We Wanna Be Friends With: SF Historian and Author Art Peterson


Our city is chock-full of interesting people and wild personalities. Overwhelmed by the coolness? Every week we'll pick one standout local we'd love to be friends with to answer seven essential questions about their life in San Francisco.

Art Peterson is a SF native who's seen 80 years of our city's history come and go, and has lived to write a book about it. One part love letter to San Francisco and another part guidebook for locals, Why Is That Bridge Orange is made up of 86 mini chapters dedicated to questions we didn't even know we had like, "What iconic SF landmark did the San Francisco Chronicle call an abomination, and the city-planning department describe as inhuman inspiring its backers to hire hippies to stage a protest in support of the project?," "What is 40 feet high, 710 feet long and costs $250,000 a year in electricity alone to run?" And, "Is it possible to get a street named after me or someone I know?"

Peterson treats the intricacies of our city almost like his own personal history, bringing to light quirky facts and big picture scandals that will be a shock to most SF newcomers. And as a long time AP English professor and senior editor at UC-affiliated National Writing Project, Peterson drops the slapstick-y guide book lingo in exchange for rich details and lively story telling.

Want to shake Peterson's hand and grab a copy of the book? Why Is That Bridge Orange book launch party is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 13, 7-9pm at The Armory Club. Admission is free!

1. What neighborhood do you currently call home? Would you ever move or are you happy in your 'hood?

We now live at the top floor of the old Chronicle newsprint warehouse in the Jackson Square-Barbary Coast area. I will be moving someday—feet first.

2. What's your hands-down, absolute favorite thing to eat in SF?

The sand dabs at Sotto Mare in North Beach. Only problem: You need to eat fast before Gigi turns the table over to someone else.

3. What's your perfect night on the town?

Dinner at the bar at Jardiniere, then across the street to Davies Hall for a mix of, say, Bach, Debussy, and Phillip Glass, then back to the bar for one of those historical cocktails and the artesian cheese plate.

4. When you need a low-key afternoon, where do you go for down time?

We walk over to the Embarcadero Cinema, hide in the dark, and view a movie that is almost never terrible.

5. What's your favorite place to go on a day trip from the city?

Sea Ranch, where Laurence Halprin did it right.

6. Quick-fire round:

Burrito or Burger?

Burger at the Old Ship Saloon—in fact this joint gets a mention in Why Is This Bridge Orange book.

Presidio or Golden Gate Park?

Golden Gate Park, particularly the west end, full of nooks and crannies to escape the world.

BiRite or Mitchell's?

We've sworn off sweets

Bike or MUNI?

30 years of bike riding, but now muni, walking, or (I blush to admit) automobile.

Fort Mason or Dolores Park?

Fort Mason, Dolores Park does not have Greens or the Magic Theatre.

The Independent or the Fillmore?

Do they let 80-year-olds into these places? Let's try the SFJazz Center.

Baker Beach or Ocean Beach?

Ocean Beach where I think I can still smell the odors of the fired chicken at Topsy's Roost mingling with the sea air.

7. Three words that describe your life in SF?

Enduring, inquiring, and (on a good day) impassioned. 

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