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Goast Pier and Islais Creek


I returned recently with Pam to visit Goast Pier, Alley 102 in the Bayview/Hunter’s Point neighborhood of San Francisco. I wanted to learn more about the crane, the channel and the abandoned buildings in the area. What I learned was amazing.

The waterway in the image is Islais Creek, once the largest body of fresh water in San Francisco, and once the source of most of the city’s drinking water. It has suffered one indignity after another.

In the 1860’s, slaughterhouses in downtown San Francisco were forced to pack up and get outta Dodge – the city had had enough with the smells, sounds and carnage from the butchering. Islais Creek was pristine and in the wilderness in those days, so the city’s eighteen slaughterhouses converged here, and “Butchertown” was born. Eventually, 35 slaughterhouses would open here, and you can imagine what happened. The creek, which emptied into the Bay, was the preferred destination for their waste, and in no time became a cesspool, literally running red with blood, and rotting with offal from the butchering. Along with the human waste being dumped here, it became an open sewer and soon earned the well-deserved name “Shit Creek.”

The abandoned building in Goast Pier was one of these slaughterhouses, the last of which closed down in the late 1960’s.

Over the years, and especially after the 1906 earthquake, almost the entire creek was unceremoniously filled in, covered and converted into a culvert, so that today this stream runs under the city. The Bay itself is about a mile from the setting of Goast Pier, and this one mile channel is what remains today of the visible creek.

The crane in the image is another tale all together. At five-stories tall, and suported by rotting pilings, it towers over the creek. Its name is the Copra Crane and it had one purpose: to load and unload processed coconut meat (known as copra) from ships coming in from Southeast Asia. It was the last hand-operated crane in the Bay, and it took a toll on the workers. Longshoreman were paid extra to work this pier due to the harsh conditions. It was last used in the 1970’s, and was soon targeted for demolition.

In the 1980’s an effort was made to revitalize the area around the creek. Copra Crane was saved and deemed a historic labor monument and parks were built, along with a water treatment plant. It was a stunning reversal for a much tortured creek. Celebrations inaugurated the opening of the park, and from all accounts the area’s transformation was a roaring success. But for all this effort, the area could not stop the bad luck and ineptitude that would soon follow.

The Creek’s most recent indignity occurred in 2001 when a sewer main under the creek ruptured, flooding the creek with sewage. The park area had to be excavated, costing as much as the original improvements. The creek and park never fully recovered and the area remains an industrial slum. While standing in the park, I had to read a sign to realize that I was in fact in a park. I was not convinced. Still, for someone who loves urban decay, this is a fascinating area to explore.

In an effort to save the crane, Flyaway Productions performed a fascinating dance on the Copra Crane 10 years ago that was videotaped. I doubt they would trust the structure today…

Here are some shots I took last week of the area:





über Kansas City

I’m finally back home. My show in Kansas City went great which is surprising considering the ice cold economy. Also great is the über friendliness of Kansas City, and catching up with my friend Brian. What’s not great was the insane travel time: the long flights between California and Ann Arbor, MI where my van is, followed by an 11-hour drive to KC and 11 hour drive back.

Any way, enough of that… Tomorrow I’ll post a good blog following a return visit recently to the site of Goast Pier (Alley 102)

Also, I’ll be posting a new image from St Paul, MN very soon



5000 Staples

Today is a momentous day for me. I never thought I could do it, but now I know my true potential. I finally emptied my box of staples! I’ve had this box for over 20 years. Its possible other staples made their way into my stapler, but this box just stuck around, and now I’m wondering, did I really staple 5000 things??. I was a little sad to toss the box into the recycle, ergo this little tribute to my box of staples.

But then!! as I grabbed my stapler to put the final strip in, I realized the stapler is even older than the box!! My dad gave me the stapler when I was a tiny tot. Other staplers have come and gone, but like the old box, this stapler just stuck around… and mainly because it’s always proven to be the best and it doesn’t jam up like many other crappy ones. And because I lose things faster than anyone I know, this is a small miracle.

Here’s my old stapler and now empty box of staples:




  1. Snapshutter 4.27.09 / 5pm

Hi Xavier,

Haven’t talked to you for a while. Are you coming to the Twin Cities again this summer? I have a photo on my site you might appreciate. Unfortunately it accompanies a tragic story.

  1. X4.27.09 / 10pm

Yes I’ll be in Minnesota in early August. Looking forward to it. I read the news story related to your post… urban exploring can be a dangerous sport. Sad story…

  1. Randy Grant4.28.09 / 1pm

you know you’re the son of a middle-class mechanical engineer when, as a child, you’re given a rugged, high-quality stapler. I knew I was the son of a middle-class electrical engineer when, as child, I was given my very own short-wave radio. Gotta love ‘em.

