Celebrity Interview: Meet the Bernal Author Who Wrote the New Book About Apple Design Guru Jony Ive

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If you own an iPhone or iPad, you’re probably familiar with the work of Jony Ive, Apple’s senior vice president of industrial design. Likewise, if you’ve recently upgraded your iDevice to iOS7, you’re now intimately familiar with Ive’s approach to design, which, in simplified terms, seeks to make the form of the interface follow its function more closely.

Ive is famously media-shy, but neighbor Leander Kahney of Moultrie Street just completed a much-anticpated a book about him. It’s called “Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple’s Greatest Products,” and it goes on sale Nov. 14.

Neighbor Leander’s wife told Bernalwood that the book represents the culmination of “14 long, painful stressful months of blood, sweat, tears and lots of swearing,” so we decided to do a celebrity interview with Neighbor Leander to find out more about his prose-creation process:

Bernalwood: How much of the writing for your book did you do in Bernal Heights?

Neighbor Leander: I did the majority of the writing in Bernal, mostly at Martha & Bros coffee shop and Progressive Grounds. I’d go to Martha in the morning and fuel up on coffee — it’s the best on the hill. At lunchtime, I’d go over to Progressive for a bite to eat and spend the rest of the afternoon there.

Did you find any places in Bernal Heights that were good for your muse?

It’s non-fiction, so it was less muse, more head-in-hands crying and deadline terror. Writing is torture for me. I have an office in the Mission but found it impossible to concentrate there. I’d spend all day surfing the net or cleaning. I need the buzz of a busy coffesshop to help me focus.

What about the dread writers block? Did you discover any Bernal-based remedies for that?

Walking certainly helps clear the mind. I’d often pace up and down Cortland. Sometimes I’d hike up to the top of Bernal Hill. That would sometimes help, but most of the time I just wanted to fling myself off a cliff.

There are a lot of people in Bernal Heights who write books. It’s kind of like having a dog. Why do you think Bernal is home to so many writer-types? Is there something in water here?

I’d say that’s true for San Francisco generally, although Bernal is definitely a hotspot for creative-types. Up until a few years ago, it was your classic semi-affordable, bohemian neighborhood. We’ve been here for 13 years, and back then it was the only place we could afford. Our house was a half-derelict crack house. There were bars on everyone’s windows. Now people worry about their succulents.

If Jony Ive had to do a midday meeting in Bernal Heights, which coffee shop do you think he’d choose?

I think he’d forego the coffee shop and chose a nice discreet bar, like the Lucky Horseshoe. He does all his deals over a drink, according to people like Bono, although he frequents much fancier places like the bar at the Clift Hotel. However, he could hang out at the Lucky Horeshore and not draw too much attention to himself. He’s a shy guy.

Neighbor Leander’s book is called “Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple’s Greatest Products,” and it is available for pre-order now.

PHOTO: Neighbor Leander, avoiding the temptation to throw himself off a cliff

A Brief History of How Cesar Chavez/Army Street Became So Damn Awful in the First Place

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The photo above (Thanks Mark!) shows a view of Cesar Chavez Boulevard looking west from Folsom in 2008, a few years before the current/ongoing sewer and streetscape improvement project got underway. As you can see, it is very unlovely.

In the comments to Monday’s item about the removal of the ugly-ass, freeway-style road sign across Cesar Chavez Boulevard, Neighbor Andy was prompted to wonder how Cesar Chavez Boulevard became so awful and so highway-like in the first place.

The short explanation is simple: Cesar Chavez — formerly Army Street — WAS designed to be a highway. Sort of. The wide thoroughfare as we now know it was carved out in the 1930s and 1940s, with the intention of using the road as a major east-west route to carry automobile traffic, first to the US101 Bayshore Freeway (which was built in the early 1950s), and eventually to the Southern Crossing, a second transbay bridge that was planned to terminate in the area around Army/Chavez and Third Street.

Wait. A second transbay bridge??? At the foot of Army/Chavez?? WHAT??!!

Follow along as we take a quick survey of Army Street history, give-or take a few years here and there:

1859: Here, Precita Creek runs unfettered down the present-day Cesar Chavez Boulevard corridor, providing a primary route for water drainage for the eastern slopes of Twin Peaks. It also functions as a sewer. Present-day Precita Avenue shadows the route of the former Precita Creek. Army Street not created yet, but Navy Street ran parallel:

1888: Precita Creek still a creek. Army street is a jankey east-west road that runs alongside it:

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Circa 1900: Precita creek channeled underground, Army street built on top

1931: Check out this amazing view of Army Street, looking west from Harrison, when it was a relatively normal San Francisco City Street (with a streetcar line!). That’s Le Conte Elementary School (now, Leonard Flynn) on the left, with the St. Anthony’s church steeple behind it. The church burned in the 1970s.

