"All good things are wild and free." --Henry David Thoreau

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Potrero Hill: From Water Tower to Library

My mom called this morning and mentioned Potrero Hill Library was having its grand reopening. “There’ll be a lion dance,” she said, “but I just want to get some books.” She’s had to use other libraries for years, it seems, while the Pot Hill Library underwent major renovations. I said I’d come over to her house, and walk to the library where I hoped to catch the Chinese lion dance, curious about my baby’s reaction to the leaping lion costume and the pounding drums.

It’s been a while since I’ve walked across the top of Potrero Hill from my mom’s house to the library. Today I rediscovered one of my favorite routes.  

The big blue water tower on 22nd Street, between Carolina and Wisconsin, is my first reference point. A good decade and a half ago, there was a crappy fence around the water tower and my teenaged self clambered up it like a monkey and I trespassed the grounds around the tower, climbed the trees, and never encountered anyone else. Now the fence is new, tiny chain link, and the tower is off-limits. Ah well, my interests have changed.

At Wisconsin and 22nd Street a long staircase cuts through the block in an easterly direction, leading to Arkansas Street and a park. I’ve always loved San Franciscan staircases that work like “secret” shortcuts between blocks. This one was a favorite since childhood, back when I regularly walked across Potrero Hill to get movies from Dr. Video, or ice cream from the Daily Scoop. I love the wide steps of the staircase, framed with sour grass and funky houses, the tall, dark trees, and the view of the San Francisco bay and Oakland hills.

At the bottom is Arkansas Street, and across the street is the park, simply named the Potrero Hill Recreation Area. There’s a trail there, running east-west. I could still see a glimpse of the bay. Uphill were tennis courts. Further east were the Potrero Hill Projects. I left the trail at Connecticut Street to get to the library, passing a community garden where people were hard at work, preparing their beds for spring planting.

So when I got to the library, I missed the lion dance, but ran into some very good friends, munched on free veggie sandwiches and a slice of cheese pizza (courtesy of Goat Hill Pizza and Klein’s Deli), listened to a funky folk band, and watched a group of kids from my high school alma mater, International Studies Academy, give their first choir performance, a hand-clapping, foot-stomping show where they even sang a Coup song.

The Potrero Hill Library used to be a bleak sort of building, single-story, post WWII construction. The bathroom was up a creepy, long, dark staircase. Now it’s two-stories, clean, well stocked with books, and full of light from floor-to-ceiling windows. And it was packed with people, a good reception. I meandered about with my baby in her sling, checking out the art hanging from the ceiling, peering out windows, inspecting the family bathroom (which I am bummed to report has NO baby-changing table, just a lipless countertop next to the sink, already sloppy and wet). One of the best physical aspects of the new library is its view of downtown from the Children’s Area where benches face the windows. I overheard a girl remark to her mom, “This is the perfect place to sit and read a book!”

Three hours later, I trekked back to my mom’s house the way I came. If I had taken regular streets, the climb would’ve been pretty intense, especially with a seventeen-pound baby in a sling and a diaper bag. The trail and staircase made the walk easy, and the baby, kicking her legs and drooling, was thoroughly entertained.  

Potrero Hill Library
1616 20th Street (near Connecticut)
415. 355.2822

Family Storytime
For infants to 5 years old, with parents.
Thursdays at 10:30 a.m.
March 11, 18, and 25

Fratello Marionettes: “Carnival of the Animals”
Saturday, March 27
3 p.m.
All ages