he expressed. Tom Radulovich, executive director of Livable City, told us, "It should be a no-brainer. All the original objections cited by the mayor are addressed…. At this point, holding it up would be obstreperous." *

The Healthy Saturdays report is available at www.goldengatepark.org.

Return of Healthy Saturdays

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By Steven T. Jones
The city’s long-awaited study of road closures in Golden Gate Park was released yesterday, offering clear evidence that closing JFK Drive to cars on weekends is extremely popular and has no significant negative impacts to attendance at the park’s museums, access by those with disabilities, or traffic congestion in the intersections around the park. Mayor Gavin Newsom last summer vetoed the Healthy Saturdays six-month trial closure after a deceptive opposition campaign that was waged by De Young Museum directors and advocates of unfettered automobile access to the park. At the time, Newsom pledged to study the issue and support it if there was empirical evidence supporting closure, which there now seems to be. Asked about the report today by the Guardian, Newsom said “I haven’t seen that” and ignored further questions on that and other topics. Newsom communications director Peter Ragone told us, “We’re in the process of digesting it and deciding how to move forward.”
Sup. Jake McGoldrick, who sponsored the legislation last spring, said he will reintroduce it at the board meeting this Tuesday and was confident that we’ll see Golden Gate Park partially closed to cars this summer. “It spells out a very positive picture,” McGoldrick told us. “Anecdotally, we knew all this, but now we have the empirical data laid out.”

Air play

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› a&eletters@sfbg.com

REVIEW There is something about "The Sculpture of Ruth Asawa: Contours in the Air," the de Young Museum’s current retrospective of Ruth Asawa’s work, that initially feels a bit like a natural history museum display. The darkened space, punctuated with spotlights, showcases Asawa’s floating woven wire forms, which look like giant representations of diatoms or plankton. The shadows this installation creates are an important factor, illustrating the concepts the artist considered during their making: positive and negative space, organic growth, and continuous line. One of the first pieces greeting visitors at the entrance resembles a hanging column of ballooning onion and bell shapes. It’s made of woven aluminum and brass wire, and Asawa describes it as a test to see how large a sculpture she could create in crocheted metal wire without it collapsing from its own weight.

A nearby glass case displays sketchbook pages from her formative art-school years. On one page a sentence stands out boldly: "DRAW AIR WITH NOTHING." The lacy forms of industrial metal wire are paralleled by the pen-and-ink drawings on the walls, some of which Asawa calls "meanderings." They’re images formed in an intuitive yet mathematically exponential process — not unlike the route her lifelong career of object making and art activism has taken.

Born in Norwalk, Calif., in 1929 and raised on her parents’ vegetable farm, Asawa was one of thousands of Japanese Americans interned during World War II. At the Santa Anita racetrack camp, she had her first formal lessons in art, taught by several Walt Disney studio animators who were also interned. After the war she attended Black Mountain College in North Carolina, where she studied with legendary artists and thinkers including Josef Albers and Buckminster Fuller. There she met the man who would become her husband and father to her six children, architect Albert Lanier.

After college Asawa studied in Toluca, Mexico, where she learned to crochet baskets. She pushed this traditional craft into the realm of fine art during the 1950s. Her work was chosen to represent the United States in the 1955 São Paolo Biennial, and soon after the Whitney Museum of American Art acquired her work for its collection. However, in the Bay Area, where she has lived since the ’50s, Asawa has remained relatively unknown.

THIS IS THE MODERN WORLD


At the de Young the viewer traipses past Asawa’s complex, bundled copper-wire tumbleweed puffs; wiry snowflake configurations; spongy Möbius strips; plump, electroplated copper, cactilike works; and graphically bold, obsessive-compulsive-esque lithographs and drawings. Some of these date to the late ’90s, but nonetheless, we are really wandering in a realm of late-modernist works. So by today’s postmodernist and post-postmodernist values, Asawa’s pieces don’t readily leap into a contemporary critical arena. They are, for the most part, graceful and avoid the taint of macramé kitsch, although a subtle whiff of hippie-era flavoring does hover over the exhibition. Yet before one judges her art by today’s standards, let’s look at why she merits a retrospective.

