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Friday Slide Show: Ghirardelli Square Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

3 August 2018

Funny thing about being a native San Franciscan. You enjoy the tourist attractions as much as any tourist. More, perhaps, because you get to visit them continually over your career as host to visiting friends and relatives.

We're not talking about the "attractions" (we won't name names) that only appeal to tourists looking for something that resembles Disneyland or, heaven forbid, home.

We're talking about the free Musée Méchanique at Fisherman's Wharf, to take one example. And not far from that the Maritime Museum. Or, as we highlight today, Ghirardelli Square.

The main attraction of Ghirardelli Square for tourists is, of course, chocolate, which you can see being made in the sweet shop. It's tough to photograph in there (there's barely any light) but we managed to get a few shots.

Free samples just for walking in, BTW.

The place has been around a while, and prides itself on being "the first successful adaptive reuse project in the country." As the official site has it:

This specialty retail and dining complex, housing shops and restaurants, was originally a chocolate factory established by Domenico "Domingo" Ghirardelli. Born in 1817 in Rapallo, Italy, Ghirardelli served as a Genoa confectioner's apprentice and at a young age developed a strong interest in the business. He left for Uruguay when he was 20 years old, then sailed around Cape Horn to Peru where he became a coffee and chocolate merchant. James Lick -- Ghirardelli's neighbor in Lima -- left for San Francisco in January 1848 taking 600 pounds of Ghirardelli's chocolate with him. He arrived just thirteen days before the first shiploads of gold-rush pioneers. Lured by his friend's tales of the gold rush, Ghirardelli joined Lick a year later and opened a general store supplying mustard, coffee, spices and, of course, chocolate.

Timing was everything even then, alas. But in the 1960s, the chocolate factory that had sat on the hill since the end of the last century was closed with operations moving across the bay. A group of civic-minded citizens bought the buildings and converted it into shops and restaurants just in time for youngsters like us and our three brothers to propose it to young ladies for a date.

Did we say timing was everything? Even then.

One brother actually worked down there on the corner at night with his guitar, playing folk songs and raking in the coin.

And we shot the romantic sequence of a movie we made for a college course there. Black and white. A long kiss lit only by the little decorative lights of the square as we dollied the camera 360 degrees around the couple. They later married and lived happily ever after, too.

There's apparently magic in chocolate.

So on our way to the Cartoon Museum (not to be missed either) a couple of weekends ago, we asked our visitor how they felt about chocolate. "Love it!" he said. So we popped in for the free samples and a sundae.

While he was waiting in the inevitably long line to place his order, we took a few snapshots of the old place.

Andrea's fountain, with the mermaids and frogs created by Ruth Asawa in 1968 is still there. It was strongly criticized then but her prediction has come true. "For the old it would bring back the fantasy of their childhood and for the young it would give them something to remember when they grow old!" she once said.

Indeed, we remember dining at Modesto Lanzone's right next to it, late at night after the place had closed. We had met Lanzone in Italy at a friend's place the summer before. And sitting next to him at the table, he had asked to borrow our knife to cut a tomato.

He generously returned the knife with half of the tomato, too.

None of that shows up in our slide show but it was all there playing on the big screen in our mind as we walked around taking photos 50 years later. And it was sweeter than chocolate, we can tell you.

But timing, alas, is everything.

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