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1936 and 1937: Bay Bridge and Golden Gate Bridge open to traffic.

Late 1930s: Army Street widened from a normal 4-lane city street to an 8-lane surface throroughfare. This is why many of the houses on the street are so close to the curb, with no front yards. Eminent domain is a bitch.

1940: View west on Army at Harrison again, showing both widened and unwidened portions. The caption on this photo hopes “the city soon may have the money to finish the widening.” Good times.

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1940s: Flush with bridge-building ardor and postwar can-do, Southern Crossing bridge proposed.

1947: Here’s a view looking south from Potrero Avenue at the Army Street intersection. That’s Bernal Heights in the top right, with the stairs leading up to Holladay. The US101 freeway was built here 10 years later.

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1948: A Southern Crossing was envisioned as part of an urban freeway network that would have encircled Bernal Heights in a maze of concrete viaducts, including one that followed Mission Street:

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This scenario is so grim that we must zoom and enhance to see how bleak it really was (while also admiring the map’s realistic attention to geographic detail). Note the Army Street interchange on the proposed Mission Freeway, at the western end of Precita Avenue. Oh my:

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1948: Here’s another view of the City’s proposed freeway network, showing more clearly how Army Street would have played an important role as an east-west artery to the Southern Crossing (and how thoroughly all of this would have sucked for Bernal Heights):

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1949: California Department of Public Works map shows the Southern Crossing linked to the Bayshore Freeway via a dedicated highway, with Army Street feeding southwestern San Francisco

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Check out the Army Street detail:

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1950: Shortly before US101/Bayshore Freeway construction begins, aerial view shows the now-complete Army Street widening, and the undeveloped approach to the proposed Southern Crossing:

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1953: Army Street, shown from street-level at South Van Ness, a few years after the Army Street widening was completed. Notice how then-and-now photos reveal that today’s nasty-ass Army St. streetscape design is basically unchanged from this time:

Then and Now: South Van Ness at Army Street, 1953

1950s: US101 converted from Potrero Avenue/Bayshore Blvd. routing to the elevated limited-access freeway. A roundabout under the Freeway connects Army, Potrero, and Bayshore.

1960s-1970s: I-280 constructed in San Francisco

1968: Steve McQueen begins iconic “Bullitt” car chase on Army Street at Bryant in Bernal Heights. Location looks just as unpretty then as it does today.

1970: San Francisco Chronicle declares “Southern Crossing Should Be Built,” arguing in favor of a “missing link the Bay Area’s traffic system” that would carry 36 percent of all transbay traffic to San Francisco, diverting 45,000 vehicles a day from downtown.

1971: Even after most other San Francisco freeway projects have been abandoned, California Freeway Planning Map still shows proposed Southern Crossing:

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1972: Sierra Club freaks out over proposed Southern Crossing. Voters reject a bond measure to build a Southern Crossing bridge terminating in Hunter’s Point.

1973: Army Street/US 101 Spaghetti Bowl interchange built, replacing the roundabout that previously linked Army with Potrero Ave. and Bayshore Blvd. The new interchange was intended in part to serve traffic coming from and going to a future Southern Crossing:

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Late-1980s: No means no. Another proposal to build a Southern Crossing dies amid widespread opposition from environmentalists.

1995: Amid much grumbling, Army Street renamed Cesar Chavez.

1995-2010: Southern Crossing proposals basically dead in the water, although Diane Feinstein advocated the idea yet again in 2000. Cesar Chavez Boulevard remains very ugly.

2012: Big, sexy new sewer main installed under Cesar Chavez:

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2013: Work begins on Cesar Chavez Streetscape improvements intended to strike a better balance between cars, pedestrians, bikes, and adjacent neighbors (not necessarily in that order). When finished, the basic configuration will look something like this:

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So there you have it.

Looking back on the last 80 or so years, the unifying thread in Army/Chavez history is that, first and foremost, the street was intended to serve as a high-volume route within a regional transportation plan that envisioned freeways and a future transbay bridge as its core elements. Like Precita Creek that runs underneath it, Army/Chavez was designed to carry traffic flowing from Twin Peaks eastward toward the shoreline of the Bay.

In that sense, the conspicuous ugliness of Army/Chavez is simply part of its function, because it was designed serve as a backbone of a car-centric vision of what San Francisco’s future required.

For a whole host of reasons, that’s not quite how the future turned out. So now — at last! — Cesar Chavez is being reimagined around a different vision for a different kind of future; a future in which Chavez continues to serve as an important artery, while also doing more to serve the neighbors who use it and live near it.

Of course, that may or may not be how the future actually turns out. So check back with again us in 80 years for another retrospective.