This is not Asawa’s first overview: the Oakland Museum of California held one in 2002. One dramatic mandala sculpture on display — Wintermass, from the late ’60s — is similar to the bronze gracing the front entrance to the Oakland Museum. And this isn’t the only Asawa piece available for free viewing in the Bay Area — she is far more ubiquitous than many locals realize. Over the days following my visit to the de Young exhibition, I stumbled upon several of her public works — many of which in no way resemble the art chosen for the show. Rather, they seem to be created by an almost evil twin. Asawa’s public objects generally tend to land in a goofier, now quaint public-art aesthetic. The list includes that tourist mecca mermaid fountain at Ghirardelli Square, the sea lion statue (generally hidden under climbing children) at Pier 39, the whimsical San Francisco landscape fountain outside the Grand Hyatt San Francisco at Union Square, the pair of occasionally functioning giant origami fountains in Japantown — and the steel origami doughnut fountain (titled Aurora) near the Gap’s Embarcadero headquarters. She also helped with the design of Children’s Fairyland in Oakland and more recently a San Jose memorial dedicated to the Japanese American internment.

MAKING LOVE


Asawa was a public sculptor to be reckoned with during city upgrades in the 1970s and ’80s. She was also the force who created the revolutionary Alvarado School summer art workshops in the early ’70s. She spearheaded the creation of San Francisco’s School of the Arts High School and actively served on both state and city art boards. This exhibit includes photo documentation by Asawa’s close chum Imogen Cunningham of her early work and bohemianlike family life. Asawa saw little difference between making art and teaching it to children, which could easily make her one of the godmothers of the social practice genre. The format in which Asawa chose to display her objects early on could also make her something of a forebear of installation artists.

In a period in which homespun crafts and the DIY joys of creation — think ReadyMade magazine — are so prevalent, an appreciation of Ruth Asawa is a timely thing. Captured in the wonderfully dated 1978 documentary by Robert Snyder that’s screening at the exhibition, Asawa declares that "a line can go anywhere" and talks of the importance of being like a bulb planted in soil: she should always be growing while here on earth. Much like that enormous New England mushroom discovered expanding for miles underneath the soil, Asawa planted herself here and flourished quietly, germinating an idealistic sense of the importance of art in the community — something I hope never grows out of style. *

THE SCULPTURE OF RUTH ASAWA: CONTOURS IN THE AIR

Through Jan. 28

Tues.–Thurs. and Sat.–Sun., 9:30 a.m.–5:15 p.m.; Fri., 9:30 a.m.–8:45 p.m., $6–$10

De Young Museum

Golden Gate Park, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr., SF

(415) 750-3614

www.thinker.org

>

SUNDAY

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Aug. 27

Visual Art

Free at the de Young

Although not free (save for the first Tuesday of every month), the de Young has numerous works on view inside and outside the museum that you can see without paying admission. Follow Andy Goldsworthy’s Drawn Stone, a line cracked in the paver from the Music Concourse to the museum’s entrance. One of the first pieces that you’re magnetically pulled to when you enter the museum is Gerhard Richter’s commissioned Strontium, a gigantic wall installation that dominates the ground floor open area between galleries. The doors are always open to the Piazzoni mural room where two five-panel murals of serene California landscapes by Gottardo F.P. Piazzoni are permanently installed. Take the side door right before the café to the sculpture garden where Juan Muñoz’s Conversation Piece V, Joan Miró’s la Maternité, and Gustav Kraitz’s Apples serve as a kind of jungle gym for children and adults. (Katie Kurtz)

Tues.-Sun., 9:30 a.m.-5:15 p.m; Fri., 9:30 a.m.-8:45 p.m.
De Young Museum, Golden Gate Park, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive (near Fulton and 10th Avenue).
$10, $7 seniors, $6 youths 13-17 and college students with ID (free first Tues.)
(415) 750-3614, www.thinker.org

THEATER

Salome

Mark Jackson is back in Berkeley for a while at least, directing Oscar Wilde’s Salome for Aurora Theatre Company. Banned in Britain for almost 40 years, Salome the play caused as much scandal in Europe as the lady herself did in Galilee. Featuring Ron Campbell, winner of the Bay Area Critics Circle award for Best Solo Performance in 2005, as King Herod and Miranda Calderon as the titular temptress. (Nicole Gluckstern)

Previews Sun/27, 2 p.m., and Aug. 30, 8 p.m. Opens Aug. 31, 8 p.m. Runs Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 and 7 p.m. Through Oct. 1
Aurora Theatre
2081 Addison, Berk.
$28-$50
(510) 843-4822, www.auroratheatre.org

Newsom’s road-closure veto

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EDITORIAL Mayor Gavin Newsom showed a colossal lack of political courage May 15 when he bowed to pressure from a few rich socialites and vetoed a program that would expand one of the city’s most popular and successful recreation programs.

Newsom, apparently changing course at the last minute, rejected a Board of Supervisors plan to close a section of roadway in Golden Gate Park on Saturdays. The six-month trial program would expand on the existing Sunday closure, which brings thousands of walkers, bikers, and roller skaters and yes, fans of the De Young Museum to the park to enjoy a rare car-free urban experience.

