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June 12, 2017

San Francisco: 13 Historic Connections to the Present

There are many historic connections throughout the San Francisco Bay Area to times when America, and the world, faltered. All the more reason why the message of “welcome” needs to be reaffairmed. For visitors to San Francisco, these sites and organizations may be of particular interest. They offer perspectives on the past reflect the present.  

Angel Island

Often referred to as the Ellis Island of the West, the Immigration Station on Angel Island originally opened on Jan. 21, 1910 and closed in 1940 after a fire destroyed the administration building. Angel Island’s greatest significance is tied to the legacy of an estimated 175,000 Chinese immigrants. While most immigrants passed through Angel Island in a few days, some Chinese immigrants were held on the island for weeks and even months. In 1964, the Chinese American community successfully lobbied the State of California to designate the immigration station as a State Landmark. Through the efforts of many organizations, the site has become a powerful place for learning and healing. There are two ways to get to Angel Island. Board a Blue & Gold Fleet ferry from Pier 41 (near Pier 39) or opt for the Angel Island Tiburon Ferry which leaves from the quaint village of Tiburon in Marin County. On island activities are offered by the Angel Island Company.

BATS Improv

With suggestions being lobbed in from the audience, one can only imagine what topics the nimble minds of BATS Improv (Bay Area Theatre Sports) have tackled over the years. The largest and longest-running improv theater and school in Northern California, BATS performs new shows every weekend including “Improvised Farce” at its Bayfront Theater in Fort Mason. Classes are offered year-round for students at all levels. The group is also widely known for its Theatresports format in which two teams of improvisers compete against each other for points. Performances are every Friday and Saturday.  

Beach Blanket Babylon

The outbursts of laughter emanating from 678 Beach Blanket Babylon Blvd. in the heart of North Beach are attributable to the world’s longest running musical revue: “Beach Blanket Babylon.” The show has been regaling audiences for more than 40 years and has poked fun at everyone, including Donald and Melania Trump, Vladimir Putin, Barack and Michelle Obama, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders. Red or blue, it’s all fair game for the writers of the show that “The New York Times” said is, “No less a part of San Francisco than the Golden Gate Bridge and Coit Tower.”

Chinese Historical Society of America

Located in the heart of Chinatown in an historic Julia Morgan designed building, the Chinese Historical Society of America is currently home to a new permanent exhibition: “Chinese American: Exclusion/Inclusion.” Divided into three segments, the exhibition begins with early encounters between China and the U.S. from 1738-1905, segues to the exclusionary legislation enacted between 1882-1943 and traces a parallel journey by Chinese Americans who continued to challenge discrimination throughout this period.

City Lights Books

Considered one of the truly great independent bookstores in the U.S., City Lights was founded in 1953 by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Peter D. Martin. Located on Columbus Avenue in the heart of North Beach, City Lights has always been a place where booklovers from around the world come to browse, read and just soak in the alternative culture’s only “Literary Landmark.” Offering three floors of books from major publishing houses, the store also features a wide selection of books they have published themselves. Authors often include City Lights in their tours and it’s a must for anyone who loves books.


According to “Conde Nast Traveler,” Detour produces “the world’s coolest audio guides.” This San Francisco-based company has produced a wide variety of tours ranging from a five-hour walk through North Oakland’s Santa Fe neighborhood (where the Black Panther movement began) to a tour of the Western Addition, delving into the displacement of San Francisco’s African American community. Available on the iOS App Store and Android (in June), Detour has more than a dozen San Francisco tours.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

Every January on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, thousands of marchers gather in Yerba Buena Gardens where the memorial to the civil rights leader is located. Situated behind a 50-foot-high waterfall, the memorial to King is the third largest in the U.S. It includes photos from the Civil Rights movement and 12 panels inscribed with Dr. King’s words, including excerpts from his speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. It is just steps away from where many commemorative events occur including activities at the Museum of the African Diaspora and events at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

EXIT Theatre

Founded in 1983 in the heart of the Tenderloin, EXIT Theatre operates five storefront theaters ranging in size from 25 to 80 seats. Each year, they host 100 independent theater companies. The annual San Francisco Fringe Festival in the fall is the largest grassroots theater festival in the San Francisco Bay Area. Open to all performers, uncensored and non-curated, SF Fringe presents 150 performances by 35-plus theater companies chosen by lottery. No topic is off limits.

The Holocaust

Located on a bluff near the Legion of Honor, George Segal’s sculpture, “The Holocaust,” features 11 life-sized figures which were cast in bronze and then painted white. Fenced in by barbed-wire, the piece pays tribute to survivors and the millions of people who died at the hands of the Nazis during World War II. The placement of the memorial near a scenic overlook was controversial from the beginning. Segal felt that viewers might contemplate death as they faced the monument and life as they faced the Golden Gate Bridge, symbolic of so many beginnings. The monument has been defaced several times with swastikas, and Segal felt that even that played a role in the power of the piece, reminding individuals that prejudice still exists.

Main Library

Of the five fundamental characteristics shared by public libraries, two of the most telling are that they are open to all and they are governed by a board to serve the public interest. San Francisco’s Main Library welcomes more than 1.67 million patrons to its 100 Larkin St. location annually and almost four times that many to its branches. With its numerous specialized services and the resources it provides to the city’s most vulnerable populations, the San Francisco Public Library is for many a place of refuge and connection. The library carries items in more than 30 languages and library staff members are fluent in more than 20 languages. They are also the curators of rare and unique special collections which form the basis for hundreds of special exhibits throughout the year.

3 Fish Studios

3 Fish Studios in is the outer reaches of San Francisco’s Sunset District. Husband and wife team Eric Rewitzer and Annie Galvin are well known for their prints of a friendly looking California bear hugging various objects and state outlines. After Trump’s election, Rewitzer produced a new version of the bear whose roar was heard coast to coast and found its way to the pages of the Feb. 1, 2017 issue of “Time” magazine. Versions of the print are emblazoned with a quote from a statement that California legislators issued in the hours after the election in November: “California was not a part of this nation when its history began, but we are clearly now the keeper of its future.” More products are being added to the “California Rising” collection and proceeds from the sale of the collection will be donated to www.donorschoose.org to fund art programs in local schools.


Legend has it that Twitter was born in South Park, the oldest public park in San Francisco. Recently opened after an extensive renovation, South Park was established in 1852 and became “ground zero” for the 1990s dot-com boom. The “first tweet” was sent by Jack Dorsey on March 21, 2006: “just setting up my twttr.” According to “The New York Times,” on the day of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Twitter was the largest source of breaking news. The rest is history (in 140 characters). South Park is still a hub for tech businesses; however, Twitter headquarters is now at 1355 Market St.

United States Courts for the Ninth Circuit

Located just a few blocks from San Francisco’s landmark City Hall, where almost 4,000 same-sex couples secured marriage licenses in 2004, the James R. Browning U.S. Courthouse at 95 Seventh St. is considered one of America’s most beautiful public buildings. A National Historic Landmark opened in 1905, the courthouse is the headquarters for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit which hears appeals from lower court decisions in the federal courts of nine Western states. Court of Appeals oral argument hearings are held for one week of each month, and the public may attend. The court also offers free docent-led tours of the courthouse on select Tuesdays throughout the year. Recent decisions have included the response to the first Executive Order restricting travel from seven countries which were predominantly Muslim in State of Washington; State of Minnesota v. Trump. 

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