The Embarcadero – Rincon Annex Murals

 Posted by on November 23, 2011
Nov 232011
The Embarcadero
Rincon Annex
98 Howard Street
Panel #17
Panel #17. “Vigilante Justice Vigilance committees formed during the 1850’s in San Francisco to counteract excessive criminality and a weak city government. These committees handed down verdicts on their own terms. Vigilante justice was also popular in mining towns. This panel depicts vigilante actions in 1856 that resulted from the murder of newspaper editor James King of William by county supervisor James P. Casey. Casey was convicted and hanged at the same moment King of William was being buried”
Panel #20
Panel #20. “San Francisco as a cultural center The famous San Franciscans pictured in this panel are, from left to right, acress Lotta Crabtree, writer Frank Norris, horticulturist Luther Burbank, writers Robert Louis Stevenson, Merk Train, Bret Harte, publisher and writer Hubert Howe and writer Jack London. On the far-right is a scene of ghost-like WPA artists painting a mural, a commentary on the federal art programs which had ceased to exist earlier in the 1940’s. The broadside pictured in the upper center relates to the 1863 racy melodrama, Mazeppa, a play in which actress Adah Issacs Menkin appeared seemingly nude (actually in flesh-colored tights) while on horseback. “According to Rob Spoor “Cultural Life in San Francisco” originally showed books by controversial authors; they were painted out. Even Lotta Crabtree’s pink outfit was considered too risquÈ for 1950s San Francisco (but remained unaltered).
Panel #25
Panel #25. “Building the Golden Gate Bridge. Construction of the Golden Gate Bridge was begun in 1933 and completed in 1937. At that time, the 4,200 foot span was the longest in the world. The towers are 746 feet high, ship clearance underneath the roadway is 220 feet. The chief engineer, Joseph Strauss designed and built over 400 bridges during his lifetime. The Golden Gate Bridge is considered his masterpiece.”
Panel #27 World War II

Oddly, there is not explanation plaque for this particular mural.

All the descriptions following the murals on this post can be found on plaques near the murals.

Refregier was born in Moscow and emigrated to the United States in 1920. After working various odd jobs, he earned a scholarship to the Rhode Island School of Design in 1921. Refregier found inspiration in tragic events. He was quoted as saying that “the richer we [were] in possessions, the poorer we became in their enjoyment.” He said the amazing part of that period was the “human quality, the humanist attitude that [everyone] had” and the discovery that “the artist was not apart from the people.” He struggled as a muralist until the government began the Works Progress Administration.

The Embarcadero – Rincon Annex Murals

 Posted by on November 21, 2011
Nov 212011
The Embaradero
Rincon Annex
98 Howard Street
Panel #10
Panel #10. “Raising the Bear Flag The Bear Flag revolt established the Republic of California, one month before the United States won the territory in the Mexican War. John Charles Fremont was a prime force in instigating the revolt and William B. Ide became president of the short- lived republic. The original Bear Flag, designed by William C. Todd, flew over Sonoma for a brief time. The piece of white cloth seen lying on the ground was originally the Mexican flag. Because some people thought this was disrespectful Refregier painted it out. Its colors are still visible beneath the white overpaint.”

According to Rob Spoor, the Mexican ambassador protested the Mexican flag lying on the ground. The flag was “whitewashed” by the painter, although close examination reveals the original flag’s red and green stripes peeking through the attempted cover-up.

Panel #11
Panel #11. “Finding Gold at Sutter’s Mill.  Sutter’s mill was a sawmill on the property of John Augustus Sutter. Located on a fork of the American River, the enterprise was financed by Sutter and constructed under the supervision of his partner in the venture, James Marshall. Marshall discovered gold at Sutter’s mill on January 24, 1848 and began the California Gold Rush. The nugget Marshall found is known as the Wimmer Nugget named after Marshall’s assistant, Peter L.Wimmer”
Panel #22
Panel #22 ” Reconstruction after the fire Immediately after the quake, the national guard and army troops under the command of General Frederick Funston helped San Francisco police and firemen maintain order in the city. In addition, the soldiers prevented looting, helped with temporary housing, food distribution, communications and sanitation. Soup kitchens and tent cities in the local parks were the first signs of reconstruction. Clearing the rubble and rebuilding the city took years.”

All these descriptions can be found on plaques near the murals.


