Grant street is perhaps the most creatively used corridor in Chinatown. On sidewalk intersections, Falun Gong petitioners stand by ladies handing out menus. Elderly er wu players entertain the hundreds of tourists who stop at each shop to try on traditional hats or play with wooden swords. Grant street is heavily utilized by pedestrians-both locals and tourists alike. Everyone competes for their attention- even if that means carrying signs shouting “Happy Happy Happy” or placing their merchandise an extra two feet out on the sidewalk. Because of this, we can gather that Grant street serves a wide variety of individuals. It is only fitting that we propose an open space that caters to both tourists and local residents.
Sun Sing Center
The density of both commercial and residential buildings confines the possibilities of creating outdoor open space. Because of this, we focused on exploiting existing outdoor spaces as well as evolving private indoor areas. As we walked around Grant, we observed many abandoned buildings or makeshift souvenir businesses and vendors. We envisioned the opening of an indoor mall along Grant st. at the old Sun Sing Theater on 1023 Grant. The indoor mall would be a mixed use indoor center that has open space for both tourists and residents to enjoy. There would be a small stage that would showcase cultural performances from local artists, including Chinese Soap Opera, Chinese instrumental bands, traditional dances, in addition to Asian American art, poetry, and other performances. The indoor seating area would have tables with chess board designs and local food vendors would be able to utilize the space to sell various snacks and desserts. The indoor open space is meant to allow for a mixture of both tourists and residents to resemble a tranquil indoor area for individuals to find rest and enjoy cultural performances.
Sun Sing Center Inside
Our team immediately began searching for the possibility of an indoor space due to the density of our corridor. Upon walking into the Sun Sing Center we found that the old theater building was dilapidating and the vendors that were using the space had makeshift shelves and display cases to present their goods. We also noticed that the floor above, once used for balcony seating, was now without guard rails and was used for storage. We asked one of the workers who said that upstairs activity was unsafe and insurance did not cover it, so it was shut down to the public. With the space currently for lease, we phoned Hogan & Vest for inquiry on the space. We are still awaiting a call back.
St. Mary Square
In comparison to Portsmouth Square Park, St. Mary Square is heavily underutilized only to be frequented during lunch hours by nearby employees, by tour groups passing by to visit the 15ft tall statue of Sun Yat Sen, by a few local folks and children who visit to do Tai Chi or play in the swings - but mostly by the homeless who sleep in the benches and grass. Even though St. Mary Square sits along the edge of Chinatown, local residents are reluctant to venture out so far to access it. This park still offers much potential open space along the Grant corridor. Our suggestion to draw the community to St. Mary Square would be to use this park to host gatherings, events, and programs that would invite more people to visit. Beautifying the park by commission local artists or hold an art contest to permanently display art such as mosaics and sculptures.The park needs capital maintenance, such as a broken gate enclosing the children's play structure.
Jack Kerouac Alley
Jack Kerouac Alley is a distinguished alley with beautiful murals and Western and Chinese poetry. However, it is tourist pit stop and not really admired by locals. We would like to propose some further enhancements to this alley so that people would not just pass by and visit this alley by chance but would come to this alley to appreciate the arts and to enjoy the open space.
Our first priority in improving the alley is to paint a mural on the building from the Chinatown entrance to complete the alley, for a visual balance. Currently from the Columbus entrance, there are colorful murals on both sides complementing the City Lights bookstore and Vesuvio restaurant. However, on the Chinatown entrance, opposite from the Adopt-An-Alleyway mural, there is a bare beige wall that covers up previous graffiti. We asked an elderly couple visiting from Israel, and they said they would also like to see more murals, like on that blank wall. Painting an additional mural is extremely feasible with the cooperation of the owner.
Secondly, we propose adding benches and tables to invite people to sit and linger. Besides a couple chairs and tables out in front of Vesuvio, there are no seating throughout the alley. We suggest placing new seating near the Grant entrance and along the side of the alley so it does not cover the “poem squares” in the center lane. When people buy food from the nearby restaurants and cafes, like Tutti Melon or Nizario’s Pizza, they can come to the alley to enjoy their meals. A couple problems that may arise are keeping the area clean and preventing pigeons from resting the on roof.
Thirdly, we recommend installing lighting and planters to create a comfortable environment. Right now, there are three lamp posts in the alley placed purposely to prevent cars from going through, but this is not enough lighting. We suggest incorporating art into new lighting, such as the “book lights” above the corner of Broadway and Columbus. Better lighting will also make the alley feel safer. As for plants, the only greenery is a planter of shriveled-up mystery plants hanging from each lamp post. Adding a few flower pots in the sides of the alley or merging greenery into the seating would be ideal.
In addition, to create a good visit, something interactive that goes along with the theme of the poet’s alley should be included. For example, a “Create- your- own- poem” small moving blocks for all ages so people will stay around longer. Physical, interactive structures will create more foot traffic by providing more activities instead of just observing and taking pictures.
After visually enhancing the alley, it is important to encourage artists, events, and exhibits to attract visitors and locals to continually use this space. There are the rare times the alley would be used by many people. On certain weekends and nights, City Lights hold literary events or customers from Vesuvio would spill into the alley. During the day, tour guides bring a small crowd through the alley. To bring more users to Jack Kerouac Alley, the alley should be seen as a place of social events, like for street artists, painting exhibits, and lunch spots. Activities would to create memorable and inviting reputation of the alley and increase visits by San Franciscans.
The Meriwa Shopping Center, located between Grant and Pacific, offers existing open space that can be utilized by the community. Where the Meriwa Restaurant use to be on the second floor of the mall after it closed down is space currently not in use and could potentially be turned into a privately owned public open space or space for more commercial usages.
On the first floor of the mall, new lighting and seating can be installed to make the area more inviting for people to visit and thus would benefit the retail stores there. The entrance of the mall should also be aesthetically improved upon to make the mall more welcoming.