Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Frank Lloyd Wright on Maiden Lane

Maiden Lane is an alley running between Kearny and Stockton Streets, just east of Union Square. Prior to the 1906 earthquake and fire, the alley was known as Morton Street and was one of the city's red light districts. Men would stroll the alley and select a companion from among the women sitting in their windows.

After the fire, the red light district moved to other parts of town and Morton Street became Maiden Lane. Today it is home to a number of fashionable stores, including Xanadu Gallery at 140 Maiden Lane. Take a good look at the front of the store and you will notice the absence of one feature that most shops have -- a picture window. Only Frank Lloyd Wright would design a street-level store without a window for the store to showcase its wares.

This building was constructed in 1948 and housed the V.C. Morris Gift Shop. Inside, you will see a spiral walkway up to the second floor. Wright was designing the Guggenheim Museum in New York at the same time and he is thought to have used the Morris Gift Shop as a test for the ramp he included in the Guggenheim. You can see the outside of the Xanadu Gallery at any time. To see the inside, visit the gallery Tuesday through Saturday between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. You will also get to see an excellent collection of folk art.

If you would like to take a private San Francisco tour that focuses on some of San Francisco's unique architecture, please call me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Dim Sum and Murals

One of my favorite places for dim sum is Yank Sing. If you are not familiar with these delicious dumplings, include a dim sum lunch in your next visit to San Francisco. Dim Sim were originally served only to Chinese royalty. When the emperor moved south to Canton (Guandong) in the 13th century, dim sum went with him. Eventually, Canton became famous as the best place in China for dim sum.

Yang Sing is consistently rated as one of the best dim sum places in San Francisco. There are two locations, but I prefer the restaurant in Rincon Center at 101 Spear Street. This shopping arcade and office was built in 1939 in classic art deco style and served as the Rincon Annex Post Office. Today the building has been expanded and modernized. However, the beautiful murals depicting California's history remain. Russian immigrant artist, Anton Refregier, started painting in 1941 but suspended work during World War II. In 1946, Refregier began painting again and completed the murals in 1948.

Another unique feature is the "Rain Column" in the central atrium, just outside Yank Sing's entrance. This floor-to-ceiling water sculpture features 55 gallons of water falling 85 feet every minute.

Stop by Rincon Center on your next visit to see the murals and to east some of the best dim sum outside of China. If you would like to visit Rincon Center as part of a private tour of San Francisco, call me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Alcatraz Update

I finally had a chance to visit Alcatraz and take the new audio tour. While the old tour was good, the new tour is even better. You now enter Alcatraz as the prisoners did -- through the shower room. The tour is slightly longer; about 40 minutes. It is still narrated by former prisoners, guards, and residents. When you are done with the audio tour, you can visit the expanded book shop in the cell block.

Don't limit yourself to just touring the cell block while you are on the island. If the Agave Trail is open, take a walk along the south and east shores for beautiful views of San Francisco.

The evening tour provides a more leisurely and less crowded way to see the island. You can check availability for the evening and day tours by visiting Be sure to book your tour in advance as they sell out. During the summer, tours may sell out two weeks in advance.

Here are some answers to questions I frequently get asked about Alcatraz:

Has anyone swam from Alcatraz to San Francisco? Yes. One prisoner made the swim and was found hanging onto rocks under the Golden Gate Bridge. He was so weak from hypothermia that he could not lift himself out of the water. Earlier this year, some men celebrated their 500th swim from San Francisco to Alcatraz. Last year, the youngest person, a nine-year-old boy, made the swim. Two years ago the first dog, with his master, made the swim.

Are there sharks in the Bay? Yes. Leopard sharks are in the Bay. They are small and will not hurt you. Great whites do not enter the Bay. They are found in the ocean and WILL hurt you.

How big is Alcatraz? The island is 12 acres.

Did anyone successfully escape from Alcatraz? During the civilian period from 1934 - 1963, no prisoners are known to have successfully escaped. Frank Morris and the Anglin brothers did escape. Their flotation devices were found; however, they have never been seen. They are presumed to have drowned. During the military period, security was not as tight and prisoners did escape.

Private tours are prohibited on Alcatraz. If you would like to plan a visit to San Francisco that includes a visit to Alcatraz, Blue Heron Custom Tours can help. For more information, please call me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.