You know housing prices in San Francisco are absolutely insane when the cheapest house on the market costs half a million dollars and is virtually uninhabitable.
It’s no secret that buying a house in the Bay Area is next to impossible for the average person. According to Zillow real estate experts, the median listing price for a detached home in San Francisco is $1.15 million, and the median monthly rent is around $4,000. That’s a lot more than most people can afford, but if you keep an eye out, you can sometimes find better deals. Like this house in the Excelsior District of San Fran currently on sale for “just” $499,000. Half a million bucks is not pocket change, but compared to most of the houses listen on real estate sites, it’s practically a steal. The only problem is that you can’t really live in it.
Colma, a quiet Californian town of roughly two square miles is home to 1,700 living residents and over 1.5 million dead ones. Most of the town’s forever-silent population are people who lived and died in San Francisco, but, just like most of today’s living residents, couldn’t afford to spend their afterlives in the expensive metropolis.
In the year 1900, San Francisco was a city crowded by the dead. During the gold rush, gold miners, merchants and immigrants from all around the world flocked here in search of a better life, bringing with them disease, and as the death toll rose, the 27 cemeteries filled to the brink of overflowing. They were considered a health hazard, but most importantly, they were taking up a large chunk of prime real-estate, so in 1902, the City and the County Board of Supervisors banned further burials in the city and forced larger cemeteries like Laurel Hill and Calvary Cemetry to move their residents outside the city. The fight to keep the dead in their original resting places lasted a few decades, but by 1942, only two cemeteries remained in San Francisco – The San Francisco National Cemetery and the Mission Dolores Cemetery. They are still around today, but neither is accepting new burials.
Over 150,000 dead bodies were moved from San Francisco to the small town of Colma, a small community established in 1892, when Archbishop Patrick Riordan decided to create a new necropolis in a valley five miles south of The City. The small field of potatoes that he blessed as the site of the new Catholic Cemetery would go on to become the world’s only incorporated town where the dead outnumber the living.
A couple of wine experts from San Francisco are apparently able to perform a miracle otherwise credited to Jesus Christ himself – they claim they can turn water into wine in a mere 15 minutes! The synthetic wine, made without the use of grapes, is produced by combining water and ethanol with flavor-compounds that can mimic the taste of real wine.
Mardonn Chua and Alec Lee, founders of the start-up Ava Winery, said they were inspired to create the grape-free artificial wine after spotting a bottle of award-winning Chardonnay at a winery in California’s Napa Valley last year. They couldn’t afford the bottle of Chateau Montelena, but they got to thinking of ways to make wine that anyone can buy. “I was transfixed by this bottle displayed on the wall,” Chua said. “I could never afford a bottle like this, I could never enjoy it. That got me thinking.”
So they skipped the expensive step of growing and fermenting grapes, and instead started off with ethanol, the major component in most alcoholic beverages. Then they added compounds like ethyl hexanoate for that fruity flavor. Their initial attempts were disastrous, but they kept trying and eventually achieved some decent results, including a very close replica of the sparkling Italian white wine Moscato d’Asti.
Unable to afford the soaring apartment prices in San Francisco, 25-year-old illustrator Peter Berkowitz built himself a box to serve as his bedroom. Living in the 8×3.5×4.5-foot ‘bedroom pod’ now costs him less than $500 a month.
Berkowitz had originally planned to share a two-bedroom apartment with a friend in the city, but later realised that he wasn’t going to be able to afford it. “I was far too optimistic at first that we could find a place that wouldn’t cost a fortune,” he told Business Insider. “It didn’t take long to realise that that wasn’t a feasible plan though.”
After a bit of brainstorming, Berkowitz recalled his experience of climbing into a model of a Japanese ‘capsule’ hotelat the Smithsonian’s Cooper Hewitt Museum in New York. That memory led him to a unique solution to his housing problem – he decided to share a one-bedroom apartment with his friend instead, and build a wooden box in the living room to be used as the second bedroom. “Two people looking for a one-bedroom apartment makes the city a lot less scary,” he explained.
One of the dire problems faced by homeless people across America is the shortage of public showers and toilets. Unofficially dubbed one of the homeless capitals of the nation, San Francisco’s 6,500 homeless have access to only about 16 to 20 shower stalls. But Lava Mae, a San Francisco nonprofit, is trying to make a difference by converting retired city buses into mobile shower stations.
Lava Mae is the brainchild of former marketing executive Doniece Sandoval, who, moved by the plight of the homeless around her, quit her job to help them. “One day I passed a woman in the street and she was very dirty and basically crying, and I heard her say that she would never be clean.” Sandoval told ABC News. “There’s obviously a lot of layers but I was wondering what her opportunities were to actually get clean.”
