On October 17, 1989, I was sitting in my studio in the Bayview neighborhood of San Francisco, listening to the start of the World Series game taking place about a mile away at Candlestick Park. What came to be known as the Loma Prieta earthquake struck around 5pm. I ran outside, just what you are NOT supposed to do, to see and feel the ground jumping up and down like I was on a trampoline. As the concrete building next door developed an alarming crack, I heard someone say “como Ciudad Mexico.” I rushed home to Potrero Hill to find the only damage at our place was three broken wine glasses. Fortunately we had more glasses and a supply of wine.
In December of that year, I was working for a contractor in San Francisco. He got the job of putting a damaged building at 280 Shipley Street, in the South of Market neighborhood, on a new foundation. Shipley runs from 3rd St. to 6th St. between Harrison and Folsom. Built in 1906, it was a two story place with four flats in it.
It was a dark and dreary fall and winter in the City. Everything seemed beaten down by the disaster. I had paid a brief visit to Tijuana the year before and I was struck by the polluted air and grime of the Avenida de la Revolution (I’m sure it’s very different now). Mission Street had that feeling to me in December of 1989. Yet I was full of energy and optimism. I had just finished my MFA at San Francisco State and I was beyond excited about making sculpture and having a brilliant career.
At first, the contractor, Dan, put me in the fallen building to erect some bracing to protect against further damage from after shocks. It was freaky being inside it. Everything leaned like the buildings at Confusion Hill, the venerable tourist trap in far northern California.
That part of SOMA is built on bay fill, and the streets were bulk-headed and raised (like Pioneer Square in Seattle was in the 1880s https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seattle_Underground) after the 1906 quake. Because of that, they all had basements, which used to be at street level, and half submerged doors and windows.
I was poking around down there and found some artifacts belonging to a Leslie M.
Some facts about Leslie M.
On Sunday, February 4, 1989, at 12:27AM, Leslie M. was booked for an alleged crime committed at 507 Cole, San Francisco. He was 18 years old at the time. Charges are listed as N/W 11377 H&S, and 11357b H&S.
He was working at a welding shop in SOMA in 1989.
In 1987 his Grandma wrote him from Wyoming expressing her confidence in his abilities.
Sometime between 1985 and 1987, he was arrested in Casper Wy. as part of a meth operation.
Inside the covers of a small address book he wrote the following:
“Party hardy Rock-n-Roll
Drink a fifth and smoke a bowl
Take a toke and make it last
Hope to hell it kicks your ass.
“what the fuck you doing reading my book asshole.”
“Fuck off bitch”
“Heavy Metal Rules AC & DC”
After initial bracing, the building was raised using hydraulic jacks and put on cribbing.
The building was raised and the cribbing placed by a house mover who lived in a compound out by Candlestick Point with a lot of dogs. His face was crisscrossed with scars from the explosion of one of his hydraulic lines, he told us. I only met him once, and that was probably enough.
Peter, the other carpenter, and I and some laborers worked digging out the basement by hand and with a jack hammer. The underside of the building was about ten feet over our heads. Freaky, when aftershocks hit. The design was to put a full height basement under it.
The ground was mostly sand, but when you got down a ways we hit jumbled brick that was dumped there after the ’06 quake. We found a lot of ceramic shards, pieces of glass, and other objects.
We eventually dug down to the little creek that still flowed under that part of SOMA. (Apparently part of Hayes Creek, which flows into Mission Creek.)
As we dug, we filled five gallon buckets with sand and debris, carried them to the front wall, boosted them up to the sidewalk level, and then into a dumpster. Eventually, through some of the hardest physical labor I’ve ever done, we got it excavated and filled with crushed rock, compacted, and concrete forms set. I used a builder’s level (for the first time) to level the forms.
Shipley really is an alley, and the back doors of buildings open on to it. Some of these buildings were full of women working at sewing machines. Clouds of industrial fragrance billowed out.
Every day at lunch time I would walk down Shipley to 5th and go to Harvey’s Café. Harvey’s was a famous hangout for bike messengers. Harvey Woo would loan them money or give them credit so they could eat when without funds. He had a big board behind his counter where he kept slips of paper with each person’s account.
Leslie Guttman, SF Chronicle, September 10, 1989: (Quake: October 17)
“It is Friday night. And, like the rest of San Francisco’s workers, the bike messengers head to their hangout, a grimy South of Market alley off Fifth Street, where their paychecks are cashed by their guardian angel and their dreams of the future have a brilliance that only a Friday night can bring. At least a couple hundred of the city’s approximately 400 bike messengers swarm, like bees to a hive, to Shipley alley, a narrow corridor between Folsom and Harrison streets, to let off steam after a week of dodging double- parked trucks, cars barreling through yellow lights and jay-walking office workers, their faces buried in their watches. Here, next to the alley, lives the man they call the Patron Saint of the Bike Messengers. Harvey Woo is the 49-year-old owner of Harvey’s Place, a little grocery store/lunch counter. In an era of bland chain superstores, Harvey’s is a relic: a first-names-only, family-run joint. As they say in the alley, “If you’re about to starve, you go to Harv.”
A dispatch from 2008 via Yelp:
The condos and other new buildings have proliferated on Shipley and all over the City, particularly South of Market, but a few of us remember Harvey’s.
Michael Acker, april 2021