Overflow X

 Posted by on August 19, 2016
Aug 192016

1500 Owens Street
Mission Bay, San Francisco

Overflow X by Jaume Plensa, Public Art in San FranciscoOverflow X  is a stainless steel sculpture by Jaume Plensa.

Jaume Plensa was born in 1955 in Barcelona, where he studied at the Llotja School of Art and Design and at the Sant Jordi School of Fine Art.

He has been a teacher at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris and regularly cooperates with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago as a guest professor.

Public Art of San Francisco

This particular design is not new.  Plensa has been utilizing the seated figure created from letters in various installations around the world.  They range in size to as large as 33 feet.

A significant part of Plensa’s production is set in the context of public sculpture with installations in Spain, France, Japan, the U.K., Germany, Canada, and the U.S.A.

Plensa has created numerous public works around the world, including his biggest project, The Crown Fountain in Chicago’s Millennium Park.

Aplique da Parete

 Posted by on November 16, 2015
Nov 162015

535 Mission

Aplique da Parete

Aplique da Parete – Gordon Huether – 2014

This piece is a pattern of dichroic and mirrored glass mounted to a stone backing.  The piece extends through the lobby to the exterior.

This and The Band are intended to enliven Shaw Alley.  Shaw Alley is a public right-of-way that has been closed to cars and is expected to function as a pedestrian linkage to SF’s Trans Bay Terminal when it is completed.

aplique da pareteThis is what the piece looks like in reality during the daytime, the first picture is the architects rendering.

Huether has two other glass based pieces in San Francisco.  Gordon Huether was born in Rochester, NY in 1959, to German immigrant parents. Having dual citizenship in Germany and the U.S., Huether has spent much time traveling between both countries. Huether learned art composition and appreciation at an early age from his father. In the course of his initial artistic explorations, Huether was resolved to create a lasting impact on the world around him through the creation of large-scale works of art. He took a deliberate step towards this goal in 1987 when Huether founded his studio in Napa, California.


The Shipyard

 Posted by on November 10, 2015
Nov 102015

Hunter’s Point has a wonderful naval history in the City of San Francisco.  The Shipyard is a housing development by Lennar Corporation that has overtaken the entire site, building housing where the Army once resided.

SF Naval Shipyard Crane

450 Ton Gantry Crane that has dominated the skyline for years.

Originally, Hunters Point was a commercial shipyard established in 1870, by the Union Iron Works company, later owned by the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Company and named Hunters Point Drydocks.

The original docks were built on solid rock. In 1916 the drydocks were thought to be the largest in the world. At over 1000 feet in length, they were said to be big enough to accommodate the world’s largest warships and passenger steamers.

Between World War I and the beginning of World War II the Navy contracted from the private owners for the use of the docks.

Hunter's Point Shipyard 1948

Hunter’s Point Shipyard 1948

At the start of World War II the Navy recognized the need for greatly increased naval shipbuilding and repair facilities in the San Francisco Bay Area, and in 1940 acquired the property from the private owners, naming it Hunters Point Naval Shipyard. During the 1940s, many workers moved into the area to work at this shipyard and other wartime related industries.

The key fissile components of the first atomic bomb were loaded onto the USS Indianapolis in July 1945 at Hunters Point. After World War II and until 1969, the Hunters Point shipyard was the site of the Naval Radiological Defense Laboratory, the US military’s largest facility for applied nuclear research. The yard was used after the war to decontaminate ships from Operation Crossroads. Because of all the testing, there is widespread radiological contamination on the site.

In 1983 the area became the home of the Hunters Point Shipyard Artists (HPSA), who rented studios in the former U.S. naval shipyard buildings.  The older studios were demolished as part of the new Lennar construction and a new building replaced them with room for about 150 artists.

The Navy closed the shipyard and Naval base in 1994 as part of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission. It was sold to Lennar with a vision of  a $7 billion, 750-acre project aimed at transforming an abandoned Navy complex into a neighborhood with 12,000 homes and millions of square feet of office and retail space. Homes began selling in May 2014.

Climbing Structure

This is Gigantry, a children’s climbing piece in the very, very tiny park at the top of the hill.  The piece was produced by Matthew Passmore at a cost of $64,500 paid for with Federal Grant money through the San Francisco Redevelopment Commission.

Matthew Passmore is an artist, urban explorer and public space advocate who brings a multidisciplinary approach to creating innovative cultural projects all over the world. Matthew was the original creative force that initiated Rebar and its first project, the Cabinet National Library, in 2004. He currently teaches at the San Francisco Art Institute.