Rincon Annex Murals

 Posted by on November 20, 2011
Nov 202011
The Embarcadero
Rincon Annex
98 Howard Street

Panel #3

The murals in the Rincon Annex Post Office, have lived a long and very controversial life.  In 1941 the WPA held a competition for the murals, it was won by Anton Refregier.  He began work immediately and kept at it until they were finished in 1948, with a two year break during the war.  He was paid $26,000 for the job, the largest job ever given by the WPA in the painting/sculpture arena.

The twenty-seven murals (29 panels) are actually casein-tempra (a process of painting in which pigments are mixed with casein, or egg, especially egg yolk, to produce a dull finish) on white gesso over plaster walls.

The murals underwent 92 changes while they were being painted, all results of special interest groups.  If you are interested in reading the controversy and politics involved in these changes, Rob Spoor  has done an amazing job in his education of City Guides.

Panel #3. “Sir Francis Drake – 1579 Sir Francis Drake, an English navigator and privateer, set sail from Plymouth (England) in 1577 on a voyage around the world. According to accounts of that voyage, Drake landed in a California harbor in June of 1579. He stayed for 36 days during which time he had good relations with the Indians, repaired his ship and claimed the land for Queen Elizabeth of England, naming it Nova Albion. The precise location of Drake’s landing is not known. Various theories suggest it may have been Bolinas Bay, Drake’s Bay, the Marin side of San Francisco Bay. Bodega Bay or Point Reyes.”  Notice the blood at the end of the sword, depicting the Spanish as a bloodthirsty lot.

Panel #4

Panel #4 “Conquistadors discover the Pacific Baja California was discovered by Europeans in 1533 by a man named Fortún Jiménez of the Cortés expedition. By 1540, Ulloa, another member of that expedition had explored the Sea of Cortés. Also in that year Hernando de Alarcón had sailed up the Colorado River and in 1541 Francisco de Bolaños explored both sides of the Baja Pennisula. The first European to explore Alta California, the land above the Baja Pennisula, was Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo who sailed to the Santa Barbara Islands in 1543.”

Panel #6

Panel #6. “Preaching and Farming at Mission Dolores The purpose of all California Missions was to Christianize the Indians. In addition to religion, the Indians learned farming, building, spinning and other basic skills. All instruction was given in Spanish.”  According to Spoor  the Catholic Church protested the large belly of a friar depicted in a Mission Dolores mural while the Indians appeared gaunt. In response to these objections, Refregier performed “artistic liposuction”.

Panel #8
Panel #8 “Hardships on the Emmigrant Trail The Emigrant Trail was a term used to describe various overland routes to California in the 1840’s and 1850’s. The subject of this panel is the trail through Donner Pass in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California. Both Donner Summit and Donner Lake are named after the Geroge and Jacob Donner brothers of Illinois. Their party of 87 settlers were forced to spend the winter of 1846 along the shore of Donner Lake after being trapped by heavy early November snows. Only 47 group members survived.”
Panel #24

Panel #24. Titled – “The Waterfront 1934.   This controversial panel depicts events surrounding the San Francisco dock strike of 1934. On the left a shakedown operator demands bribes in exchange for longshoremen jobs. The center shows labor organizer Harry Bridges addressing dockworkers. The right third refers to what is known as “Bloody Thursday, July 5, 1934, when employers battle strikers to open the docks. Two longshoremen died and many on both sides were injured.”

Again, according to Spoor, The VFW and even some labor organizations were incensed that labor organizer and alleged Communist Harry Bridges appeared to be rallying workers, including one with a VFW insignia on his hat, in the mural “Maritime and General Strike,” and pointed out several inaccuracies in the three historical events depicted. The longshore workers union was especially sensitive to the association with 1930s-era Communism, from which they’d distanced themselves by the late 1940s. In response to their objections, Refregier painted out the VFW symbol.

From:  Anton Refregier: Renaissance Man of WPA
Of the 27 panels covering the walls of Rincon, the most widely reproduced (via silkscreen) is the scene “San Francisco ’34 Waterfront Strike,” which takes on the 82-day strike that crippled the shipping industry all along the West Coast. Workers were striking against low wages caused by corruption and graft, and before the outrage and rioting died down, three men were killed, out of the 31 who were shot by police and the dozens who were beaten and assaulted with gas.  Refregier did not paint violence or defeat in his mural, but instead focused on the solidarity of the union workers.

All these descriptions can be found on plaques near the murals.