January 31, 2020

San Francisco: Commonwealth Club; things to do


San Francisco

Commonwealth Club  110 The Embarcadero, (415) 869-5940.  A San Francisco exclusive since 1903, the private non-profit Commonwealth Club was founded as a place where people could convene and learn new things.  More background.  

Walking tours of some of San Francisco’s popular neighborhoods are scheduled regularly.  They are limited to 20 to 25 people.  Each tour emphasizes architecture and history and is led by highly-rated architecture historian Rick Evans, who was the first in the city to provide a perspective of the city’s history through its buildings.  Tours cover the Waterfront; the back alleys of Chinatown; North Beach and the Beats; Nob Hill and the railroad barons known as the Big 4, who were the world’s first millionaires; Russian Hill--a hilly “cardio” tour with great views. 

Highlights of the Waterfront Tour
Led by Rick Evans, the Waterfront Tour covers the area “from Gold Rush to Metropolis.”  It begins at the Commonwealth Club, loops through several area blocks, and returns to the club building.  For way more detail and stories, sign up to take the tour--or another tour--with Rick. 

area around Commonwealth Club  Originally ocean and currently on landfill, this area once was filled with ships, most of which were abandoned when gold was discovered near Sacramento.  No one returned for the ships, and they rotted in place.  The area became a dark and crime-ridden neighborhood until 1989, when the Loma Prieta earthquake damaged the old Embarcadero freeway and caused it to be taken down. 

corner of Mission/Steuart sts.  Titled “Bloody Thursday,” this squiggly piece of art commemorates the 50th anniversary of the infamous July 5, 1934 waterfront strike by the International Longshoremen’s Association in which mounted police fired teargas and shotguns.  Two men were killed and many more were injured, and the group retreated to the ILA’s union hall--the current Commonwealth Club.


tour guide Rick Evans in front of "Bloody Thursday" art piece during Commonwealth Club Waterfront tour in San Francisco, California
tour guide Rick Evans in front of "Bloody Thursday" art piece
during Commonwealth Club Waterfront tour in San Francisco, California


101-199 Mission/Spear sts.  The art deco Rincon Center Annex building is home to the famous Yank Sing dim sum parlour as well as “The History of California” mural, which is composed of 27 watercolor murals by Russian immigrant artist Anton Refregier.  The murals tell the real story of San Francisco.  Now a national landmark, they were once controversial and were once scheduled to be painted over.  At the back of the annex is an obelisk featuring dolphins by Berkeley artist Joan Brown. 


tour guide Rick Evans in front of Rincon Center Annex during Commonwealth Club Waterfront tour in San Francisco, California
tour guide Rick Evans in front of Rincon Center Annex
during Commonwealth Club Waterfront tour in San Francisco, California



part of "The History of California" mural in lobby of Rincon Center Annex on Commonwealth Club Waterfront tour in San Francisco, California
part of "The History of California" mural in lobby of Rincon Center Annex
on Commonwealth Club Waterfront tour in San Francisco, California



obelisk featuring dolphins by Berkeley artist Joan Brown at back of Rincon Center Annex on Commonwealth Club Waterfront tour in San Francisco, California
obelisk featuring dolphins by Berkeley artist Joan Brown at back of Rincon Center Annex
 on Commonwealth Club Waterfront tour in San Francisco, California


101 Howard /Spear sts.  Here you can view the historic and lovely Folger Coffee Company brick building.  Nearby is Park Towers, where Facebook will move in.  Also here is the twisted skyscraper known as The Mira, which is all condos.  Designed by female architect Jeannie Gang so that people can see their neighbors, it is dubbed the most Instagramable building in the city. 


Folger Coffee Company building on Commonwealth Club Waterfront tour in San Francisco, California
Folger Coffee Company building
on Commonwealth Club Waterfront tour in San Francisco, California



The Mira twisted condo tower on Commonwealth Club Waterfront tour in San Francisco, California
The Mira twisted condo tower
on Commonwealth Club Waterfront tour in San Francisco, California


Rincon Park, The Embarcadero/Folsom St.  The bow in the gigantic art piece known as Cupid’s Span (by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen) symbolizes boats arriving at the city, and the heart brings to mind the love this city is famous for-- in the song “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” and in the period known as the Summer of Love.


"Cupid's Span" at Rincon Park on Commonwealth Club Waterfront tour in San Francisco, California
"Cupid's Span" at Rincon Park
on Commonwealth Club Waterfront tour in San Francisco, California


ship building, 188 The Embarcadero/Howard St.  Built in 1985, this building looks like a ship with portholes.  Until after the earthquake, it was lodged in under the old freeway and basically invisible.  The big fountain sculpture in front known as “Aurora” is by Ruth Asawa.


the ship building on Commonwealth Club Waterfront tour in San Francisco, California
the ship building
on Commonwealth Club Waterfront tour in San Francisco, California



"Aurora" fountain sculpture by Ruth Asawa on Commonwealth Club Waterfront tour in San Francisco, California
"Aurora" fountain sculpture by Ruth Asawa
on Commonwealth Club Waterfront tour in San Francisco, California


Boulevard restaurant  This building always had a saloon or restaurant on the ground floor, but once it held on an upper floor the Bank of Italy, which became the Bank of America.  The story goes that just after the 1906 earthquake, in an attempt to build a break to save the Ferry Building, the building was saved from being dynamited along with other unfortunate nearby buildings.  A resident bartender offered a lot of whiskey to the fire department to spare it, 
making it now the oldest building on the waterfront. 
Boulevard restaurant building on Commonwealth Club Waterfront tour in San Francisco, California
Boulevard restaurant building
on Commonwealth Club Waterfront tour in San Francisco, California

ornate Bank of Italy plaque on Boulevard restaurant building on Commonwealth Club Waterfront tour in San Francisco, California
ornate Bank of Italy plaque on Boulevard restaurant building
on Commonwealth Club Waterfront tour in San Francisco, California


More things to do along San Francisco's Embarcadero.

More things to do in San Francisco.

Way more things to do in San Francisco.

More ideas for exploring Northern California.

images ©2020 Carole Terwilliger Meyers


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