  1. Randy Grant4.28.09 / 1pm

I hope you gave the staple box a proper christian burial with the full rites of the church.

  1. Michael T. Murphy4.30.09 / 8am

Naw, you **did not** use them up! It never happens.

You probably lost at least 3/4 of them in a drawer somehwere. Go look around.

In fact, I *just* found some staples on the floor in our family room yesterday! I never asked my wife if they were hers, I just quietly set them on the counter.

Now I am sure they are yours. I will mail them to you, so don’t bother to buy new ones.

I was given a nice electric razor when I was about 11. I immediately took it apart and never got it back together. That’s what I did with everythinmg mechanical. Got yelled at for it – guess that is why I decided not to be an engineer? Shame.

  1. Tatjana 4.30.09 / 2pm

Duuudeee. 5000 staples? That’s HELLA staples.

Let me know when you’re in the LA area.


Shoot

I went shooting last Monday in Berkeley and Oakland with my friends Thomas and Derek. It had been months since my last night shoot, so it was about time. Over the next 6 months I’ll be travelling almost constantly, doing shows and bringing my camera, so I’ll be shooting a lot which is very good! I fly to Detroit next Tuesday, and I’ll be in Kansas City the following Thursday.

Below are the 2 polaroid test shots I did. In Oakland, I did something I’ve never done: I arrived and set up while there was still light out. When I had scoped it out during the day a week before, it looked like it would be too dark to see if others were around while approaching, and once you arrived, you had few options for escaping. I did my polaroid test, then shot the film when it was dark. All went smoothly.

Our next stop was an area in Berkeley with several abandoned buildings that at one time had made up a huge paint factory. I’m more excited about the shot I did here, but as in all things, you never know…

Berkeley factory polaroid: a very rough version of what I have on film.


Oakland polaroid:



  1. Randy Grant4.27.09 / 6am

I really like the Berkeley factory polaroid. The lack of crispness gives the subject a kind of ghostly quality. You should print the image as is and display it alongside the image you have on film.

  1. X4.27.09 / 2pm

Thanks Randy! The film version is the only one I can print from, as the polaroid is a 2-inch print with no negative. Any way I’m sure the film version is far better but thanks again…


the rut

I was flipping through a copy of Adbusters this weekend and came across this hilarious cartoon by Phil Selby



  1. Tatjana 4.21.09 / 8am

HAHAHAHAHA. That’s fricken hilarious!

  1. randy 4.24.09 / 3am

You should send this to Steve. He’s probably not aware that his Dad was a graffiti artist in NYC in the 80’s.

  1. randy 4.24.09 / 3am

It’s strange the way Harry is signing his name Edward. Must have been his street moniker


Hip Hop menace p.2

Another image from my madcap week in the Dominican Republic many years ago with hip-hop band B.O.C.

A sample of their music is available here. And yes thats my photo on the cover, although it was hardly my favourite. The fourth guy wasn’t always around and was eventually kicked out of the band.



  1. randy 4.19.09 / 6am

I heard that in true hip-hop style the fourth guy was actually murdered in a drive-by shooting ordered by latin record mogul Juan ”El Rey” Suarez. Is that true or was that just a rumour circulating around Rikers ?

  1. X4.19.09 / 7am

If I had a nickel for every rumor I heard in my 3 years at Rikers… What is true, however, is that the guy in the red shirt (can’t remember his name) was found dead years later in NYC from a drug overdose.

  1. randy 4.24.09 / 3am

The gangsta rap lifestyle of gangs, greed, girls poolside, drugs, murder…my little joke wasn’t so far off I guess…In NYC I always got the impression that hard drugs were most prevalent among the Dominicans and the PR’s. I think they found the transition to life in NYC the hardest. Quite a culture shock to go from rural D.R. to the noise and clamour and winter cold and foreign language of NYC (or North End Montreal for that Matter)


Susan Boyle

I’ve been hooked in like so many others…

If you haven’t seen the video yet, this is a must!! I blogged the other day about lacking inspiration recently – these few minutes with Ms. Boyle will give you a massive inspiration injection.


  1. Randy Grant4.18.09 / 9am

Boyle’s size is probably an asset. You don’t see too many emaciated female opera singers. I saw aretha franklin on TV one day and she was saying that for tone quality she liked to be around 200 ibs and I don’t think she’s particularly tall.

  1. the chosen one5.4.09 / 9pm

hey whats up XN i met up with you in kansas city…i was the guy blown away by your method of obtaining the blue on the bus. Anyways man this video is perfect in everyway..and yes a true inspiration that the sky is the limit for anyone…

respect!



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