As of last week, Newsom insiders were telling us the mayor had decided to sign the legislation. But Dede Wilsey, a wealthy patron of the museum, was pushing hard to block the proposal. On May 9, the San Francisco Chronicle weighed in on the side of the museum, running a misleading editorial accusing the supervisors of defying a vote of the people and giving Newsom more cover for a move that will undermine his national image as an environmentalist.

In his veto letter, Newsom argues that the issue needs further study though that’s exactly what this plan would be: a six-month study period. And, like the Chronicle, he insists that the voters have spoken on this issue as if a pair of confusing ballot measures that were all tied up with the museum and the garage six years ago should be the final word on this issue. He also calls it "divisive" meaning, presumably, that unless Dede Wilsey and the museum crowd like something, the mayor can’t be a leader and take a stand.

The whole thing shouldn’t be difficult. The De Young’s board has argued that closed roads mean smaller crowds, but the museum’s own figures show that’s untrue (see "Dede Wilsey’s Whoppers," 4/19/06). Museum attendance on Sunday, when the roads are closed, is higher than on Saturday, when cars clog the area. (With so many people flocking to that part of the park, it’s no surprise some of them decide to stop by the museum.) Besides, when the museum won permission to build an underground parking garage in the park, garage supporters, including financier Warren Hellman, promised that the added car access would make it possible to close the roads on Saturdays and today, to his credit, he’s arguing in favor of the plan.

In New York City, which is even more congested than San Francisco and has far worse parking problems, a Republican mayor, Michael Bloomberg, has managed to close roads in Central Park not only on Saturdays but also on weekdays.

It’s too late to change Newsom’s mind, but the supervisors can still override the veto. One of the four who voted against the plan will have to switch to get the eighth vote for an override, and the most likely candidate is Bevan Dufty, whose district includes plenty of road-closure enthusiasts and who is up for reelection this fall. Call him (415-554-6968) and don’t let him wriggle out of this one. SFBG

{Empty title}

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tredmond@sfbg.com

Editor’s Note

The Healthy Saturdays folks were out leafleting in Golden Gate Park this weekend, on a stunningly beautiful Sunday, along with thousands of other people enjoying the car-free sunshine. The message on the handouts: Call the mayor (554-7111); the supervisors have approved a plan to at least try extending the car ban to Saturday, and now it’s in the mayor’s court.

Which will be interesting, as Steven T. Jones reports on page 19, because Gavin Newsom thinks of himself as an environmentalist who is pro-bicycle and propublic transportation but the people who were a big part of his political base from day one are upper-crust de Young Museum types who, for their own selfish reasons, don’t want the roads in the park closed.

De Young Museum baroness Dede Wilsey and Ken Garcia, the San Francisco Examiner‘s resident crank, are the chief architects of the argument that the Saturday road closure is a bad idea. They’re pushing this God-and-the-flag line "let the voters decide" and claiming that since a similar plan lost at the ballot once, only a public referendum would be adequate authority for a rather simple land-use decision. Put it to the voters, they say; that’s fair, right?

Well, I’m not here to dis American democracy or anything, but there’s a little secret I want to share: Most elections aren’t fair. Anytime the size of the electorate is larger than about 40,000 voters (a typical San Francisco supervisorial district), you can’t effectively communicate your message without a big chunk of money and the larger the jurisdiction, the more money it takes.

Consider California.

There are three major candidates for governor, and all of them are wealthy people. But only two are truly, obscenely, stinking rich, with wealth in the $100 millionplus range, and they are, right now, the odds-on favorites to make the November final in large part because of their abilities to put personal wealth into the race. In other words, if you want to run for governor of California, being rich garden-variety rich isn’t nearly enough.

The same goes for San Francisco, on a different sort of scale. If citywide elections were fair, and Pacific Gas and Electric Co. didn’t have the ability to write a blank check every time an activist group tried to pass a public-power measure, San Francisco would have kicked out the private-power monopoly half a century ago. If citywide elections were fair, and Gavin Newsom didn’t have the ability to outspend Matt Gonzalez by a factor of about 6 to 1, the odds are at least even that Gonzalez would be mayor today.

That’s why Dede Wilsey and Ken Garcia, who both know better, are blowing some sort of smoke when they call for a "vote of the people."

But maybe we should call their bluff. How’s this for a deal:

The museum folks have plenty of money, so Wilsey can raise, say, $200,000. Then she can split it in half she gets $100,000, and the road-closure activists get $100,000. No outside, "independent" expenditures (they can control their side, and we can control ours), no tricks, no bullshit. Level playing field, fair election and let’s see who can walk more precincts and turn out more people on election day. That same model would work for all kinds of civic disputes.

