A QuickTake and Radio Valencia Cafe

You’re forgiven if you’re thinking “surely he meant to title this A Quick Take on Radio Valencia Cafe”.

Liberty Street runs for only six blocks but it’s complicated; it’s interrupted between Sanchez and Noe Streets, and it’s split-level, divided by a lovely strip garden, between Sanchez and Church. It starts in The Mission, crests what some call Liberty Hill – passing near the Golden Fire Hydrant above Dolores Park – and then is linked by staircase to its final vehicular block, which descends and deadends into a residential stretch of Castro Street. I lived on Liberty for only two years, 1992-1994.

They were very full years.

A static image of Liberty Street that links to the same area on Google Maps
The whole of Liberty Street via Google Maps.

Public access to the Internet was just getting off the ground and one of the things I was doing was hosting a bi-weekly series about how to use it, why you’d want to use it, and its potential impacts, at Modern Times Bookstore, then on Valencia near 20th. (Modern Times eventually moved to a smaller location on 24th Street and sadly closed up shop in 2016 after 45 years as a worker-owned business. Its Valencia Street storefront is currently occupied by VanMoof “An iPhone wih Pedals” ebikes. So much for potential impacts.) Another thing I was doing was running a fulltime modem-to-modem-over-POTS Internet connection from my apartment to a scrappy ISP called The Little Garden, with an office in the California Savings building at 16th and Mission, so that I could host my own email plus gopher-, web-, and ftp-sites from a 386 Zeos towercase running BSDi Unix.

I wasn’t cooking very much (or very well) and I took many meals at Radio Valencia. I washed them down with coffee or (pre-“Craft”) beer on tap, depending on time of day; read, journaled, socialized, and listened to a lot of music, both live and from mixtapes. The mixtapes, prepared by co-owner Don Alan, were in rotation for a week and the playlist was printed out and available at every table. In my enthusiasm for the cafe I’d drop by at the beginning of the rotation and – did I get it on diskette? take a printout home? – post the week’s playlist to a Radio Valencia page on my own fledgling website. The cafe was open late, served good food and drink at reasonable prices, was friendly and colorful without being funky … it was a textbook example of what people reminisce about when they speak of a pre-dotcom San Francisco.

The Radio Valencia logo

The Radio Valencia logo.