Bayview Horn

 Posted by on October 13, 2015
Oct 132015

Bayview/Hunters Point at the Shipyards
11 Innes Court

Bayview Horn

The Shipyards at Hunters Point is a new Lennar Development.  Part of the project is $1million in art provided by a Federal Grant to the San Francisco Redevelopment Commission.

This piece titled Bayview Horn is by Jerry Barish and was purchased for $125,ooo.

Baview Horn

Jerry Ross Barrish is a sculptor and fourth generation San Franciscan who works  in Dog Patch. Barrish is a figurative artist whose early assemblages are made of found objects, actual plastic refuse and debris collected from his long walks along the southeastern shoreline.

Barrish received his Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree and Master of Fine Arts Degree from the San Francisco Art Institute.

His connection with the Bayview Hunters Point Shipyard is a personal one: during World War II his mother was a civilian working for the Marine Corps while his father served in the U.S. Navy and stationed in the South Pacific arena.

This is Barrish’s first permanent public art commission.

The Band

 Posted by on October 3, 2015
Oct 032015

535 Mission Street

The Band

The Band by Anton Standteiner -2014

This piece is part of the City’s art requirement for new construction.

The artwork is a sculptural composition by Anton Josef Standteiner entitled “The Band”, constructed of bronze, copper, and steel, situated at the corner of Minna Street and Shaw Alley. The piece consists of four separate sculptures representing members of a music group, with each sculpture measuring approximately 10 feet in height.

Standteiner, along with his brother and father make up Mountain Forge, a metal working shop in Tahoe, California since the 1960s.

Playground Mosaics

 Posted by on June 23, 2015
Jun 232015

Father Boeddeker Park
295 Eddy
The Tenderloin

True Mosaics

These little eggs sit in the playground area of the newly revitalized Father Boeddeker Park.  They were created by Laurel True of True Mosaics.

Laurel has a degree from School of the Art Institute in Chicago and Parson’s School of Design of New York.  She presently is balancing her time between Oakland, California and New Orleans, however, she travels all over the world teaching the art of mosaic.

Laura is also responsible for the Sun Spheres on Ocean Avenue.

Laura True Mosaics*

Bruce Hasson’s Ark

 Posted by on June 15, 2015
Jun 152015

Father Boeddeker Park
295 Eddy Street
The Tenderloin

Bruce Hasson

The Ark – 1985 – Bronze

This piece, by Bruce Hasson, sits in Father Boeddeker Park.  The statue, as well as the park have essentially been inaccessible to everyone until the parks 2014 renovation.

According to the plaque that sits with the statue “Following a 1983 trek in the Peruvian Andes, Hasson was inspired by the mysteries of Inca stone work.  The Ark resembles a large geological artifact.  It is symbolic of a sanctuary that protects life and a reminder of the importance of preserving endangered animals and their natural habitat.”

The Ark by Bruce HassonHasson lives and works in San Francisco, and is responsible for other iron work around San Francisco.

Hasson was originally payed $20,400.  In 2010 the Ark underwent a $21,000 renovation thanks to the Koret Foundation’s donation to the ArtCare program.  The piece has the concrete base repaired, it was cleaned and then a protective coating was added.

Redding School Self Portrait

 Posted by on June 8, 2015
Jun 082015

Boeddeker Park
295 Eddy Street
The Tenderloin

Ruth Asawa Redding School

Redding School Self Portrait by Ruth Asawa and Children of the School

Father Boeddeker

The Asawa piece is a tribute to Father Alfred Boeddeker.  Boeddeker was the Franciscan priest who founded St. Anthony’s Dining Room and he is the park’s namesake. The 4- by 16.5-foot bas relief wall mural is a portrait of Boeddeker surrounded by children.  Asawa was assisted by 100 schoolchildren from Redding Elementary School. The childrens’ images were initially created out of pastry dough, then coordinated into an overall design by Asawa. The piece was originally installed in 1985 and is made of glass fiber reinforced concrete.

Ruth Asawa Boeddeker Park

Ruth Asawa was a favorite of this author, and she has appeared many times in this site.  Asawa passed away  in 2013.

Father Boeddeker

Labyrinth in Duboce Park

 Posted by on June 2, 2015
Jun 022015

Scott Street
Lower Haight
Duboce Triangle

Duboce Park Labyrinth

This labyrinth was part of Duboce Parks revitalization plan. The plan, funded by Friends of Duboce Park, began with fundraising in 1997 and took years to accomplish.  The labyrinth was laid in 2007.

Scott Street Labyrinth

It was proposed by Friends’ Janet Scheuer, who had walked labyrinths all over the world. “We need to create a quiet spot for people,” she said. She volunteered to “own” the project, find funding and work with designers. Hal Fischer headed up the fund raising. They raised $90,000, with $5000 from San Francisco Beautiful, $25,000 from the CPMC Davies Campus that adjoins the park, and $10,000 from Charlotte Wallace and Alan Murray. Rec and Park contributed around $80,000, says landscape architect Marvin Yee, Capital Improvement Division.