Fair?

PS: As an in-line skater with plenty of bruises to prove it, I have another suggestion: For even-more-healthy Saturdays, maybe they could resurface the roads. SFBG

The veto question

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› steve@sfbg.com

There are bigger issues facing San Francisco than whether to close off part of Golden Gate Park to cars on Saturdays. But as political dilemmas go, Mayor Gavin Newsom’s impending choice of whether to sign or veto the Healthy Saturdays initiative presents him with a difficult call on a matter of great symbolic importance.

Newsom hasn’t taken a position yet, and City Hall sources say he’s actively trying to find a compromise position something that will most likely involve strict and quantifiable monitoring standards during the six-month study period, or perhaps a request that the closure be moved to the west side of the park, which supporters of the measure have resisted.

If possible, Newsom would like to avoid vetoing a measure beloved by environmentalists, bicyclists, and recreational park users. Newsom’s only other four vetoes have also shot down legislation prized by progressives: three rejected measures aimed at helping renters and preserving apartments, and one killed an ordinance limiting how much parking can be built along with downtown housing units.

But the clock is running on a JFK Drive closure slated to begin May 25, and Newsom is unlikely to please everyone, given the polarization and strong visceral reactions to the issue. The debate has so far played out as a class conflict, albeit one that has both sides flinging the epithet of "elitism" at each other.

The opposition campaign waged by representatives of the park’s cultural institutions (including many prominent and wealthy political donors) and some park neighbors say closure supporters are trying to shut others out from the park, hurt the museums, and deny the will of voters. Supporters say this about making a portion of the city’s premier park safe and inviting on weekends, rather than allowing it to be used as a busy thoroughfare and parking lot.

The rhetoric on both sides has often been heated, but supporters have for the most part stuck to the facts, while the opposition campaign has been marred by misrepresentations (see "Dede Wilsey’s Whoppers," 4/19/06).

Some of the inaccurate statements most notably that voters have repeatedly rejected closure have taken on the air of truth as they were repeated by mayoral staffers, Sups. Fiona Ma and Bevan Dufty, and in two overheated columns by the San Francisco Examiner‘s Ken Garcia that were riddled with inaccuracies and unsupported statements. (Garcia did not answer an e-mail from the Guardian seeking comment on his distortions.)

During the Board of Supervisors’ April 25 hearing on the matter, the main question was whether a measure that already had six cosponsors would garner the eight votes that would be needed to override a mayoral veto.

"On two different occasions, voters rejected Saturday closure," was how Supervisor Ma explained her opposition, reading from a prepared statement. Supervisor Dufty, who voted no, also said he was swayed by the election argument: "This has come before the voters, and that’s what I’d like to see happen [again]."

Actually, the question was put before voters just once, in November 2000. Just over 45 percent of voters wanted immediate Saturday closure (Measure F), while about 37 percent of voters approved of a rival measure sponsored by museum patrons (Measure G) that would have postponed closure until after the garage was completed.

Several supervisors assailed the election argument that Garcia had circulated so vociferously, including one Healthy Saturdays opponent, Sup. Sean Elsbernd, who said neither the voter argument nor the argument that the de Young Museum would be hurt were valid.

Instead, Elsbernd said he was swayed by the concerns of park neighbors that the existing Sunday closure creates traffic problems in their neighborhoods. So he proposes that the Saturday closure happen on the west side of the park, rather than the east.

"Why can’t we spread out these impacts?" Elsbernd said. "It’s a simple compromise that will alleviate a lot of concerns."

Supporters of the closure have resisted that proposal, arguing that the eastern portion has most of the commercial vendors, the flattest and best-quality roads for kids just learning to ride bikes, the warmest weather, and is best served by the new 800-spot parking garage, which hasn’t ever been full since it opened earlier this year.

And at this point, starting over with an alternative proposal would greatly delay the closure and ensure that the trial period doesn’t generate a full summer’s worth of data.

"The time is right. We have the garage open, and it’s accessible," said Sup. Jake McGoldrick, who sponsored Healthy Saturdays after opposing it two years ago on the grounds that the garage wasn’t yet open. He and other supporters later told us that they’re open to considering any monitoring standards that Newsom may propose.

In the end, the measure was approved on a 74 vote, with Sup. Michela Alioto-Pier (who didn’t speak about her reasons) joining Ma, Dufty, and Elsbernd in opposition.

"The table is set for the possibility that the mayor will veto this legislation," Sup. Gerardo Sandoval said at the hearing.

