The San Francisco we all know and (usually) love is a constantly evolving city. If you've lived here for any amount of time, you've had the experience of walking down a once-familiar street, or through a neighborhood you used to live in, and noticing a subtle change in the landscape that forces you to pause and take note of what's different. The longer you live here, the more ghost memories you have.
Gary Kamiya, author of the bestselling Cool Gray City of Love: 49 Views of San Francisco, and Paul Madonna, whose popular "All Over Coffee" series ran in the San Francisco Chronicles for 12 years, have collaborated on Spirits of San Francisco: Voyages Through the Unknown City, which features vignettes accompanied by Madonna's distinctive pen-and-ink drawings. Available this week, the captivating book offers deep dives into the history, quirky characters, and unique topography of 16 distinctive locations throughout the City.
Local chroniclers Gary Kamiya and Paul Madonna team up on this gorgeous historical portrait of San Francisco.(Courtesy of Bloombury)
Wandering through a newly sheltering-in-place city, Kamiya observes in the pandemic-inspired preface, "In San Francisco, a deserted street seems to open a window to the place's deepest heart. The sublime terrain tends to swallow up everything else, including people. The hills, the bay, the sky, the sea are constantly overpowering the human one here."
Stories of adventurers and inventors who develop ways to access the inaccessible, whether atop steep hills or through marshy swamp, abound. Throughout the book, the city's natural setting plays a key role (as do, of course, the notorious earthquakes).
The locations featured are both iconic and obscure, fancy and gritty—from South Park, which has continually morphed from its tenement days in the 1920s, to tech park in boom and bust and boom again, and eventually to a ritzy residential center; to Ina Coolbrith Park in Russian Hill, home to many Bohemian eccentrics; to Tian Hou Temple in Chinatown; to Land's End and the Sutro Bath ruins. Armchair travelers and city explorers alike will be inspired to tour many of these spots.
"In the vast library that is a city, every street is a different book," Kamiya says. In Spirits of San Francisco, he and Madonna have brought the streets of our unknown city to vibrant life. Catch a virtual book discussion with the authors during City Lights Live on the book's drop date, Tuesday, October 20th, at 6pm.
Spirits of San Francisco: Voyages Through the Unknown City ($28, October 20, 2020) is available at bloomsbury.com.
Shipley Street, San Francisco.(Art by Paul Madonna, courtesy of Bloomsbury)