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Hawaii’s World

By A.A. Smyser

Tuesday, April 11, 2000

San Francisco changes,
but not too much

IMBEDDED in my mind from grade school days are some lines by the English poet, Lord Tennyson: "The old order changeth yielding place to new; and God fulfills himself in many ways, Lest one good custom should corrupt the world."

As I near 80 I have watched so very much change and think Tennyson had it right about it being so necessary.

Today's topic is not Hawaii, though it could be. Rather I'm struck by my most recent visit to San Francisco, where my wife and I stop off at least once a year.

A lot of old San Francisco spots are being mourned, most recently Washington Square Bar and Grill, a gathering place for the city's star journalists and even the Star-Bulletin's Dave Donnelly.

But a new, acclaimed baseball park has just opened only blocks from city center.

Palm trees are being extended still farther along the Embarcadero.

A wholesome, multistory new pleasure palace is called the Metreon. It's an entertainment center by Sony where one admission buys access to 15 theaters plus a giant IMAX screen plus shopping and restaurants.

The city's investment in Moscone Center, an immense underground convention center topped by gardens, has brought new life to the South of Market Area (SOMA). The Museum of Modern Art has built there.

New hotels and restaurants have come in. Once-dilapidated warehouses have been converted into upscale apartments.

Fifteen or so years ago things were so slow in San Francisco the cognoscenti could bargain for rates at almost any hotel. No more. Rack rates may be discounted but the overall price trend is up, up, up.

Castro, the gay district, has become a part of the establishment, as have gays.

But the cable cars still run. The cruise lines still ply the scenic bay and harbor with both commuters and tourists.

Fisherman's Wharf is still Fisherman's Wharf. Nearby Ghirardelli Square, new not so long ago, now has deep roots. So does Alcatraz Island as a museum instead of the toughest prison in America.

A fight is on to preserve a second general circulation daily newspaper. Sound familiar?

I first discovered San Francisco as a young Navy officer in 1944.

Our ship had transited Panama Canal from the Atlantic, taken part in the invasion of Saipan, then been ordered back to the West Coast to pick up more invasion troops.

San Francisco Bay was so full of ships that a hundred or so, ours included, had to anchor offshore most of the time. (At Pearl Harbor, a hundred-plus ships tied up side-by-side to buoys in the harbor. We walked across four or five of them to get to and from ferry service for ours.)

The streets in San Francisco and Honolulu were as jammed with servicemen as their harbors were full of ships. To us, even without the added joy of being reunited with our wives, San Francisco was magic. The Golden Gate lived in our dreams. Its cable cars, Union Square and restaurants charmed us like no other place.

San Francisco still is magic -- very different yet with important continuities from its past.

Somewhere in there lies the importance of Tennyson's words. We must change, yet we also do best when we try to retain magic elements from the past.

To change is not to throw the past away. There's a lesson in that for Hawaii, too.

A.A. Smyser is the contributing editor
and former editor of the the Star-Bulletin
His column runs Tuesday and Thursday.

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