Afterward, Newsom spokesperson Peter Ragone said the mayor would make a decision on whether to veto in the next week or so. In the meantime, Ragone told reporters: "The mayor is going to continue to work with both sides on the issue to maintain a dialogue with the hope that we can reach a place where the right thing can be done."  SFBG

Dede Wilsey’s whoppers

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An aggressive and misleading campaign against Saturday road closures in Golden Gate Park by the Corporation of the Fine Arts Museums spearheaded by its board president, Dede Wilsey appears to be backfiring as the proposal heads for almost certain approval by the Board of Supervisors.

Yet the Healthy Saturdays proposal by Sup. Jake McGoldrick which would close from May 25 to Nov. 25 the same portion of JFK Drive now closed on Sundays, a six-month trial period to study its impacts still needs the signature of Mayor Gavin Newsom, who has not yet taken a position.

And there are rumblings that even if the measure is approved either with Newsom’s signature or an override of his veto Wilsey and her supporters intend to attempt a referendum that would effectively kill the project if they can gather 20,000-plus valid signatures within 30 days. City law requires the targets of referendums to be placed on hold until the vote, which would occur this November.

The proposal got its first hearing April 14, when the Land Use Committee unanimously recommended it be approved by the full board (which will consider the matter April 25). The long and emotional hearing showed sharp divisions between the environmentalists and recreational park users who support closure and the de Young Museum benefactors and park neighbors who oppose it.

It also unmasked the deceptive tactics being employed by Wilsey and museum director John D. Buchanan, who coauthored an April 7 letter to de Young Museum members and April 4 memos to museum trustees and staff urging opposition to Healthy Saturdays and implying the museum’s survival was at stake.

"Closure of JFK Drive on Saturday has twice been voted down by the electorate and has been shown to be unpopular in polls for the last decade. While Sunday closure is a reality, road closures severely compromise access to the museum, particularly for seniors, families, persons with disabilities, and anyone who cannot afford the cost of the parking garage," they wrote. This information was parroted by many who argued against the closure.

Yet the letters were grossly misleading and at least 16 museum members wrote angry letters to the museum protesting the Wilsey-Buchanan position. The Guardian obtained the letters through a Sunshine Ordinance request. One writer called the museum campaign "self-serving and deceptive," while another wrote: "I take issue with undertaking a letter campaign using my donations."

Contrary to what the April 7 letter implies, people with disabilities are allowed to drive on the closed roads, and McGoldrick has now incorporated into the measure all recommendations of the Mayor’s Office of Disability. The letter also never indicates that the closure is temporary, that free parking is available a short walk from the museum, or that the public voted on the proposal just once, albeit on two competing measures that were each narrowly defeated, in November 2000.

At that time, with polls showing public support for the Saturday closure proposed in Measure F, museum patrons tried to scuttle the closure by qualifying a competing Measure G, which would have delayed the Saturday closure until after completion of the parking garage. In the ballot pamphlet, Wilsey, the California Academy of Sciences, and other opponents of Measure F wrote arguments for the ballot handbook promising to support Saturday closure once the garage was completed, as it was last summer.

"The Academy supports the closure of JFK Drive on Saturdays once the efforts of Saturday closure have been studied, alternative transportation measures are in place, and the voter-approved, privately funded parking facility is built under the Music Concourse," one statement read.

At the hearing, McGoldrick asked Wilsey why she is reneging on her promise. Wilsey said that she wrote her statement in 1998 while her husband and dog were still alive, before she had raised $202 million for the museum renovation, and back when "we were not in a war against terrorism. Almost nothing that was true in 1998 is true today."

Wilsey did not respond to our request to clarify her response or explain other aspects of what appears to be a calculated campaign of misinformation. For example, she and other museum spokespeople have been saying publicly that museum attendance on Saturdays is far higher than on Sundays because of the road closure.

When we spoke with museum spokesperson Barbara Traisman, she said the de Young receives 15 to 20 percent more visitors on Saturdays than on Sundays. Yet she refused our request to provide the attendance data to support her statement just as museum officials have ignored requests by McGoldrick for that data for the last three weeks telling us: "That’s too onerous to ask someone to do that."

So on April 13, the Guardian made an immediate disclosure request for those records under the Sunshine Ordinance. The next day, just as the hearing was getting under way, Wilsey turned those records over to McGoldrick.

The documents showed that on 10 of the 23 weekends that the de Young has been open, attendance on Sundays was actually higher than on Saturdays. By the end of the hearing, even committee chair Sup. Sophie Maxwell who had voiced concerns about Saturday closure and was not considered a supporter voted for Healthy Saturdays, joining the board’s progressive majority of six that has already signed on as cosponsors. SFBG