February 2005

Bay Bridge Follies
Letters to the Editor
New Ship Sails to Sausalito–Opportunities for All!
Mare Island Welcome Center is Now Open in Historic Mansion
Dispatch from the Dogpatch… A SeAm Between
In Richmond Today
Crab Fest Fever
Afterguard’s Broiled
Salmon Afloat
Bay Crossings Gardens
“Food from the Heart” at the Ferry Building Marketplace
Giant Storms in LA Affect Bay Area
WTA Pages…Ferry Rewards
Minds Meet at Underwater Forum on California’s Ocean Future
Bay Ghost Phenomenon
Bay Crossings Calendar
New Horizons at Webster Street’s Arts & Crafts Campus
Love, Lust, and Heartbreak

Dispatch from the Dogpatch

A SeAm Between

Landscape artist, merchant, and cultural anthropologist/philosopher Topher Delaney


By Zannah Noe

Topher Delaney is a tour de force unto herself. A world-renowned landscape architect and conceptual artist, she has made a trade in putting serenity in space. She’s a spry woman, who looks every bit the avant guard artist, especially with her choppy, short hair. Known for her landscaped sanctuary gardens, Topher originally studied cultural anthropology and philosophy at Barnard College in New York in the 1970s. After transferring to UC Berkeley, she widened her influences to the West Coast’s outlook of reuse-recycling, spiritual practice, and the different cultural uses of land. Topher is an extremely productive and multitalented woman who is comfortable working in landscaping, sculpture, public art, publishing, and retail.

Scrutinizing two massive, three-ring binders filled with articles and interviews from all over the world that span 20 years, it is evident that Topher is a prolific artist. Images of cracked open walls with gardens blooming through a yawning crevice and yellow-haired grasses lining a hillside turquoise pool in Napa are some of the magical spaces that Topher has designed. Fountains of huge bowls of water with overflowing edges showering down on a graveled path, exemplify the words of William Blake: “…melting apparent surfaces away and revealing the infinite which was hid.

”Incorporating the theories of ethno-botany and her cultural anthropology background, she tries to understand the context a plant inhabits within its environment, which then influences the role of plants in her sanctuary gardens. When she designed a healing garden for the Breast Cancer Center at San Francisco General Hospital, she

  The Dead Ship Shore

Known as “Rotten Row,” the ship carcasses that littered the shoreline staked shady claims to these early water lots. The still intact ship Niantic came to her end in 1849. Water tight and intact, she was floated to her resting spot on at the northwest corner of Clay and Sansome Streets and operated as a hotel. On Battery and Clay Streets, the General Harrison rests. Originally built in 1840 in Newburyport, Massachusetts, it served the high seas for ten years. After it was abandoned by its crew, it was scavenged by a “Hulk Undertaker,” as they were known at the time, for use as a warehouse in 1850.
The sailing ship the Apollo was hauled up to rest on Front Street, between Sacramento and Commercial Streets, and housed a brisk restaurant business. At the southwest corner of Sacramento and Front Streets, the hull of Thomas Bennett rests, running parallel with Sacramento Street. Hardie, an English brig, and the ships Inez and the Noble are located in the block bordered by Davis, Drumm, Jackson, and Pacific Streets.
The fire of 1851 leveled many of these ships to their burnt out hulls and dispersed the entrepreneurial pirates that ran them. Eventually, the shoreline was filled in.

Source: The Armada of Golden Dreams, Chronicle, July 2, 1916 by Walter J. Thompson. Thompson is a writer who captures the spirit of the 1850s waterfront and its characters with poetic eloquence. Search google or visit http://www.zpub.com/sf50/sf/hgsto3.htm.

incorporated healing plants used in pharmaceuticals to develop a contemplative and educational space to aid patients in their recovery. Creating serene spaces that incorporate comfort, healing, and faith in and of the land is a trademark task for Topher.
After 9/11, Topher was inspired by the spontaneous gardens left at the doors of New York firehouses. Seeing this act of compassion, remembrance, and tribute, she was moved to create something that was permanent yet would grow with time. She created the WTC Forest Memorial (wtcforestmemorial.org), where 3,000 trees are being planted to represent each of the 9/11 victims from New York and the surrounding Burroughs. This living memorial serves as a passionate way to filter the grief into the environment and embed memories into the landscape as a lasting tribute.

To experience a space created by Topher, all you have to do is enter her little shop SeAm. It’s in the heart of Dogpatch waterfront (in New Yorkese, “Do-Pa, Wa-Fo”), on the corner of 17th and Illinois Streets. People stroll in through the meat locker curtains that form the doorway and often ask, “What is this place?” The handmade clothes, tools, sculpture, crafts, and design books that filled the industrial space make a strange inventory. It is apparent that the proprietor has many converging interests. The shop is a laboratory of ideas that hint at Topher’s work as a landscape designer and give the public a glimpse into the inner sanctum of a very talented and complex artist. Topher’s working studio sits directly behind the retail area. It is a space with a wall of books, collected art, workstations, and a workshop. It is a seamless environment where inventive concepts are born and transformed into conceptual products, art, and garden spaces. A shop and practice in a creative class of its own. If there were a rating system for Dogpatch businesses, SeAm and the work of Topher’s studio would get 4 Fire Hydrants.

General Harrison, the Buried Ship
The financial district of San Francisco was built on mudflats that dried at the base of the neighboring hills. At one time, the muddy shoreline came up to Montgomery Street. The mudflats were riddled with masts, an armada of toothpicks hugging the shores. The hulls of abandoned ships left by their crews when they headed for the gold in the California hills were often used as hotels, jails, stores, and warehouses. In 2001, one of these ships, the General Harrison, was uncovered at the corner of Clay and Battery Streets; today the Elephant & Castle Pub sits atop the remains of the hull.
The Oakland-based archaeology firm Archeo-Tec was allowed to painstakingly uncover the ship and document its findings. As development of the site was imminent, the developers commissioned a work to commemorate the finding. Topher’s studio landed the project and worked with the archaeologists to find accurate drawings of the skeleton of the hull. Based on the drawings and photographs, Topher worked with colleague Curtis Hollenback to design and build a piece of public artwork that could be mounted on the side of the new 4-story building. Repeating the design of the outline of the ship, the sculpture is a 60-foot, flatted hull made of copper with supporting ribs that attach to a stainless steel grid and frame.

On the street level, the sidewalk is designed with the glittering shards of copper nails collected from the hull. An inlaid metal strip outlines the curved starboard edge of the ship, disappearing into the base of the building. The portside is under the building, and the bow extends onto the Battery Street sidewalk. It is reminiscent of a police chalk outline of a victim, like a shadow from the past coming up from the fill.

Zannah Noe can be reached at zannah@baycrossings.com.
Artist, writer and looking for shelter in the Dogpatch neighborhood.