85 2nd Street

85 2nd Street
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From the Chair: 85 2nd Street’

It is located at the corner of 2nd Street and Mission in a busy section of downtown San Francisco. There was no sign out front – nothing to indicate this was a special place, 85 2nd Street. Even inside the building, at the ground floor security guard area, there were no signs indicating the world-famous tenant in this space. Was that for security reasons? We bounded up the steps to the second floor lobby waiting area, and there, on a small nondescript plastic lettered black and white sign, was the announcement: Sierra Club,

National Headquarters. I didn’t know whether to be disappointed or proud. The lobby was anything but POSH. There were old, used couches where a few people could sit, and some battered simple bookcases holding hundreds of “Sierra Club Books” laid out for browsing. A dark old receptionist desk with a twentieth-century telephone on its corner. Were we being cheap, or understated?

I was the beneficiary of a tour by a seasoned veteran at the Club.

She whisked us throughout four floors of the club. We saw a lot of things quickly: many cubicles with editorial cartoons hung over the sides, usually poking fun of our current President or one of his cabinet appointees; papers, magazines and files lying all over the place; personal computers whirring; a mail room with tons of brochures and envelopes everywhere; a crowded yet impressive research library; one beautiful room with Yosemite landscape paintings, Ansel Adams photos and antique books a; a huge conference meeting room made up of old tables and old chairs where the Board meets and where large office get-togethers are held. I met staff people, lawyers, and others wandering about….when the tour was over I met with Bruce Hamilton, the National Conservation Chair. His office looks like a war-room: maps, papers, charts, etc. He was dressed like one would imagine, in a flannel shirt and docker jeans. He had a moustache and full beard. This guy had spent some serious time in the woods and kayaking the outwaters. Bruce was cordial and when we discussed Northeast Florida business I was impressed with the many details he knew about our local concerns.

“I studied up on Florida knowing you were coming, Warren,” and smiled. I knew better. During the conversation I mentioned visiting Muir Woods. Bruce pulled out note paper and said, “I want you to go to a place that has as many Redwoods as Muir Woods but no people – this will be a great hike,” and he drew the map in detail.

That evening we had made arrangements to take four young Sierra employees out to dinner to discuss inside matters. I asked them questions: “What is Carl Pope really like, does he know any of your names?” “Does the top brass waste money on trips and conferences or are they frugal?” “Is the attitude among the workers here idealistic or cynical – do most people have hope for the future of our planet or do they feel doomed?” We had a great exchange; a lively discussion.

These young people, all in their mid-20s, did not own a car and rode bikes to work, did not drink alcohol (I think one guy might have had a single beer), ate vegetarian food, and were all honored to be involved with the Sierra Club, despite the low pay. They were wonderfully idealistic and enthusiastic. It was an inspiration to be around them.

Bruce’s map worked out great that weekend. Walking amidst the redwoods, in the land John Muir, David Brower, Ansel Adams, Rachel Carson and other Sierra heroes have hiked thinking about the good young Sierrans I dined with the night before well, it was music for the soul.

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