UPDATE: Let the bonus photos begin!!

Neighbor Joel dug into his photos archives and pulled up some more Army Street gems.

Here’s a view of Army Street during the street widening, circa 1940. Looks to me like Army at Harrison, shortly after the properties on the north side of Army were condemned and removed. (This block then became a rather notorious public housing project.) I believe the building visible just to the left and behind the (now-demolished) school-like building is the northwest corner of Army and Shotwell; that’s the same garage workshop space that’s now home to John’s Jaguar Repair:

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Google Street View confirms the location; notice the two houses on the far right:

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Neighbor Joel also sent a clean aerial shot of the Army-Potrero-Bayshore roundabout under the 101 freeway, probably sometime during the 1960s.

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Bernal Designer Creates Fabulously Cool Folding Lamp That Looks Like a Book

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Neighbor Max lives on Folsom near Eugenia. He tells Bernalwood that he left his corporate job about a month ago to work on a lighting project he invented. It’s called Lumio, and it’s totally spiffy:

Three days ago Max launched a $60,000 fundraising drive on the Kickstarter to begin production. Now — get this! — he’s already blown through that goal, with a colossal $111K pledged. Wow. (Engadget FTW!)

Go Max, Go! Bernalwood gives you a neighborly high-five, and we can’t wait to buy one on Cortland.

PHOTO: Neighbor Max with a Lumio

Bernal Architect Creates Whimsical Steampunk Bathroom

Residential architect Andre Rothblatt lives in Bernal Heights, and he recently finished a very wild project: a Steampunk Bathroom. In an email to us, Andre explains:

The bathroom was part of a whole house remodel of a Craftsmen-style home is located in Ashbury Heights. The clients are 30-something techies; He’s a computer engineer and she reviews patent application. They introduced me to the Steampunk genre. I’ve always enjoyed industrial design influences in architecture, and I was enthusiastic to design the bathroom in that style. We were lucky to find a great contractor (Frederic Grasset, also Bernal Heights resident!) who teamed with us to realize this imaginative design.

PHOTO: via Andre Rothblatt

Gift Guide: A Homegrown Toy, Developed in Bernal Heights

Need a last-minute gift idea for the kids in your life? Neighbor Matt contacted Bernalwood to tell us about the educational toy he created:

I live on Anderson Street, 13 years now already. Back then I was making computer games. But then the powers that be began looking into making even the golf games violent. I knew it was time to move on. I took time off and pursued patenting something that was the opposite of the computer game: battery free; non electronic; hand held; educational; and real. My effort took 10 years. I founded Twisterz Toys 2 years ago. We are now in 250 retail stores across the country, and in Barnes and Noble, and in 7 countries. We’ve won several awards, and our reviews have been excellent. This might all sound good, but we remain on the brink. My biz partner and I chose a tough time for a start up toy company.

The closest retailer that sells our toys is Peekabootique in Noe Valley. Check us out if you’re looking for battery free edu-toys for kids 3-10.

Want to see it in action? Here’s the promo video:

Bernal Artist Transforms Traffic Lights Into Tableware

Neighbor Lauren Becker has been busy of late, creating industrial-chic tableware from recycled glass. This weekend she’s having an open studio at Recycled Glassworks on Bonview to release some of her new work:

Ever wondered why Bernal Heights doesn’t have any traffic lights once you leave the “flatlands” of Mission/Cesar Chavez/Bayview?

I have them. Sort of.

I just got a good load of traffic lights lenses in — thrown out by surrounding neighborhoods. When they leave my art studio, they have been turned into eye-catching plates. In my Bernal studio, I have been upcycling plate glass into functional tableware for many years. Usually I create artful bowls and dishes from windows, which were discarded by contractors or homeowners nearby.

Occasionally, traffic light lenses come my way. The traffic light dishes are a rare sighting because most glass lenses have already been replaced by more efficient LED lights. If you hate red lights, here is your revenge: eat from them!

This weekend, for the first time, I will open the doors for a Holiday Open Studio where the neighbors can see the entire collection:

Saturday/Sunday (Dec 17/18), noon to 5pm at 238 Bonview St (half a block from Cortland Ave, around the corner from Avedanos).

PHOTOS: Recycled Glassworks

Who Created that Cool Kinetic Sculpture in Holly Park?

La Principessa Errante, a blog about San Francisco art and architecture, has the answer. The sculpture is called Odonatoa, and it was created by Joyce Hsu:

Born in Hong Kong, Joyce Hsu received her BFA from the Mount Allison University in Canada in 1996 and her MFA at the San Francisco Art Institute in 1998. She works out of Oakland and creates all kinds of mechanical sculptures.

This kinetic sculpture of painted stainless is one of many insects that Joyce has created.

PHOTOS: La Principessa Errante