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San Francisco’s plague, de Young isn’t green, Muni crime, and more

Four things to know today

DeYoung museum exterior closeup, browns and reds. Photo by Jinx McCombs

Welcome to Curbed Cuts, a tri-weekly digest connecting the dots between shelter, structure, parks, transportation, and more.

Greening the de Young

While most building owners are engaged in a constant battle to keep their facades looking as good as the day they were unveiled, the architects behind Golden Gate Park’s de Young Museum had hoped for degradation following the building’s 2005 completion—degradation that isn’t happening as swiftly as anticipated.

It’s a nice problem to have, perhaps? As reported in San Francisco Magazine, architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron decided the building should have copper paneling to cover the building’s full 293,000-square-foot facade, with the plan that (like an old penny in your pocket) it would turn a glorious, park-appropriate bright green in about 15 years.

There are at least two things that haven’t quite worked with this plan: First, numerous sources tell Curbed SF, the paneling created a cell-phone dead zone that frustrated visitors and staffers alike. That issue was eventually resolved, much to the delight of Instagrammers across the galleries. But less manageable is the environment, which hasn’t cooperated with the designer’s plans for decay.

“Twelve years later, you’d be hard-pressed to call the joint green, exactly. Rather, it’s darkened to a deep-rust color and is only streaked with green—mostly on the building’s northern face, where the gutter system channels rainfall runoff,” SF Mag writes.

Now the fabricator behind the 950,000 pounds of copper used to wrap the structure says that it’ll take closer to 50 years before we get the green we hope for, due to a drier climate than expected as well as SF’s relatively non-polluted air (yay!), the purity of which is less inclined to cause metal to oxidize (boo?).

Screengrab from ABC 7

The playground of the future?

Even though the long-delayed renovation of Mountain Lake Park is preparing for its big reveal next month, it might not be the most cutting-edge playground in the Bay Area, it seems. That honor might instead go to the Emeryville Center of Community Life, San Pablo Avenue’s “182,271 square foot mixed-use community and educational facility” that’s home to the country’s second “vertical playground” built specifically for urban areas.

Though the $96 million facility opened last fall, it wasn’t until yesterday that they unveiled its playground, a caged, vertical structure created by Dutch design firm Carve.

Carve’s “Walhalla” playground design is described by ecosysma urbano as “vertical mesh screens enclosed a series of undulating ribbons. The ribbons undulate to become walking surfaces at some points, walls at others or ceilings. The exterior vertical screens have climbing holds place intermittently on them to allow children to climb around on the exterior surface.” It was nominated for the Dutch Design Award in 2006, and eventually made its way to Boston and now, Emeryville.

"I think all cities with urban playgrounds should be looking into a play structure like this. It makes sense," Emeryville schools superintendent John Rubio tells ABC 7. More importantly, says current child Raeann Al Dhaheri, “It's pretty fun and pretty scary at the same time, but mostly fun.”

A squirrel frolics in Golden Gate Park. Photo by

Feeling sickly?

We all spend a lot of time talking about the 1906 quake, as a result of which about 3,000 people lost their lives, the USGS estimates. That’s perhaps why we don’t hear as much about the San Francisco Plague of 1907, during which far fewer people died of that old classic, the bubonic plague.

Science historian/journalist K.N. Smith reminds us of the outbreak via Forbes, in a deep dive that also details the disease’s first outbreak in Chinatown at the turn of the century. Much of the information from the 1907 plague comes from Rupert Blue, the head of SF’s Marine Hospital Service.

It’s Blue who noted that fleas (which we now know carry the plague) were "unusually prevalent" in the city at the time, and that "on account of the great catastrophe, sanitary conditions were unusually bad in the city at that time." Blue had public health workers round up SF rats, where they learned that “rats living in messy basements and stables tended to have the most fleas—and thus the greatest chance of carrying the plague—while sewer rats had relatively few fleas” (you can read Blue’s full 1909 Journal of Hygene report here).

Despite the rats’ rap, it was “an infected ground squirrel” that was thought to be the 1907 plague’s Gwyneth Paltrow. The 1907’s plague’s last case was reported in 1908. All told, 159 infections and 77 deaths took place across only 21-blocks in San Francisco.

Photo by torbakhopper

Muni crime time

It’s inevitable that any frequent rider of a San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency vehicle will eventually witness weird or illicit stuff (your accounts are always welcomed in the comments!). And then there’s Muni crime, thefts and assaults that happen daily. In a blog post published Tuesday, the SFMTA reminds us that “Crime on Muni vehicles and in stations has dropped steadily since 2013,” but acknowledges that their buses and trains can be hotbeds of infamy.

That’s why, the SFMTA says, victims and witnesses of crimes on the bus should “never put yourself in danger” (besides the danger of riding Muni, ha ha), should call 911 and “alert the Muni operator if he or she doesn't seem to be aware” as soon as it’s safe to do so, and should, if possible “discreetly take photos or videos of the incident to provide to police.”

Also important to note, Muni says, are “the time, location and Muni vehicle number,” as those details are, they say, “are important for any investigation and action to be taken.” Which almost seems like an implication that if you don’t have that info, they won’t do much.

Finally, the SFMTA says, any non-emergency issues can be reported to 311. Will that actually do any good? Your guess is as good as ours, but maybe it’ll make you feel better.