Meet Joel Pomerantz of ThinkWalks

Photo: Joel Pomerantz
By Nuala Sawyer - Published on May 21, 2014.
If you've ever wondered what San Francisco looked like before it became a city,  ThinkWalks is for you.  Run by local fixture Joel Pomerantz, ThinkWalks are explorations that look in-depth at the history of our neighborhoods. 
Covering everything from ancient waterways to city planning, Joel's encyclopedic knowledge of San Francisco history can't be beat. ThinkWalks began as a hobby, but became a full-time gig for Joel 5 years ago. It started out being very closely related to his work art-directing murals like the huge piece on the back of the Church & Market Safeway. 

As his interest in San Francisco history deepened, tours of murals turned into more detailed tours of the neighborhood. What sets ThinkWalks apart is that they're "walks for locals" highlighting neighborhood details, and are not targeted to tourists.

Having lived off Divisadero for 35 years, Joel has played witness to the evolution of the neighborhood, and he has the stories to prove it. But his main  interest these days is taken up with the natural history of San Francisco. With more information that can possibly fit in this article, he agreed to give us some fascinating basic information. For example, did you know that Golden Gate Park is completely man-made? Before San Francisco was settled it consisted of rolling sand dunes that on windy days or during huge rainstorms would spread as far as Duboce Triangle (if not farther). 

(Map: David Ramsey)

Not only that, but the construction of San Francisco didn't necessarily happen east to west as many imagine. Little pockets of communities popped up in the Richmond and Sunset before they became part of San Francisco proper. In fact if you walk into Kaiser Medical Center's lobby you'll find artifacts from an old Chinese settlement that used to be on the grounds before it became Calvary Cemetery

Joel has a history in murals, natural history ... and also bikes. He's known by many as "the man who invented the term 'The Wiggle'". Is it true? We asked Joel.

"Well, sort of. It was a conversation I had with some people, but none of us remember which one of us actually invented the word. The reason I get blamed for it is because I've been a bit of a journalist, and I wrote the first article about the Wiggle in 1994."

Joel's next ThinkWalk is on June 22nd, and it'll be focused on the Wiggle. Covering just a few blocks but taking up around 3 hours, the tour will go over tons of information, from the geographic history of the neighborhood to the Native American tribes who used to live here. 

Some of the walk will be about politics and the founding of San Francisco, as well as activism. Each presentation is geared a little towards what the audience is interested in, so if you have specific questions bring them along. 

Joel is what you might call a generous historian, and he's happy to share. If you have an interest in a particular area of San Francisco history—particularly related to its geography in the early days of settlement—Joel is a resource you should connect with. Shoot him an email to Joel {at} ThinkWalks {{dot{} com, but keep in mind that he is often adventuring in the woods and may take a while to get back to you. 

And for full in-depth coverage of the Wiggle, remember to join in the next ThinkWalk on June 22nd. Walks are $40 on sliding scale. 

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