There is a group of fruit lovers in San Francisco that practice something known as “guerrilla grafting” – they graft fruit bearing branches onto fruitless, ornamental trees across the Bay Area city. Having access to free fruit sounds like a wonderful idea, considering the number of homeless people who can rarely afford a decent meal, but guerrilla grafting is actually illegal.
In many metropolitan areas, urban foresters make sure that flowering fruit trees don’t bear any fruit, in order to keep fallen fruit from making a mess on sidewalks and attracting vermin. Most public trees are fruitless, a fact that the Guerilla Grafters obviously don’t like. While authorities see urban fruit-bearing trees as a nuisance, these agricultural rebels see them as an opportunity to provide fresh, healthy produce for free to anyone who walks by.
According to their Facebook page, “Guerrilla Grafters is a grassroots group that sees a missed opportunity for cities to provide a peach or a pear to anyone strolling by. Their objective is to restore sterile city trees into fruit-bearers by grafting branches from fertile trees. The project may not resolve food scarcity, but it helps foster a habitat that sustains us.” Their mission, they say is to make delicious, nutritious fruit available to urban residents through these grafts.
A mysterious San Francisco philanthropist has found a unique way of giving back to the community – leaving hidden cash all over the city.
According to a Bay Area online magazine called The Bold Italic, an ‘anonymous real estate magnate’ emailed them to “say that they’d launched a campaign just last night where they’re hiding cash all over San Francisco, including outside our office.” The email stated that the gesture would continue indefinitely, with no commercial interest whatsoever.
“There is nothing commercial about this,” wrote the benefactor. “It is a social experiment. Our Twitter page will show people where the money is hidden. There are a few hundred dollars hidden last night already, and this will continue. We have two $100 bills hidden and some $20s.”
The world famous Bushman of San Francisco, real name David Johnson, has been entertaining passers-by in Fisherman’s Wharf for over 30 years by hiding behind two Eucalyptus branches and jumping out at unsuspecting tourists as they walk by.
The Bushman of San Francisco is an alleged homeless man who rakes in a reported $60,000 a year from his original street performance, with just two Eucalyptus branches and the cardboard box he sits on. David Johnson was born in Indiana, where he worked as a crane operator crane operator, steel mill worker and truck driver before moving to San Francisco. Here he opened one of the first shoeshine stands on Market Street, but arthritis and growing competition from the busy Financial District forced him to look for a new way to make a living. After discovering some fallen branches under a tree, Johnson was inspired to use them in a street act that would eventually make him famous all around the world. Sitting on a makeshift stool, the Bushman hides behind the Eucalyptus branches waiting for tourists to walk by. When they get close enough, he jumps from behind the greenery or waves it in their direction scaring the daylights out of them, to the amusement of nearby spectators, many of whom reward his performance by throwing a quarter or a dollar into his jug.
Ray Bandar, a retired biologist from San Francisco, has spent the last 50 years collecting thousands of animal bones. He estimates he has 7,000 skulls, 200 pelvises and countless other limbs from animals he mostly found and cleaned himself.
“I enjoy removing the flesh from the skull and disarticulating the jaws,” Bandar recently said in an interview for National Geographic’s Taboo series. “I see nothing gross about this, whether it’s a fresh animal or a badly decomposed animal, makes no difference to me.” The native San Franciscan grew up in the Richmond District and started collecting different animal specimens in junior high. That’s when he got the nickname “Reptile Ray”. As time passed, his passion for collecting and cleaning dead animals grew, and he is now the proud owner of a collection of over 7,000 skulls, including 2,600 from California marine mammals. Over the years, his own discoveries have been supplemented from local zoos, museums, taxidermists, roadkill, and trips to Australia, Africa and Mexico. His house is like no other on Earth – every room is virtually crammed with bones and skulls from animals Ray decapitated himself, but he still roams the beaches of Northern California looking for new and exciting additions to his museum home.
Liz is well versed in photography, video and sculpture, but she discovered her favorite art medium is Jell-o. We all crave a few spoons of wobbly goodness, from time to time, but Liz Hickok would rather use Jell-O in her work, rather than eat it. Her “San Francisco in Jell-O” installation received media coverage from the likes of the New York Times, San Francisco Magazine and other reputed members of the media.
To create her lovely miniature landmarks, from Jell-O, Liz Hickok first makes scale models of the structure she wants to reproduce, which she uses to make molds. Each element is then cast in Jell-O, placed on the set, which is dramatically illuminated from the back or from underneath.
Sadly, Jell-O buildings decay pretty fast, and all that remains are the photos, which you can admire below.