A One of a Kind “Double Arcades” in Downtown Cleveland

I have been to quite many arcades from my traveling. But never have I seen before two parallel arcades being connected together in the middle until I came to Cleveland again. This “H-shaped” tunnel space is very special because each of the two arcades is uniquely designed and the two look totally different from each other. It looks like someone has connected the two arcades that were built in different times, which could be what happened.

5th Street Arcades – 530 Euclid Ave, Cleveland


The Mysterious Twin Gymnasiums by Golden Gate Park


looking west at the two gymnasiums on federick st. with kezar stadium on the right

When you walk down Frederick St. by the Kezar Stadium near the Golden Gate Park, you will see a row of Victorian houses and in between them there are two enormous masonry buildings topped with an arch. These two almost identical art deco-styled buildings that seem so un-related to the current streetscape are indeed the remains of the former San Francisco Polytechnic High School. The narrower one on the east was the Girls’ Gymnasium and the one of the west was the Boys’ Gymnasium. When the city tore down the school to build residential housing, the neighborhood managed to rescue the two gyms which have become the current homes for the Circus Center and the ArcoSports Center.

I really admire the effort put into saving the gyms by the people of San Francisco. Most of time whether these buildings would be saved has nothing to do with the physical context such as the buildings themselves or the design of the new projects. The buildings are only saved when the people who care about them do something about it. And of course, the concerned authority would only have respond to its voters’ want in a democratic society. If it were in mainland China or even in Hong Kong, protests would mean nothing to the government and every bit of the old buildings and infrastructure including streets and landscape would be demolished in no time.

Keeping these old monuments have contributed positively to the diversity of built environment of San Francisco. The grand scale of these monuments, the engravings on buildings and the lavish ornaments simply cannot be done in the modern day budget-oriented buildings. These artifacts of the past really make the city more charming, rich in history and memory. And they give you something to discover during each walk or ride. Isn’t that what we like about taking walks in San Francisco?


looking eastat the two gymnasiums with buena vista park at the end of federick st.


new housing development in between the two gymnasiums


current look of the west gymnasium (home of the circus center)


circus center trains student to perform circus arts


the lavishly ornate entrance to the circus center


the large practice hall inside the circus center


classes and events at the circuit center


wall painting at the circus center


the relationship of the two gymnasiums to the kezar stadium, too bad the trees have over grownn to block the view of the west gymnasium

federick st. by kezar stadium, san francisco – 11:30am, feb 5, 2013

A Library as an Individual Building – Instead of being “Stir-fried” into a Complex

library on page

Every time I walk by a library in San Francisco, I can’t help but stop and look at them for a long second. Perhaps I was admiring some of the classical facades, coffered huge ceiling and other design features. But the more I think about it, I realize I am actually fascinated by the fact the each library is an individual “library building” sitting on the street.

As a person growing up in Hong Kong, it is not common seeing a single “library building”. Most libraries are put inside a city hall complex or some of the so-called municipal buildings. These complexes also house offices for city workers, a wet market for fresh food, a dry goods market and a food court. The library is usually placed on the top floor of the building. I always have to take the elevator to get to it. As a result, I was not used to seeing a library building on the street and of course most Hong Kong people don’t have an idea of how a library building looks like.

Personally, I prefer having libraries as individual buildings. It is very strange that you need to go through a wet market and food court to get a “house of knowledge”. That is why I used associate libraries with the smell of dried seafood. The Confucius has this old saying that “halls for study should be placed as far away from the kitchens and slaughter houses where killing of animals take place”. I totally agree with that.

As a strong advocate for great and inspiring civic works, I believe that these nicely done libraries in San Francisco beautify and define each neighborhood. They create dignified and memorable places both inside and outside the libraries for every neighbor. It is a simpler world when you don’t stir-fry buildings together.

1833 page st., san francisco – 3:25pm, jan 10, 2013

Castro Theatre – Where the Big Show is Always Happening on the Outside


Any person who has seen the Castro neighborhood knows about the Castro Theatre. It is probably not because they have been to a show or a movie inside. But they have seen what happened on the outside – the numerous civil right protests, gay parades, street fairs, celebrations and memorials. The façade of the Castro Theatre building has always been a backdrop for the important events and dramas happening in Castro. In a way, it is like the city hall of Castro. Things just seem to matter more if they are photographed happening in front of the theatre. And of course, the theatre was featured in the movie Milk many times. I wonder if the architect Timothy Pflueger had foreseen the significance of the theatre when he was drawing the magical art deco façade.


celebration for obama’s winning in re-election – nov 6, 2012

castro street fair – oct 7, 2012

castro street on a regular day

castro street on a regular night

429 castro street, san francisco

Caselli Mansion in Castro – A Different Kind of Apartment Building


Built in 1892, the legendary Caselli Mansion was the Mac-Mansion of its time. Its enormous size and height simply dwarfed all the buildings on the nearby blocks. Attracted by this architectural wonder, I decided to check out the mansion today.