The Scott Street site had been occupied by a play structure in the shape of a pirate ship. Toxic, closed down and rotting away, it was ripe for extreme makeover. Janet recruited designers Richard Feather Anderson, a founder of the Labyrinth Society and Willett Moss, CMG landscape architect to create a labyrinth. The 23 ft. wide multi-circular path was sand-blasted into concrete. A border of mosaic tiles made by members of the community surrounds it, and a commemorative tile collage of the pirate ship graces the concrete bench facing the path. …

The joyous opening celebration April 28, 2007 was short-lived when the labyrinth was closed two days later due to the misapplication of anti-graffiti coating, damaging the labyrinth surface and making it slippery. A reopening eventually took place3 seven months later, on Nov. 2. One of the city’s most unique open space features is now a multi-use area. “People are doing tai-chi, picnicking, reading, walking and meditating,” says Janet happily, adding, “and it all works.”…From the Neighborhoods Park Council.

Duboce Park

On this mosaic pedestal sits a labyrinth that allows sight-impaired and other visitors to trace a path with their fingers.

It says in both cursive and braille: With eyes closed, trace the grooved path from the outermost edge to the center with one or more fingers.  The center is the halfway point. To complete the journey, retrace the path from the center outward.

Duboce Park Laybrinth

This spot where Duboce Park now occupies was originally to be a hospital. However, Colonel Victor Duboce, after serving with the First California Volunteers in the Spanish-American War, returned to the city and was elected to the Board of Supervisors. He died on August 15, 1900 and was buried in the National Cemetery, at the Presidio. Upon his death the city changed Ridley Street to Duboce Street and decided to turn the land into Duboce Park (1900) rather than a hospital The park became a tent city after the 1906 earthquake, sheltering displaced residents from all over the City.

Duboce Park Labyrinth

Grasses and Wildflowers in the Tenderloin

 Posted by on May 18, 2015
May 182015

Father Boeddeker Park
259 Eddy Street
The Tenderloin

Father Boeddeker Park San Francisco

Father Boedekker Park has gone through a much needed and highly anticipated refurbishment.  The $9.3 million face-lift to the Tenderloins only multi-use park was long over due.  The $9.3 million renovation was made possible with a $4.93 million grant  from the California Department of Parks and Recreation, more than $3.3 million of private contribution from corporate business donors, and funds from The Trust of Public Land, as well as more than $1.7 million of City’s general fund, open space fund, and Parks Bond.

Fencer at Boedekker Park

There was already some public art in the park that you can read about here, but the fence by local artist Amy Blackstone, is new.

Amy Blackstone artistAmy’s studio is in Hunters Point, and her love of flowers has shown in several pieces she has around San Francisco.

Father Boeddeker Park

There are four 6X6 galvanized metal panels in the fence.

Amy Blackstone


Spiral of Gratitude

 Posted by on April 29, 2015
Apr 292015

Spiral of Gratitude

Spiral of Gratitude is part of the $3.2 million Percent for Art Program that went into San Francisco’s new Public Safety Building.

Spiral of Gratitude, by New York artist Shimon Attie, is a suspended, 17 foot tall 10 foot round glass cylinder that is lit from a skylight above. The cylinder is inscribed with a poem that contains sentiments of survivors based on information gathered in interviews by Margo Perin with the relatives, partners, and co-workers of police officers who were lost in the line of duty.

There is also a text in bas relief behind the cylinder on the concrete wall.

Photo Courtesy of SFAC

Photo Courtesy of SFAC

Spiral of Gratitude

Let us turn together in this circle of remembrance as the light shines through our words.
And we lift our gaze toward the sky to honor the men and women who risk their lives in the line of duty.
See their courage gleaming through the glass, spilling through the words of our love.
Band with us to celebrate the beloved behind every star.
Draw on their courage, their strength, their honesty.
Let us raise our heads together into this spiral of memory
to honor the sacrifice that ripples through time, through the generations.
Never do we have the gift of goodbye.
The only choice is to carry on, make our peace.
An object in motion keeps moving forward.
The voices of the fallen echo every day,
their reflection mirrored in the warmth of a smile,
the glint of an eye, the tilt of a head.
The time spent together was too short
and the missing long.
They are the fallen
and we must not fall.
We can move back or forward, upwards or down, but we cannot remain still.
We must rise to protect, as they did.
In their honor we must persist,
turn our pain into compassion,
never forget the man, woman, child they were,
and lift our heads as we ascend toward the light.

