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JEA/NSPA SF day 1 recap

Editor-in-chief Sam Cross, ‘19, travels to San Francisco to attend and compete in the JEA/NSPA 2018 Spring National Journalism Convention. Cross spoke to tourists and San Franciscans in the Union Square District, April 12.

Sam Cross | The Feather Online

Pinecrest serves as a 24-hour diner that offers locals and tourists a variety of menu items.

Commuters and travelers stroll the streets of Union Square, stepping closer to their destination with each crosswalk. The homeless dot the sidewalks often seeking charity from those who pass by. Local businesses, hotels and eateries all attract a variety of people from all socioeconomic backgrounds to historic Union Square.

Many businesses coexist in, near and around the square, with individuals experiencing varying aspects of Union Square’s diverse culture. But it’s the people who make Union Square so unique.

Family owned eatery, Pinecrest Diner offers people a plate of food and space for sitting. Pinecrest server, Christina Karahalios began working with the owners of the diner after applying to their other restaurant, The Boulevard Cafe in Daly City. Her favorite dish is the Spanish omelet with pepper jack cheese topped with salsa, sour cream and avocado and the diner’s french toast.

“I have worked here (at Pinecrest Diner) for three and a half years, but I have worked with the owners for 13 years,” Karahalios said. “They (the owners) are Greek and I am Greek and I knew them from church. This was opened almost 50 years ago; we are one year shy of that.”

Sam Cross | The Feather Online

Many enjoy Pinecrest Diner’s “Pinecrest Special” breakfast plate (pictured).

Pinecrest’s website states that the restaurant stands as Union Square’s oldest 24-hour diner. When guests visit the establishment, servers invite them to seat themselves. Many regulars and travelers conversate in the booths of Pinecrest.  

“They’ve remodeled; they’ve fixed it up but they keep that old feeling,” Karahalios said. “You can even see it in the coffee cup. It still has that old style that people love. We have tourists that come and go every year or people that travel for business and they always make it a point to come in.”

While visiting San Francisco, Steve Hillard eats at the city’s 24-hour eatery, Pinecrest Diner. Hillard serves as president and owner of Streetplus Company LLC which specializes in assisting the homeless and tourists and cleaning city streets.

Hillard appreciates the diner’s resemblance to his hometown diners in Philadelphia and enjoys Pinecrest’s breakfast dish, the ‘Pinecrest Special,’ which encompasses a plate of eggs, sausage, bacon and french toast.

“I’ve been eating at Pinecrest Diner for about three years,” Hillard said. “The food is good for a classic diner. I’m from the east coast and the east is known for diners. The Pinecrest is a great diner. I enjoy coming here and I probably come in once a month when I travel. The food and the atmosphere reminds me of home.

“The things that makes east coast diners different from west coast diners is the people,” Hillard continued. “I think the east coast people are a little more brash and a little more vocal where the west coast people are a little more laid back and quiet. The diner has a great atmosphere for people to come and talk.”

Hotels located in Union Square attract visitors from across the world. The Westin St. Francis hotel offers a historical perspective on the city to those who stay there.

Employee of 27 years, Jeff serves the Westin St. Francis hotel as a banquet waiter. Over the course of his career at the hotel, Jeff sees the hotel as a international destination for many important figures.  

“This is an amazing place to work because it is one of the crossroads of the whole world,” Jeff said. “All of the most important and influential people pass through from time to time for various reasons. It makes it exciting and no two days are ever the same.”

Sam Cross | The Feather Online

The Westin St. Francis hotel opened in 1904 and survived San Francisco’s Great Earthquake of 1906 which destroyed many of the buildings in the city.

According to the St. Francis’s website, the hotel opened in 1904 and survived San Francisco’s Great Earthquake of 1906 which destroyed much of the city. The hotel retains many of its historical characteristics, with its original clock still ticking in the main lobby. Jeff sees the St. Francis moving away from its traditional roots as a meeting place for members of the community.

“It (the hotel) used to be a much more community-based, socially integrated part of the city,” Jeff said. “All of the civic groups met here. They had all of their annual events here. Over the years, it has become more commercial and more bottom-line oriented. When I first came here, we had a protocol officer who would do things like decide which flag should fly on which day. If there was a state event, the seating would be based on the precedence of the guests. All of that has gone by the wayside.”