Caselli Mansion sits at the corner on the bottom of a sloped hill. To approach it, you have to first walk up the steps at the corner to the base of the building foundation. And then a flight of step would bring you up to the colonnaded porch which offers an amazing vista of the downtown. Inside the entrance lobby, there is grand staircase that takes you to the first upper floor. To go up to the attic or the lower level, you have to take the servant staircase in the back. Although the original open space on the main floors have been partitioned and divided into different apartments, the former glory of the mansion can still be felt in the detailing and craftsmanship of the wood panels, door moulding, ceiling plaster work and giant double hung windows.

On the outside, Caselli Mansion has a fairly symmetrical façade with a pair of turreted towers and tall chimneys. The attic is formed by a steep hip roof topped by a decorative tower in the center and a projecting pitched roof in the front. A third larger round tower in the back soars further into the sky than the two towers in the front.

Because of the building complexity, a variety of spaces were created when Caselli Mansion was divided into apartments. Some rooms have a flat ceiling and a rectangular layout; some rooms in the tower would have a circular floor plan; rooms on top of the tower have a coned ceiling and almost 270 degree view of the city; rooms on the upper attic have their own private staircases leading up from the top floor; I was told by a resident that a couple room in the tower even their own mezzanine. I find it very intriguing that how different types of spatial experience were created when they retrofitted the mansion into an apartment building. This collection of interesting and weird spaces would not be made possible if the mansion was planned as an apartment building from the beginning.

around 1892, photo copyright of http://foundsf.org


entry steps leading to the platform of the mansion

steps leading to the colonnaded porch

view of the colonnaded porch from below

view from the colonnaded porch, including the top of the transamerica pyramid

detail of the front door on porch

detail at doorway corner

detail of balustrade and post

detail od mouldings

grand staircase

wood panel at grand staircase

tiled painting of the original mansion

hallway at third floor (above main and second floors)

hallway at lower floor

caselli mansion was at one time the california general hospital

view of mansion from across caselli st.

view from afar on caselli st.

the enormous size of caselli mansion can be seen from up the hill, click to zoom in!

zooming into the previous photo

another view of the mansion from afar

250 douglass st., san francisco – 2:09pm, jan 30, 2013

Ashbury Terrace Spiral Steps – How a Small Piece of Civic Work Beautifies and Defines a Neighborhood

steps 1

It is very interesting that on the streets and in the parks of San Francisco there are all these small piece of art work, sculptures, monuments and civic works that have beautified and defined each pocket of neighborhood. The spiral steps on Ashbury Terrace is one of the great examples.

The pair of spiral curving walls and the classical pillars located at the turning corner of the street are not only beautiful, but they are also a very practical solution to help one continue to travel up a curving street smoothly. The white color, a distinguished color of the City Beautiful Movement because of the white-ish stonework, has really given the steps a presence among the lush green landscape surrounding the steps. The atmosphere of the place would certainly not be the same if a straight angle conventional stairway was built instead.

steps 3

steps 4

steps 5

the curving street of ashbury terrace

spiral steps at ashbury terrace – 11:25am, Jan 22, 2013-01-23

An Elegant Space Fallen from Grace @ the Westfield San Francisco’s Rotunda

I used to praise the beautifully preserved rotunda and the space underneath it at the San Francisco Westfield Mall. It was amazing how the construction of this massive downtown mall managed to preserve the rotunda and how it generously provided a quiet and somewhat meditating space that was free of shopping activities. I thought maybe the developer cut a sweet deal with the city to provide this space in return for something lucrative.

But after my recent visit, I guess it wasn’t the case for this “privately-owned private” space. The space has been turned into a café area run by Le Boulange which is now a Starbuck-ized franchise. The transparent glass on the rotunda has been covered to make it into a background for some laser or light show. As a result, the original kind of larger-than-life experience has been ill-transformed into another shopping square footage filled with a sense of cheap and low-taste. In the end, the Westfield San Francisco is just another mall.

the sun-lit space before the conversion

the sun-lit rotunda before the conversion

856 market st, san Francisco – 3:03pm, nov 25, 2012