While it is difficult to determine the exact cost of the project from public documents, it is clear that is exceeded its $700,000 budget.

Passage of Remembrance

 Posted by on April 6, 2015
Apr 062015

Memorial Court
Civic Center



In 1932 when the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House and Veterans Building were built the project was supposed to include a memorial to veterans. The project ran out of money, and one was never made.

However, during this time the octagonal lawn in the Memorial Court has held earth from lands where Americans fought and died. This stone octagon, now encloses the earth. The Memorial has been designed so that it can be opened to accept newly consecrated earth from battlefields of the future.

Passages of Remembrance

In 1935 that War Memorial Complex architect Arthur Brown, Jr., recommended landscape architect Thomas D. Church be engaged to complete the Memorial Court. Church, a world renowned landscape architect, know for his gardens reflecting the Beaux-Arts tradition completed the design in 1936. His drawings reference a “future memorial” to be added in the octagonal area of the Memorial Court.

Soils from World War I battlefields were consigned there at the time of its completion. A similar ceremony depositing soils from World War II battlefields took place following the 1945 signing of the United Nations Charter in the Veterans Building. And in 1988, veterans groups held a ceremony interring battlefield soils from Austria, Belgium, Cambodia, China, Egypt, England, France, Germany, Guam, Italy, Laos, Nicaragua, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

Prior to beginning construction of the San Francisco Veterans Memorial, the soil from the center of the octagonal area of the Memorial Court was carefully removed and safeguarded.

war memorial sf

The Young Dead Soldiers, a poem also used at the Presidio Cemetery Overlook, is a fitting poem for this spot.

The project artist was Susan Narduli of Narduli Studio.  The project was completed October 2014 with $2.5 million of private donations.

War Memorial in San Francisco

Six Degrees

 Posted by on March 31, 2015
Mar 312015

2825 Diamond Street
Glen Park

Six Degrees at Glenn Park Library

Six Degrees is an artwork installed in the entrance of  Glen Park Branch Library done in 2007 for $36,000. The artists are Reddy Lieb and Linda Raynsford.

The circular art elements were inspired by the history and ecology of Glen Park. The circle, which the artists used as their main geometric design form, is intended to symbolize wholeness and community.

Specific references in the artwork are:

  • In 1889, an amusement park was built in Glen Canyon to attract potential home buyers. One of the attractions was tightrope walker Jimmy “Scarface” Williams.

Jimmy the Tightrope walker from Glen Park Circus

  • Early streetcar tracks in Glen Park are silk screened on another metal circle.

Glen Park Street Cars

  • An abstracted glass bat house refers to a recent mosquito abatement program that included the installation of nine bat houses near Islais Creek.
  • A blue painted circle represents Islais Creek.
  • In 1965, when there were plans to destroy the southwest portion of Glen Park to improve automobile transit, three woman—Geraldine Arkush, Zoann Nordstrom,and Joan Siebold, collectively known as the Gum Tree Girls— helped prevent that development.

Glen Park Library Art

  • The outline of a red-tailed hawk’s wings is painted on a yellow circle.
  • Copper cut-outs fused in glass are images of plant life in Glen Park.
  • A poem written by local poet Diane DiPrima for William Blake is fired into a circular glass medallion near the bottom of the artwork. The entire poem reads as follows:For Blakeby now it is too late to wonder
    why we are wherever we are
    (tho some peace is possible): singing on the breath
    & we have had bodies of Fire and lived in the Sun
    & we have had bodies of Water and lived in Venus
    and bodies of Air that screeched as they tore around Jupiter all our eyes remembering Love

Diane DiPrima poem


Art at Glen Park Library

Reddy Lieb has a BA in art and an MFA in Glass Blowing, she lives in San Francisco.   Linda Raynsford has a BFA from California College of Arts

Trace @Large Ai Weiwei Part 2

 Posted by on January 14, 2015
Jan 142015

Alcatraz Island
September 27, 2014 to April 26, 2015

Trace by Ai Weiwei

This is Trace.  The most ambitious, the most highly touted, the most written about, and yet, in my opinon, the one that least lived up to expectations.

Ai Wei Wei

This entire project is made of 1.2 MILLION LEGO blocks.

Ai WeiWei Lego

It took a long time for the committee that put this together to decide who should be in it. Ai Weiwei selected these individuals based on information provided by Amnesty International and other human rights organizations, he has called them “the heroes of our time”.  The group also consisted of  independent research members of the artist’s studio and the For-Site Foundation.  The images of these people that were used were in the public domain.

