Tag Archives: Kenneth Rexroth

Billionaires, Bodhisattvas and Sailors

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Cities are said to be repositories of memories, but it is people that make cities. The exchange of ideas and life styles that give urban life texture, stories and scurrilous gossip.

At the western side of Pacific heights, near the home of Senator Diane Feinstein by the Lyon steps so popular with outdoor exercise enthusiasts, are the houses of the new, high-tech business leaders. Jonathan Ive, one of Apple’s masterminds lives on Broadway. Nearby is one of the many trophy homes of “Bazillionaire” Larry Ellison who is credited with changing the world of database software.

Ellison himself has a flamboyant lifestyle and, according to the press, a public image as a brash business tycoon that he has been trying to counter of late with the recent public display of his well chosen Japanese collection – oozing the quiet elegance he’d like to be known for. Of course the press has a different idea, announcing “Larry Ellison, Bodhisattva in Waiting, Brings Enlightenment to San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum.”

ImageThe Ellison house , at 2850 Broadway, has a grandstand position from which to oversee the America’s Cup races on the Bay below. His sleek black Oracle-sponsored catamarans, defending cup-holders , virtually flying across the water below the panoramic terrace. Ellison himself will, of course, most likely be found at the Golden Gate Yacht Club he bought or maybe even more likely, as a former crew member of the victorious 2010 boat, on the water himself.

Another commanding house, this time at 2080 Washington Street, was once the residence that sugar millionaire Adolph Spreckles built for his young bride Alma de Brettville. She was formerly a nude model for local artists and prominent as the Goddess of Victory on the Dewey Monument on Union Square. The house has fifty five rooms including a Louis XVI ballroom. It attracted a lot of gossip as Alma was half his age ,to which she would shrug her shoulders and say “I would rather be a rich man’s darling than a poor man’s slave”.

ImageMore recently the Spreckles mansion has been home to Danielle Steel, the best selling author alive. With over 100 novels to her name, her “formula” clearly captures the popular pulse, attracting sneers about her being the Queen Mother of Trash. But with books said to bring in over $800 million a year, she feels no need to comment.

At 64, the ever outspoken Steele complains that there is no style in San Francisco, “it’s all shorts and camping boots”. As for California healthy living she adds “ I would rather die than exercise . San Francisco is a great city to raise children, but I was happy to leave it”. She now seems to spend much of her time in Paris indulging in haute-couture and red-soled Louboutin shoes, of which she can boast a collection of more than 4000 pairs, worth over $4 million

These are just some of the innumerable stories that give a feel for a city and make it fascinating. As San Francisco’s self-taught thinker Kenneth Rexroth emphasised “The art of being civilized is the art of learning to read between the lies”.

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Despite having a a population of less than a million, much smaller than nearby San Jose, San Francisco has become the richest of cities. It has the youngest population, the least children and the highest i-phone use in the country.

Surrounded by water on three sides , like Manhattan, but located on 74 hills, it is said there is an “island mentality “ to San Francisco. It was described by poet laureate Laurence Ferlinghetti as being “indeed an offshore province, not really part of mainland America”.

The City’s exudes a liberal feeling not found in many other cities in the US – years ago, the American poet Kenneth Rexroth explained that its liberal traditions reflect the fact that it was the only city that was not settled by the westward spreading puritan tradition. Instead, San Francisco has thrived as a place of great contrasts ever since the days of Levi Strauss stapling rivets into working clothes to make his, bphoto 2y now eponymous, creations.

There may be 400 banks, 20 universities and some of the most valuable property in the country, however, at the same time, it has the least home ownership and the highest rental population. Much of this due to a policy of strict rent control that is strongly enforced in San Francisco. In older properties (anything built before June of 1979), landlords may only increase the rent by a token annual percentage (1.9% in 2013-2014), so although an average 1 bedroom apartment may rent for $2,700 per month, many pay only $700 or less. It encourages tennants to stay, some for a lifetime.

I recently toured the city with my brilliant colleague, Craig Smith, city guide and authentic insider, who explained that centuries ago there were virtually no trees here when the Spanish arrived but that years of careful cultivation and a suitable Mediterranean-type climate transformed the landscape. Everything grows in this idyllic environment including many exotic shrubs and plants.

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Only the eucalyptus is avoided because the dry leaves and bark are a constant fire hazard. Redwood, disliked by termites,was particularly popular in constructing the many huge Victorian and Queen Anne style houses while the windy climate meant few insects, so no need for nets or air-conditioning, making elegant bay windows a prominent architectural feature.

Facing the bay, the fabled Pacific Heights on the northern side of the city has some of the most valuable real estate in the United States. The major attraction for many are the world’s most beautiful urban views with a panorama from Alcatraz to Sausalito and the Golden Gate Bridge. It is also firmly anchored on bedrock, so many buildings survived both the 1906 earthquake and the fire that followed.

I asked Craig if, like so many others in San Francisco, Pacific Heights would be his location of choice assuming money to be of no object but he instantly answered  “no, Sausalito”.

g_47_WaterviewHorizonsThe former home town  of  Zen master Alan Watts and actor Robert Redford, Sausalito, has a relaxed style, warmer temperatures and proximity to both the scenic Marin headlands and wine producing NapaValley. It would certainly make a great choice!

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