Union Square’s plaza serves as a community meeting place for those looking to shop eat, or rest. An open-air shop in the plaza, Bancarella Caffe serves a blend of tourists and commuters.

Tommaso, the chief operations officer for Bancarella Caffe, finds that many San Franciscans visit the caffe in the mornings before work and on lunch breaks. Tourists arriving or leaving the city enjoy sipping the caffe’s brews. Tommaso shares some of the beverages and pastries the caffe offers its patrons.

“We sell a heck of a lot of cappuccinos and lattes, brioche aka cornetto aka croissant,” Tommaso said. “It’s another one of those things that in any language, it’s still the same thing. Again there is seasonal things that happen. That’s pretty much most of the product mix items (we sell). Again there is seasonal items that we sell.”

Feather Staff | The Feather Online

Sam Cross, ’19, (left) chats with Tommaso, chief operations officer of Caffe Bancarella in the Union Square Plaza.

Tommaso oversees the two open-air caffes located in the Union Square Plaza. Guests sit and conversate at the tables provided by the park’s caffes. Despite its popularity, the park struggles with challenges from some of San Francisco’s homeless population, according to Tommaso. Young skateboarders also deface the park’s granite ledges while performing tricks.

“This park used to be a much better park as little as three to four years ago,” Tommaso said. “They say it’s supposed to be the jewel of San Francisco. If you have seen the homeless here– These are broad stroke generalizations– three different ones.

“First, you have the mentally incapacitated. You have the docile ones that you’ll see,” Tommaso said. “Then the third level is what I call the ‘Drugged out, methed out, cracked out set.’ It creates a bit of a conundrum and a hindrance to everybody here. Much like life, there are two sides. There are some positive things that happen and negative things. Personally this is a daily basis of war zone, circus and looney-bin all rolled into one.”

Less than a block away from the plaza, the Italian tailor-line, Isaia, markets itself as a hand-crafted option for men’s clothing. Frank Lloyd Wright originally designed the building the store now Isaia operates in after the company helped restore the building over the last couple of years.

Sean Yousofzoy, ambassador for Italian tailor-made clothing line, Isaia, of Naples, provides history behind the iconic building that now houses the Naples-based company.  

“Preserving the identity of the building was so important because it was a Frank Lloyd Wright building,” Yousofzoy said. “He opened this in 1948. A lot of people think that this was a prototype for the Guggenheim Museum, but its not accurate. The Guggenheim Museum was already in blueprint in New York, but it took 10 years to get it founded and built.

“The identity is very important because we know how much love it takes to keep something and to appreciate it,” Yousofzoy continued. “It takes two seconds to destroy it. Just like anything that takes years to build, but it takes five minutes to screw it up.”

Feather Staff | The Feather Online

Sam Cross, ’19, (left) interviews Sean Yousofzoy, ambassador for Italian clother, Isaia in Frank Lloyd Wright’s designed building.

During his architectural career, Frank Lloyd Wright designed more than 1,100 buildings. Wright was revered for his innovative and unique building designs.

Yousofzoy relates the buildings architectural curve to Isaia’s handcrafted lapels. He shares his perspective on Isaia’s relationship with the building’s unique design.

“When people come in here and tell me, ‘It is an honor (for Isaia) to be here,’” Yousofzoy said. “My blood pressure goes higher because without us being here, this space would have been closed today. It is a perfect marriage. Yes, it is a Frank Lloyd Wright building, but again we are Isaia and it has taken us 60 years to get to where we are. It took Frank  Lloyd Wright 15 years to complete the Guggenheim, so we appreciate that. We know how much hard work takes.”

Many individuals come together to form a culture and an identity for a city. Whether rich or poor or young or old, each person sees the world differently than the next. Union Square District and Plaza is no different. While the buildings, spaces, businesses draw countless visitors and residents alike, its the humanity of Union Square which makes it so special. Take the time to talk with them and converse with those in your community and learn more about the perspectives that surround you.

“The only thing you sometimes have control over is perspective. You don’t have control over your situation. But you have a choice about how you view it.” — Chris Pine

The compiled slideshow shares images from Cross’s day investigating Union Square in San Francisco.

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For more articles, read Singing in the Big Apple, campus choirs take New York and Local growers discuss possible consequences from Chinese tariff .

Sam Cross can be reached via email and via Twitter.

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