Ai Weiwei has a large team of artists that work with him in China.  These artists pixelated the images and then built a mockup out of LEGOs.  Ai Weiwei had the final say on the image that was used in the exhibit.

The artist has never set foot on Alcatraz, so a team of over 80 volunteers assembled the 176 portraits. A blueprint for each portrait was created digitally and then split into four or more parts so that volunteers could work on them without revealing the final images ahead of the show.

ALCATRAZ exhibit

While very impressive, there was no in-depth guide book for one to walk around with, or to purchase, for that matter.  There were books along the edges explaining the lives of each person and why they were chosen, but when there are 176 portraits, and my knowledge of the incarcerated of the world so naive, I felt the need for a guide book.  YES, you can find them all  on-line here, but the lack of something to walk around with, contemplate and educate at the same time left me wanting.

Alcatraz Ai weiwei



Lolo – China
Convicted of unspecified charges. Lolo is a well-known Tibetan singer. He was arrested shortly after the release of his 2012 album of songs calling for Tibetan independence. It is likely that he was charged with splittism, a catch-all offense that allows the Chinese authorities to punish ethnic minorities defending their rights. In 2013 he was sentenced to six years in prison.


The area is divided by world region and walking amongst always leaves you with an excellent view of each.

Shiva Nazar

Shiva Nazar Ahari

Shiva Nazar Ahari – Iran
Arrested on charges of waging war against God, propagation against the regime, actions against national security, and disrupting the public order. Ahari is a journalist and human rights activist and a founding member of the Committee of Human Rights Reporters, which campaigns against a wide range of human rights violations in Iran. In 2012 she began serving a four-year prison term.

Ai Weiwei


Saif Zadeh

Mohammad Seifzadeh


Mohammad Seifzadeh – Iran
Charged with collusion and assembly with intent to disrupt internal security, propagation activities against the regime, and establishing the Center for Human Rights Defenders. Seifzadeh is a lawyer, former judge, and human rights activist. In October 2010 he was sentenced to nine years in prison and a 10-year ban from practicing law.


I have no reason for choosing the people I have highlighted, I just found their images photographically appealing.

With Wind @Large Ai Weiwei Part 1

 Posted by on January 13, 2015
Jan 132015

Alcatraz Island
September 27, 2014 to April 26, 2015

If you have read this blog often you will know that I am a huge Ai Weiwei fan.  I finally had the opportunity to visit the installation of his work on Alcatraz Island, and walked away as impressed as ever.  There is so much that has been written on this exhibit that I am going to simply show you a few photos with explanations and encourage you to catch it before it leaves.

Notice the "Twitter Birds" as eyes.  This is to represent Ai WeiWei's motto: "Don't retreat - ReTweet".

Notice the “Twitter Birds” as eyes. This is to represent Ai WeiWei’s motto: “Don’t retreat – ReTweet”.

The exhibit is found in many different areas, and I do not recommend attempting to do both the exhibit and a visit to see Alcatraz, you won’t have enough time to do them both adequately.

We began in The New Industries Building.  You are greeted with the mouth of a hand painted/paper dragon that is simply huge.

This portion is titled With Wind, and its placement is, like all the pieces in the exhibit, part of the message. This particular building housed “privileged” prisoners who were offered the opportunity to work as a reward for good behavior. Work offered an escape from boredom and isolation, and it could earn prisoners a shorter sentence.  Placing the dragon here shows the contracdition between freedom and restriction.

Everyone of Us is a Potential Convict - Ai Weiwei

Everyone of Us is a Potential Convict – Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei has said that for him, the dragon represents not imperial authority, but personal freedom: “everybody has this power.” The individual kites that make up the dragon’s body carry quotations from activists who have been imprisoned or exiled, including Nelson Mandela, Edward Snowden, and Ai Weiwei himself.

Privacy is a Function of Liberty - Edward Snowden

Privacy is a Function of Liberty – Edward Snowden

Around the room are kites decorated with stylized renderings of birds and flowers. These natural forms are meant to allude to a stark human reality.

Kites Ai Weiwei Alcatraz

It is also important to note that the birds are a reflection of the fact that Alcatraz Island is a bird sanctuary, and if you take the time to watch the video you will learn that the installation of the exhibit was during Cormorant mating season, making it all that much more difficult.

Other Kites in Ai Weiwei exhibit


Our March to Freedom is Irreversible - Nelson Mandela

Our March to Freedom is Irreversible – Nelson Mandela

Ai WeiWei Alcatraz


Ai WeiWei on Alcatraz


The exhibit is a collaboration between For-Site, the National Park Service and the Golden Gate National Park Conservancy.


For many the juxtaposition of Edward Snowden and Nelson Mandela can be jarring, this site is about Art, not politics, I will leave you to have those conversations elsewhere.

