Friday, February 11, 2011

Off The Beaten Track: Inspired by Architectural Details (Don't Forget Your Walking Shoes)

Gigi Pandian is a mystery writer and photographer in the San Francisco Bay Area. She was awarded a Malice Domestic Grant for her first mystery novel, Artifact, featuring treasure-hunting Indian-American historian Jaya Jones. You can learn more about Gigi and her writing at and check out her mysterious photographs at

One of my favorite things in the San Francisco Bay Area is a favorite of mine in any city – walking around to check out the architectural details.

In San Francisco, it begins with the beckoning skyline as you approach the city. Once here, walking through colorful neighborhoods of restored Victorian houses and high-rise buildings from every era gives a taste of the city. Walking along the historic Barbary Coast trail in the downtown area provides a glimpse of the city's seedier history – for example, saloons that have been here since the Gold Rush, built from abandoned ships left behind by the crews in search of gold.

San Francisco doesn't have as many gargoyles on its buildings as I'd like, but it makes up for it with its character.

Of any city I've visited, New York City has the best walks for stopping every few feet for a new stunning architectural detail – like a dragon below a window, and this ornamental face above a doorway, shown in these photos. 

 There are so many gargoyles and other ornamental carvings on buildings in New York that there are tours set up specifically to view these architectural details.

In London, even the government's Parliament building is adorned with whimsical gargoyles. But in London, stepping off the beaten path leads to some of the most interesting stone carvings. A few feet from bustling streets, you can find yourself in a secluded Victorian cemetery full of beautiful hand-carved angels. It can feel like you're a thousand miles away from the crowded sidewalk you walked down to get there.

None of these cities needed to put these stunning details on their buildings and gravestones. But there's something compelling about adding beauty and mystery to our creations.

Here are three self-guided walking tours if you find yourself in any of these cities and would like a touch of mystery:

San Francisco's Barbary Coast:

New York City's "monster walks" in search of gargoyles:


  1. I love admiring beautiful architecture in the cities I visit too, Gigi. And yes, I absolutely love gargoyles. So cool that you've dedicated a whole site to your marvelous photos of them -- I can't wait to check them out as well as these walking tours you've linked us too. Thanks so much.

  2. Hi Gigi,

    Great post! Putting the Victorian cemetary walk on my list for next trip to the UK!

    Lovely seeing you at the MWA meeting too,

  3. Hi Gigi. There are wonderful gargoyles on Washington's National Cathedral. To see the best ones, you have to tour the cathedral and look out from windows in stairwells, etc. Some are quiet whimsical.

  4. Thanks for blogging with us today, Gigi! I like to photograph architectural details too. My favorites are old doors. In Iran a lot of old doors have two knockers of different shapes and weights, one for men and one for women. They produce different sounds so the family inside can tell the visitor's gender. I'd collect the doors themselves, if they weren't so heavy, unwieldy and firmly attached to the building. So I take pictures instead.

  5. Supriya and Heidi -- Thanks for having me! And Heidi -- I've got a soft spot for old doors, too, so perhaps I should post my photos of beautiful old doors sometime ;) -- that's fascinating about the gendered door knockers!

    Cara -- As much as I love Paris, the cemeteries aren't as beautiful as the ones in the UK, so I think you'll enjoy visiting the ones around London.

    Patricia -- I'll definitely have to check out the National Cathedral the next time I'm in DC.

  6. Beautiful photos, Gigi. I'm a gargoyle fan, also and I absolutely adore the architecture of San Francisco. I think the hills lend something really special to the skyline and gets architects thinking about unique ways to work with the landscape.

  7. Thanks, Alli. I used to want to be an architect as a kid, so perhaps that why I love living here :)

  8. The few times I've visited San Francisco, I've lost so much weight from walking up and down. I love the city! I have a small collection of gargoyles from Italy and two from the National Cathedral in DC. You can buy tiny replicas in the gift shops. They're protecting me and my house!

  9. I love gargoyles - and chimeras that often adorn medieval buildings as well. The Notre-Dame is one of my favorites; no matter how many times I visit it, I always study every little detail. Sometimes I wonder what would happen if they came alive.

  10. Kaye -- It's true, I think I stay healthy, both in body and mind, from living here :)

    Lina -- I wrote a short story where a gargoyle comes alive, so I'll have to keep you posted when I get it published!