Urban Sights: Urban History and Visual Culture

2. Potrero Hill

Potrero Hill, Bechtle's own neighbourhood, and the Sunset district, for many years his place of work, are the dominant settings of his San Francisco paintings. Like the artist's images of Alameda, Berkeley and Oakland, these areas look quietly middle class, dominated by similar mid-size family homes, cars of common vintage and make and well-maintained streets and public spaces. Automobiles are a particularly telling feature, not simply because they are ubiquitous throughout the artist's oeuvre, but because Bechtle rarely features luxury or 'show' vehicles, instead representing the station wagons and sedans of daily use. Though economic growth from the banking and technology industries over the past several decades has led to intense gentrification in the city, the Sunset's peripheral location has kept housing costs in the neighbourhood somewhat lower. If Potrero Hill's appearance still retains some industrial roots, it is likely because of the adjacent area known as the 'Dogpatch', for many years the centre of San Francisco's manufacturing and shipping economies. Originally separated from the city proper by Mission Bay, the area became increasingly populous with the connective addition of the Long Bridge and the subsequent filling of the Bay. In the early twentieth century, the low-lying Dogpatch became a shipping centre, while residential areas spread up and west over the hill. 
These residential areas are Bechtle's focus. Their elevation and position within the city provides one of San Francisco's many picturesque hill-top perches, but for the artist such overt spectacle is of little interest – the panoramic tradition has been well explored by over two centuries of painters and photographers. Instead, Bechtle utilizes Potrero sites to experiment with repetition and novel perspectives, turning the viewer's attention back toward the street surfaces and ascending house façades to investigate the neighbourhood's spatial nuances and architectural contiguities. 

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