155 Sansome Street

 Posted by on November 10, 2014
Nov 102014

155 Sansome Street
Financial District

115 Sansome Street, San Francisco

The sculptures over the Sansome Street entrance to the Pacific Stock Exchange, now the City Club, were done in 1929-1930 by Ralph Stackpole.

Stackpole has been in this website many times before and you can read about him and his work here.

On January 18, 1930 Junius Cravens of the Argonaut wrote of this piece:

“As one studies Stackpole’s fine decorative sculpture group, ‘Progress,’ which overhangs the east entrance to the office building, one finds in it a symbol,whether employed conscious­ly or not, of the aforesaid future. A huge nude male figure, in high relief, dominates the group, his outstretched hands resting upon the arc of a rainbow. Above the rainbow, to the right and left,are stylized suggestions of rain and lightning, symbolizing water and electric power. Be­neath it, and flanking the main figure, are two smaller male figures in low relief which represent progressive labor. The group as a whole is beautifully balanced in design, and is executed with mastery.”

Ralph Stackpole on the City Club of San Francisco







Hearst Grizzly Gulch

 Posted by on October 21, 2014
Oct 212014

San Francisco Zoo

Grizzly by Tom Shrey


This grizzly by Tom Schrey graces the Hearst Grizzly Gulch building at the SF Zoo.  Tom has a degree from California College of the Arts and presently works at Artworks Foundry.

Hearst Grizzly Gulch Tom Schrey Scultpure


The following was excerpted from a June 15, 2007 SF Gate article by Patricia Yollin:

Three summers ago, two grizzly bear orphans in Montana were trying to fend off starvation. Now they are coddled ursine superstars living in San Francisco.

On Thursday, the public got its first glimpse of the twins’ opulent new home as Hearst Grizzly Gulch, a $3.7 million habitat at the San Francisco Zoo, opened for business. Kachina and Kiona, whose species adorns the California state flag, quickly demonstrated that they knew how to work the Flag Day crowd.

Proximity is one of the exhibit’s highlights. A thick glass window is the only thing separating humans and carnivores in one section of Grizzly Gulch, which also includes a meadow, 20,000-gallon shallow pool, heated rocks, 2-ton tree stump, dig pit, herb garden and 20-foot-high rock structure.

“My initial reaction was, ‘Where are we going to put them?’ ” recalled Manuel Mollinedo, the zoo’s executive director.

SF Zoo Bears

The sisters, now 4 years old, moved into a concrete enclosure that’s part of an old-fashioned bear grotto built in the 1930s. It will serve as night quarters and adjoins the new habitat, the result of a fundraising campaign by Carroll — who said he envisioned an endless series of “$100,000 lunches” before Stephen Hearst, vice president and general manager of the Hearst Corp., set up a $1 million donation.

Hearst was mindful of his family’s connection to grizzlies. His great-grandfather, San Francisco Examiner publisher William Randolph Hearst, arranged for the 1889 capture of a wild grizzly that he named Monarch — his paper’s slogan was “Monarch of the Dailies” — who inspired the creation of the city’s first zoo.

WPA habitat at SF Zoo

The Zoo’s first major exhibits were built in the 1930’s by the depression-era Works Progress Administration (WPA) at a cost of $3.5 million.  The animal exhibits were, in the words of the architect, Lewis Hobart, “ten structures designed to house the animals and birds in quarters as closely resembling native habitats as science can devise.” These new structures included Monkey Island, Lion House, Elephant House, a sea lion pool, an aviary, and bear grottos. These spacious, moated enclosures were among the first bar-less exhibits in the country.

Original Animal enclosures SF Zoo



Oct 042014

San Francisco Zoo
Mother’s Building

murals at sf zoo

These murals, on the Mother’s Building at the San Francisco Zoo were WPA projects.  They were done by three sisters: Esther Bruton, Helen Bruton and Margaret Bruton.

Helen Bruton has murals in downtown San Francisco that you can read about here.

Here is an excerpt explaining the sisters work on the Zoo murals in their own voices:

This Oral history interview with Helen and Margaret Bruton, 1964 Dec. 4, is from the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Interview with Helen and Margaret Bruton
Conducted by Lewis Ferbrache
In Monterey, California
December 4, 1964

LF: All right, Margaret and Helen, about the Fleishhacker Mother’s House mosaics – you were mentioning Anthony Falcier and how you learned from him.

