A Love Letter to San Francisco
In my last month of maternity leave with you, Twyla, I’ve spent the days thinking, pushing you around in your stroller, and the nights writing this letter to you.
In my last month of maternity leave with you, Twyla, I’ve spent the days thinking, pushing you around in your stroller, and the nights writing this letter to you. I want you to know my personal history with San Francisco, with three special spots, in particular, and how they’ve shaped and influenced me. This is a love letter to you, little one, but also a love letter to this city we call home.
20th Street and Church
When your father and I flew out to San Francisco in 2006 for a week of interviews and apartment hunting, it came down to one last chance to find a place before we had to fly back to Kansas. The one bedroom apartment in a pale yellow Victorian had just been renovated by the landlord, an industrial designer for Apple, and the kitchen looked like a giant iPod, right down to the stainless steel counters with custom rounded corners. Ironic, since your dad was about to start as a web designer for Apple. We had no idea if the location (the top of Dolores Park!), was any good, but the apartment was a gorgeous mix of classic San Francisco styling and modern details. We had to have it.
And we got it! We passed a postcard view of downtown every time we left the house and said, "We live here!" to each other on a daily basis for almost a year, until giddy became the new normal. We stayed in that apartment for four years—we would have been fools not to stay as long as we could. I remember pacing its lone hallway for 45 minutes in frantic excitement when I was asked to apply for a graphic design position at the photography magazine startup JPG Magazine after running into one of the founders on the street. Months later, I would spend a few solid weekends chained to my desk in my bedroom after I accepted the job and my boss was promptly fired, immediately throwing piles of workload and responsibility my way. Years later, JPG had gone under, and I was working on a photography magazine concept of my own. I started designing my online photo narrative site, Pictory, from a desk in the kitchen and every Tuesday night I'd trade a home-cooked meal for feedback from a smart friend. I ended up running Pictory as a solo project from home for years, while winning awards and partnering with great organizations like NPR and Levi's.
I won't ever look at that view from the top of Dolores without thinking about possibility. We moved here from Kansas with such small expectations of our careers and lives and were overwhelmed by the opportunities here. In Kansas I had worked for an architecture firm and your dad had worked for the local newspaper, but here we felt like we could do anything. More than that, we felt compelled to do something.
Corona Heights Park
First, this was the underrated neighborhood park I had hiked up to after a devastating late miscarriage in May 2010, when I lost what would have been your oldest brother. I'd wind my way up to the many stairs, the ones I'd jogged so recently while 18 weeks pregnant, to the highest of the craggy rocks. And then I’d just stare out at the 360 degree view, densely packed beautiful buildings, parklands, fog, and bridges that make up our city. I'd stay past the end of the day, calmed by the white noise of the wind picking up at sunset, until it was too cold or dark to stay any longer. Given that there's a little bit of spring and fall in every day, San Francisco is an excellent partner in grief.
Then, at the end of that year, we adopted a puppy, my first as an adult. (Ramona—your first dog!) I loved her so quickly and so much. I walked her up to Corona Height's fenced dog run (a rectangle of muddy cedar chips with infinite charm) daily and learned everything I know about dogs from the owners and dog walkers there on those warm, sunny winter days. One day, while walking her home, I discovered a hiking trail I'd never seen before, winding down the cliff through thick trees, that made me feel like I was deep in the woods, until I hit what felt like a secret playground and tennis courts at the bottom.
In January 2013, your brother arrived after an incredibly stressful pregnancy involving two surgeries, two emergency room visits, and two hospital stays. He was born as healthy and red-faced as any baby ever has been. Once he was crawling we took him up to the free children's museum nestled inside Corona Heights—the Randall Museum—to see his first petting zoo and his first model trains. We'll take you there soon, too.
To many San Franciscans, Corona Heights is just another neighborhood park they've never heard of, one of dozens across the city, each with their own quirks. To me, it's a vivid reminder that I now have the family I was always supposed to, after wondering if I ever would.
You came home to a house just off Mission Street, the longest street in the city. Our stretch of it is colorful, dirty, noisy, beautiful, and occasionally unsightly. Just one block from ritzier-by-day Valencia Street, with designer shops and national chains that have taken the place of smaller boutiques and local businesses, Mission Street feels a world away—all mariachi bands, discount stores, barbershops, check cashing joints, taquerias, activist headquarters, street performers, BART stations, pigeons, and palm trees. Together, we often walk through it all, and I can hear my own steps, and see myself pushing your stroller. I figure we must stand out, given that the media constantly describes a churn of anger towards tech workers and white gentrifiers of these traditionally Hispanic neighborhoods. But when I search the faces of our neighbors and the other passersby in the neighborhood, I don't see the hate that I fear. I just see people dealing with their day-to-day and mirroring my own half-smile.
The neighborhood isn't glamorous, but in the right light it feels like a movie set, with the dense mix of local mechanics and jewelry shops all with their handpainted signage. And it's one of few places in the city where we could afford an apartment big enough for a family. We haven't lived here long, so it's unclear what the rest of the story of this corner of the city will be, for us and for everyone. We don't know what it looks like to raise four- and five-year-olds, or eight- and nine-year-olds, in the inner city, and we don't know if we'll still be here by that time. But so far it's been a wonderful place to raise you and your brother given the proximity of playgrounds, museums, beaches, and friends. As you two grow older, I hope you'll understand our choices of parks over yards, sirens over crickets, and city buses over SUVs. I hope you'll love San Francisco like we do.
[new_image position="half left" id="538290"] Founder of Pictory and Phoot Camp, Laura Brunow Miner has built her reputation on experimenting with labors-of-love-turned-business-enterprises. A photography aficionado and design guru, she has been an editor-in-chief for a magazine, and a force for harnessing the pictorial storytelling power of the internet. She lives in San Francisco with her husband, son and first daughter Twyla.
Photo courtesy of Helena Price
Tweet and instagram us #goodcitiesproject to share your love for your city.