</figure> (As I write this I'm recalling intimate performances by Pamela Z, Lisle Ellis, the late Ralph Carney and Glenn Spearman, perhaps Rova Saxophone Quartet … I hope this triggers more memories. This time period is not far removed from the ImprovCore series hosted by [Rick Rees](https://rickrees.substack.com/) at Olive Oil's down on the pre-ballpark(s) China Basin. I deeply regret being too shy to introduce myself to the late Scott Miller of Game Theory/Loud Family one night when he was chatting with friends at the bar. I have a not-completely-trusted memory of strips of audio tape being attached to a wall with a soundhead and squawkbox available for viewers' use à la [Nam June Paik's Random Access](https://explore.namjunepaik.sg/artwork-archival-highlights/random-access/). And a memory of looking up from my writing and being taken aback to see my friend Brian, pale, ghostlike, walking to my table in a trance to sit and have some kind of human company to bring him back. I can't remember if I ever learned what had happened to him that night; like many, his time in San Francisco was transient.) The location has been occupied since 2008 by [Beretta](https://www.berettasf.com/about/), who've made it easier for me to carry on with my story by hosting this elegant, high resolution photograph of the intersection of Valencia and 23rd Street, taken through their windows, on their website.
The interior of Beretta via their website
The interior of Beretta via their website.
At 5:36p on 28 June 1995, a fire engine slammed through those windows, while Radio Valencia was open for business. Miraculously no one was seriously injured. A couple of contemporary accounts can be found at [Javawalk](https://www.javawalk.com/sffd.html) and [MissionMission](http://www.missionmission.org/2009/02/02/fire-truck-sails-into-radio-valencia-cafe/), and SFGATE has briefs on [the cafe's eventual reopening](https://www.sfgate.com/restaurants/article/Radio-Valencia-Back-on-the-Air-Mission-cafe-2992991.php) and [the investigation of the fire engine drivers](https://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Fire-Truck-Drivers-Cleared-in-S-F-Crash-3028835.php). I've been sifting through my archives and we're about to go very lo-fi.
A fire truck embedded in the building that housed Radio Valencia
Source forgotten. Original scaled up from a 233 x 148 pixel image.
I'm certain I nabbed that fire engine photo from an Internet news site. Although I was actively building sites on the Internet at the time – _that time_ being the reign of [VGA](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Video_Graphics_Array) [CRTs](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cathode-ray_tube) – I'm still shocked that the original Internet image was only 233 x 148 pixels. Which brings us to –
Finder icon for TIF image files taken with the Apple QuickTake
Finder icon for images taken with the Apple QuickTake.
– my [Apple QuickTake](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apple_QuickTake). Because of my activities with Internet outreach and [community networking](https://erictheise.com/blog/2016/11/26/megabytes-at-kilofeet-the-telluride-ideas-festival-and-infozone) I was gifted one of these early consumer digital cameras by [Steve Cisler](https://www.wired.com/2008/05/steve-cisler-ri/) around the time of the fire engine incident. Brace yourself for more low numbers: it took images that were 640 x 480 pixels. Wikipedia translates that to being a 0.3 megapixel camera. Under many circumstances the images were simply terrible and we knew it at the time. But because it was novel – it had a form factor like a clunky, oversized pair of binoculars – I occasionally carried it around, eventually shooting dozens but not hundreds of images. They might all survive but only a few are worth sharing now that I've located and moved them into the oldest folders in my (born-) digital photo library. Not long after, I purchased the 2 megapixel Kodak DC280, which produced images that were good enough for the web if not for print. (I sold the QuickTake on eBay many years ago but would entertain offers on the Kodak; regrettably it's probably not lo-fi enough to be as interesting as the QuickTake or the [Fisher-Price PXL 2000](https://www.indiewire.com/2018/08/pixelvision-pxl-2000-fisher-price-toy-experimental-film-camera-lincoln-center-series-1201991348/).) I drifted from Radio Valencia after moving from Liberty Street. What was once a fifteen walk became forty. I got busy with the Internet and a string of startups. Radio Valencia closed and Don Alan went on to [open the Hemlock Tavern in Polk Gulch and Casanova Lounge](https://sfbgarchive.48hills.org/sfbgarchive/2012/05/16/our-2012-small-business-awards/); that he owned the Hemlock feels like news to me even though I went to shows at the (closed in 2018) Hemlock. I don't know why I've never been to the Casanova. Since 2010 there's been another [Radio Valencia](https://www.radiovalencia.fm/), a community-based project that actually broadcasts (over the Internet and, [one source claims](https://onlineradiobox.com/us/radiovalencia/), over [LPFM](https://www.fcc.gov/media/radio/lpfm). Most of what I gleaned about that Radio Valencia comes from an interview with Douglas Katelus, who I know as a filmmaker, projectionist, and musician, that materialized on [WFMU](https://wfmu.org/) out of Jersey City one day. Much to my surprise! Enough words. Please enjoy these photos and please feel free to leave a comment if you have good memories of Radio Valencia Cafe or care to identify people in the photographs. I believe I have a paper broadside about the benefit that probably lists the bands that played but that I've yet to locate.
Boarded up windows
Plywood-covered windows. San Francisco Police Department barricades.
Announcement of a benefit for Radio Valencia painted on the boarded up windows
Announcement of the benefit to be held for Radio Valencia at Paradise Lounge.
Pete Friedrich inside Radio Valencia with can of spray paint
Designer/illustrator Pete Friedrich beginning to create the backdrop for the Paradise Lounge benefit.
Unremembered band at the benefit
Puzzling that this ensemble isn't wearing fireman hats because it was the uniform for the evening.
Fireman hats at the benefit
Barbara Manning and band
Peter Conheim, bass; the late Ron Burns, drums; Barbara Manning, vocals & guiitar; Brently Pusser, guitar.
Thanks Tia Foss & Peter for identifying the players.
Three unremembered benefit attendees Many unremembered benefit attendees
Signs on cafe door; We'll Be Back Soon is the only legible thing
"We'll Be Back Soon". 640 x 480 pixels are not enough to capture any of the rest.