HB: Yes, he was actually, at the time, a tile-setter in Alameda, but he was a thoroughly-trained mosaicist from his early days in the old country. He used to tell us how he came over here. He came over here to work on the courthouse in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, which evidently had a mosaic top. And then he came out to San Francisco, to join a group of Italian workmen who were doing the mosaics down at San Simeon for the Hearst Castle. Since then, we ran across another man who worked in that same crew, several in fact. In fact, I think there was one on the WPA whose name I can’t remember. But if it hadn’t been for Mr. Falcier, I don’t know what we would have done, because he gave us pointers that we would have been quite helpless without. About how to set up the drawing, how to reverse it, how to divide it in sections in such a way that when the actual mosaic was mounted on the wall – which was an operation that began from the bottom and worked up –the section that you were mounting was square enough in shape so that it didn’t sag or settle too badly at one side or another, and begin to throw the thing out of wack. Because everybody that saw us working always had the same expression. “”Oh, that’s just like working a jig-saw puzzle.’’ Well, it was a little like a jig-saw puzzle on a big scale.

Bruton Sisters Tile Murals

LF: What were the sizes of these tiles, did you say?

HB: Well, the material that we used – as I said we couldn’t get any – there was no such thing as getting “smalti,” which is hand-cut Venetian enamel material. We used for the material some commercial tile that was manufactured at that time in San Jose, California, by a small tile outfit called Solon & Schennell, or the S&S Tile Company. They made a beautiful commercial tile, too beautiful to be very successful as commercial tile, because they couldn’t really satisfy the jobbers, who insisted on a perfect match to every lot of tile, which they had catalogued by number. There was so much variation in their tile that there was a great deal of waste from a practical commercial standpoint. And the tile that we used was mostly that tile that was what they would call a second, because of the variation. We had names for these tile colors, one was called St. Francis, and St. Francis varied in color all the way from deep Mars violet to a fawn color almost, or a strong ochre color, warm ochre, but it was the same glaze, depending on where it was put in the kiln it would come – that would be the range of shades.

LF: Different shading?

HB: Yes. And it was very, very strong, very good body to the tile, except that it was so tough that before we could even cut it up in smaller pieces, use any kind of tools on it, we had to have the thickness reduced by about half. And the way we did that was, we took it to a marble works over in Berkeley, over in Emeryville, really, on the waterfront there in the industrial section, and they would mount the tile on slabs of marble set in plaster of Paris, glazed side protected of course, with the bottom side up, and rub about half of it off. Then it would come in a workable thickness. And poor Len sawed it, used to saw it in strips of about three-quarters to an inch in width. And from then on we could cut it into any size we wanted, with some good strong tile nippers. Except that there was a difficulty in setting it up, finally because of the very absorbent terra cotta back, which drew the water out. When the cement coat was put on the back of the tile, it sucked the water out unless the terra cotta was dampened beforehand. So we always had the problem, when it came to mounting it on the wall finally, of dampening the back without making it so damp that the surface, which was eventually to be the fact of the decoration, would be still kept dry enough to hold on to the paper. And we did. It just made it a little bit more complicated in the process. But it was in the mounting that Mr. Falcier was so valuable. He’d come over with us from Alameda every day. I think it took us about almost a week for each one – five days for each panel. And he’d actually mix the concrete, the mortar. Esther was helping me on that. I don’t know where Marge was, and Len, I don’t remember Len being there. It is funny, but he must not have been with us when we were actually working with Falcier. But anyway, Mr. Falcier would mount a certain amount face out – you see the paper would still be stuck on the face – and each day we’d move up so much. We might set eight or nine pieces, depending on the way the design built up, the sections built up.

LF: You would have your cartoons to go by, I would imagine?

HB: Yes.

LF: Did all three of your get together on the selection of the subject matter, the topics? Did you talk it over between the three of you?

HB: Oh, I suppose we did.

LF: Or what it suggested by the City or –?

HB: I think it was, not – as a matter of fact, I think that particular thing was pretty much my job of designing. Somebody else, probably Esther or Margaret might have suggested the subject matter actually, but I remember it was a matter of – I remember hardly doing more than one sketch of that, especially St. Francis. I think I put it down and that was it. Of course, there was more work put on it as you got to getting it full size, but I think that first sketch, which was rather unusual for me because the more work I did the more fooling around that I do in design, and maybe not really improving it.

Bruton Sisters Interview

LF: You had to submit the design or the sketches to Dr. Heil or someone in his office?

HB: Yes, and then of course, you’d bring in a sketch and a proposal of what material was to be used.

LF: Did you estimate your time and what you needed?

HB: Oh no, you couldn’t possibly, because we’d never done such a thing before. But I don’t remember that it took, I’m afraid that I couldn’t say exactly how many months it took, whether we were two months on it, or three months, or whether – considering both the panels, we might have been perhaps three months.

LF: This was the first work done in the building?

