The Sunset District isn't one of San Francisco's sexiest areas. It lacks the touristy appeal of the Wharf or Chinatown, the hipster street cred of the Haight or the Mission, even the slightly stuffy, well-scrubbed chic of Pac Heights or the Marina. So just what does the Sunset have to offer? For one thing, much more history than you probably realize. Lorri Ungaretti, who leads free City Guide walking tours of her favorite 'hood, says that the splashy Gold Rush-and-Great Quake past of other quarters overshadows the southwest district's quieter evolution.
"The Sunset has undergone an extreme transformation, from uninhabitable sand dunes to a fully developed neighborhood in less than 100 years," says the Bay Area native. "And yet people don't appreciate it."
Like much of the city, the area was once a sandy wasteland colonized only by squatters. It was so primitive in the late 1800s that families who wanted to get rid of their horse-drawn carts sold them to be used as tiny houses. As the primordial trailer park grew, it became known as "Carville." The roughly simultaneous building of Golden Gate Park spurred development as well, particularly after the city erected "earthquake shacks" to house those left homeless after the 1906 disaster. Encouraged to move their shacks outside the park, refugees began relocating to the conveniently close Sunset District.
Public transportation provided another boon to the growing neighborhood, with the early-20th-century Leland Stanford steam train on Lincoln (known as H Street at the time) joined by the N Judah and L Taraval by 1930. Fecund builder Henry Doelger saw an opportunity, and swiftly began constructing row upon row of inexpensive single-family houses on the newly graded streets. His dwellings, more than anything, gave shape to the place many now know but few love -- at least, not yet. And that's where Ungaretti comes in. She discusses the area's development and presents a slide show on "The History of the Sunset District" at 7 p.m. at the Sunset Branch Library, 1305 18th Ave. (at Irving), S.F. Admission is free; call 753-7130 or visit www.sfpl.org.
-- Joyce Slaton
Not Resting on Her Laureate
"I don't think one creates poets. I think some people hear language in those kinds of ways and go down that path and develop it." So says San Francisco's current poet laureate, devorah major, in an interview in the San Francisco Bay View. Her statement confirms our theory that artists really do have voices in their heads -- talented ones. Consistently lauded as a writer with wide eyes, a big heart, and carefully crafted words, major has contributed to the Poet Laureate Series with where river meets ocean. The book includes her inaugural address and new poems that concentrate on the particular experience of being an artist in this city. What do her verses sound like, exactly? She's not going to blow unnecessary sunshine at anyone, that's for sure. An example, from "love offering": "these times are/ more than dangerous/ what is there but blood/ blood and death/ hunger, hunger and fear/ starvation of body/ and spirit/ a cruelty cut deep/ into the maelstrom of our lives." Don't worry, it gets more hopeful later. But you'll have to attend her reading to hear how. Major reads at 7 p.m. at City Lights Bookstore, 261 Columbus (at Broadway), S.F. Admission is free; call 362-8193 or visit www.citylights.com.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser
A new art form gets its due
In his many interviews, writer and illustrator Adrian Tomine (pronounced Toe-mee-nay) doesn't sound like a very nice guy. He doesn't like other people's art; in fact, he doesn't like other people. Normally, this would be irritating, but for someone as ridiculously talented as Tomine, it doesn't matter what kind of person he is -- his clear, expressive visual style and complex characterizations make up for his crankiness. His best-loved collection is Summer Blonde, but all his books are amazing.
Tomine's work is emblematic of his publisher, Drawn & Quarterly. The company is at the forefront of a new art form within the publishing world: the graphic novel, a grown-up "comic" pioneered by Art Spiegelman's Maustrilogy. Tomine and fellow D&Qer Joe Matt -- author of The Poor Bastard, Peepshow, and Fair Weather -- discuss and sign their work (there's free wine and cheese, too) starting at 7:30 p.m. at Modern Times Bookstore, 888 Valencia (at 20th Street), S.F. Admission is free; call 282-9246 or visit www.moderntimesbookstore.com.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser
Art World Arbiter
America was obsessed with all things new after World War I. The conflict had shaken up traditions, so folks embraced nouveau music, fashion, literature, and visual art. Numerous contemporary art museums emerged during this time to showcase those fresh sensibilities, among them New York's Whitney Museum, founded in 1931, with its major collections of work from modish creators like Georgia O'Keeffe, Jasper Johns, and Willem de Kooning. But decades later, art that had once appeared novel now seemed a tad faded. The Whitney's solution was to hire, in 2000, Lawrence Rinder, former head of 20th-century works at the Berkeley Art Museum, as the new curator of contemporary art. What changes does Rinder have planned for the venerable institution? How has modern art changed, and where is it going? What impact does this former local intend to make in rarefied Noo Yawk art circles? Rinder spills the beans starting at 6:30 p.m. at the Commonwealth Club, 595 Market (at Second Street), S.F. Admission is $10-18; call 597-6701 or visit www.commonwealthclub.org.
-- Joyce Slaton