Mt. Rainier and Lenticular Clouds - Dec. 2008 copyright: JMM

February 8, 2007

"Don't tell me this town ain't got no heart...."

I lucked out big time when I was hired as a receptionist at a law firm in downtown San Francisco in 1990. I had left my TV career behind when we moved and I was kind of floundering around. I worked for a year for a small construction company in my neighborhood, trying to gain office skills. I applied for the job at Burnstein & Walker, and at my interview, I hit it off with the office manager so she invited me back for a second interview with the attorneys. They were concerned that I had no experience. I told them that I was a very fast learner, and if they would just give me the chance to prove myself, they wouldn't be sorry. By the time I got home, there was a message on my answering machine that I could start right away. This was during the recession in the early 90's, and that firm literally received over 200 resumes for that one position.

I worked on the 6th floor of the Monadnock Building, and our suite is clearly seen in this picture. The lobby is floor 1, so just count up from there. We didn't have the entire 6th floor facing Market Street, but about half of the windows (from the middle to the right side) were ours. Every year Brian and I would go to the office to watch the annual Gay Pride Parade from my suite. The year my firm relocated over to Berkeley, 1996, my dear friend Jim (who is still the building engineer) let us come back to the now-empty suite to watch the parade, and in fact, we ended up having a huge Pride Day party up there that year, with about 30-50 people, food, drinks..... including a 6'5" transgender named Bridgit who was wearing a yellow bikini, playing electric guitar while rollerblading through the office. It was truly a "Tales of the City" day. After that, Jim would let us use the office space on the 3rd floor because there was a nice, wide ledge outside the windows so we could sit on the ledge and watch the parade.

When the 49ers won the Superbowl in 2005, the parade came right past our building too.

I couldn't find any pictures of the ceiling murals on line, but inside the front doors are these fantastic paintings along the arched ceiling, which incorporate famous San Franciscans and Northern Californians from days past, like slain Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone, who were shot in cold blood in 1978 by disgruntled Supervisor Dan White (the one who made "the twinkie defense" famous), environmentalist John Muir, vaudevillian Lotta Crabtree and Sir Francis Drake who made landfall in the Point Reyes area of Marin, on his ship The Golden Hinde. The famous [Sheraton] Palace Hotel is next door.

The Monadnock Building has a very interesting place in San Francisco history. In 1906, the Monadnock was under construction and nearly completed. Then the City was rocked by the famous Quake of '06, and the Palace Hotel was all but destroyed; opera singer Enrico Caruso had given a concert the night before and was staying at the Palace that night. Legend has it that after the quake, he was so frightened that all he could do was throw open his windows and sing (Caruso never returned to San Francisco). The Monadnock, however, stood proud. After the quake, fires raged for days and flattened all of downtown. Not knowing what else to do, the men started dynamiting what buildings were still standing to create a fire break. The Monadnock refused to come down.

Here's another shot of it. The Palace Hotel is to the left, and a destroyed building is to the right.
Needless to say, I felt very confident that if we ever had another huge quake while I was at work, I'd be completely safe.

This is Lotta's Fountain, across the street from the Monadnock. The fountain was donated to the City in 1875 by Lotta Crabtree. See that intersection behind the fountain? In 1991, I was nailed in the crosswalk by a car running a red light on Kearny Street. I was trying to catch my bus on Geary and this dude in a big old American car just skidded right into me. I picked myself up, ran to my bus, and grabbed a seat. Then, and only then, did the massive pain kick in. I was bruised from hip to ankle on my left leg, my left hand was badly bruised across the palm and my wrist & thumb were sprained as well. I remember an old lady getting on the bus after me and saying, "My goodness dear, are you OK?! Why didn't you stay? That man in the car is absolutely sick about hitting you!"

Needless to say, my boss was furious with me for not staying on the scene and going to the hospital, because he could have gotten a great settlement for me since the guy did run the red and I was in a crosswalk. But all I could think about was getting home, and how would I get word to Brian what happened, and how terrified he'd be if he got a call from the SFPD telling him his wife was rushed to the hospital!!!

These are extremely recent photos of the renovated fountain which was completed for the 100th anniversary of the '06 quake in 2006. The fountain did not look like this when I worked in SF, it was made of dull brownstone and usually had trash thrown in the fountain basins. After the '06 quake, many families used Lotta's Fountain as a meeting point, and every year after that at 5:17 a.m. on April 16, survivors would gather at the fountain to mark the anniversary. When we lived there, only about 12 old timers would show up, and those numbers dwindled with each passing year.

The Palace Hotel next door to the Monadnock was renovated in the late 1980's and is a wonder to see!

I was so incredibly fortunate to have worked right in the heart of San Francisco for 6 years. Every day at lunch, as long as the weather was good, I'd walk all over the place, usually shooting photos. The City is only 7 miles x 7 miles, so it's very walkable (that is if you can hack the hills). I could walk to Union Square, Chinatown, the Ferry Building, the Psychedelic Shoppe, and even take the bus to City Lights Bookstore in North Beach and walk back to my office in my lunch hour. On summer solstice each year, the City celebrated "World Music Day" and musicians would set up on both sides of Market Street for many blocks and play all day. You name a kind of music, and it was there: Folk, rock, drums, African, 60's, electronica, even a couple of groups from the Andes. During Pride Week, there'd be rainbow flags hanging from every single light post up and down Market Street from the Ferry Building to City Hall.

To quote the famous Tony Bennett song, I left my heart in San Francisco.


  1. Damn....I always knew I was born on the wrong coast!I would love to live in a pedestrian friendly city...or even a mass transit based city!And to have the joy of all the open-mindedness...I swear in past lives I was a gay man...I am pretty certain actually..don't know how...just am.

    Lovely pictures...I have been thinking of posting pictures of here but...well it isn't as bright...I love that fountain!

  2. Those are great photos JoJo, and the story that goes with them is something I couldn't stop reading until the end. I know how valuable you were/are as a legal assistant. My daughter is a lawyer and she values her assistant to no end.
    Hope you are feeling better.
    Cheers Don.

  3. Beautiful post jojo. I love it when you tell us stories:) (i know i sound like a wide eyed kid listening to bed time stories) you've had such an interesting life. Keep sharing with us please..

  4. Wow! Thanks everyone! :)

  5. You've had some great experiences, and your memories are so clear. I don't seem to have taken note of my life as I was living it!

  6. are you sure you aren't a magazine writer? Great shots and writing.

  7. SF is fabulous to look at, but it is gross to walk around now. It is a magnet for bums and you can't walk 1 block without being harassed and smelling other people's bodily functions. It really is a shame the city has allowed itself to become decrepit. There's an old joke about splitting cali into 2 states- sure it could be done but no one wants to take San Francisco.

  8. Claire - that really bums me out to hear about my beloved City. It was so awesome when we lived there; there were a lot of homeless downtown then too. I haven't worked in The City since 1996, and we left the Bay Area in 1999 - haven't even visited since we got up here.