HB: I think Helen Forbes and Dorothy Puccinelli were working at the same time. In fact, I know they were. But we were not there anything like – that project continued for a long, long time, but of course we didn’t actually have to work out there at the building until it came to installing the panels.

LF: I see. Where did you do your work then?

HB: At home in Alameda.

LF: In Alameda, that’s interesting.

HB: That was the house that we’d always lived in, and we had a wonderful big studio in the top floor, the whole top floor with great big dormer windows on three sides.

WPA Tile Murals SF Zoo

LF: And you completed the mosaic murals in the house and had them moved?

HB: They were in sections, you see. We did it on the floor. We laid it out on the floor as we completed it section by section. One thing that made this particular material still more complicated was that the color was only on the fact. So we used to have to lay it out roughly on the face so we could see what we had done, what we had before us. But, of course, when it came to mounting it, the mounting paper, the heavy paper on which it was mounted and transported, had to be put over the face. So when it was laid out on the floor, then we mounted paper over the face so it all disappeared. In other words, it was completely covered up and dismantled. And we had to get the paper off the back and clean it up so that the mortar could go directly on the back.

LF: This is the Fleishhacker Zoo Mother House? In other words, it was a sort of resting place, and so on, for mothers and their children visiting the Zoo? Is that correct?

HB: Yes. It was a memorial given by Mr. Herbert Fleishhacker, as I understand it, given in memory of his mother, Delia, because it says across the face of it, “To the memory of Delia Fleishhacker.” And I remember Mr. and Mrs. Fleishhacker came over one day to see it. They wanted to see it while it was still on the floor to see that there was not going to be anything offensive slipped in, and they had to climb three flights of stairs to get up to it, but they did it.

LF: This was when it was being installed or — ?

HB: Just before, when it was completely laid out.

LF: In your house?

HB: At home in Alameda, yes, because they wouldn’t see it again until it was all on the wall, so that was something they had to do, if they wanted to see it.

LF: I’ve never seen this because naturally a man can’t go in to see –

HB: No, but this is on the outside.

LF: It’s on the outside? I thought it was on the inside.

HB: Oh no, it’s –

LF: It doesn’t say here in the thesis where it was located so –

MB: It’s right on the outside of the building.

HB: I have a number of other photographs that will give you a better idea. That doesn’t give you an idea of the outside. (Interruption to look at photographs).

Mother's Building San Francisco Zoo

LF: You were talking about the mosaics, Miss Helen Bruton, on the outside of the Fleishhacker Zoo Mother’s Rest House. I had thought they were inside, but they are outside. They have stood up against the weather, have they?

HB: They just seem to be exactly the same as they were. That was one of the things I was interested in. The other day I looked at them hard, to see what was going on and I can’t see that there’s been any deterioration at all. Of course, they’re not actually exposed to the weather. It’s a loggia, they’re at either end of a long loggia perhaps sixty feet long, and you can turn from one to the other which makes it –

LF: You believe this was finished then probably in the late spring of 1934?

HB: Yes, yes, I would say that very definitely because I think we have a little tile with the date on it. It’s there on the panels.

Signature Tile for Bruton Sisters


Females Grace the Olympic Club

 Posted by on August 11, 2014
Aug 112014

665 Sutter Street
The Olympic Club Parking Garage
Union Square

Olympic Club Parking Garage

I have showed you the figures at the front of the Olympic Club here.  But at the back, the entry to the parking garage, are 9 female nudes.

The sculptures are by Michelle Gregor.  Michelle has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from University of California, Santa Cruz and Master of Fine Arts degree from San Francisco State University.

Michelle Gregor Sculptor

Michelle Gregor has taught ceramics at San Jose City College since 2002. She also teaches 3-D design every spring semester.

Public Art in San Francisco

“Her style is described as emblematic of the unique Californian style seen in art, as it is not too representational, but has a certain serenity and spiritual feeling about it. She comes from a generation that blazed the path of abstract expressionism in the Bay Area, specifically for female artists.”  The California Aggie

Sculpture at Olympic Street Garage

An Ode to the Automobile

 Posted by on July 7, 2014
Jul 072014

Mason and O’Farrell Streets
Union Square

O'Farrell Mason Street Garage San Francisco

The construction of the Downtown Center Garage, now the Mason O’Farrell Garage,  harkens back to when the automobile was king.

San Francisco now has a Transit First Policy which specifically gives priority to public transit and other alternatives to the private automobile as the means of meeting San Francisco’s transportation needs.  Essentially this means that this garage would never have been built in today’s times.

Built in 1953, and situated between Union Square and the then vital theater district,  is was meant to augment the Union Square Parking Garage and contained 1,200 parking stalls.

Architecture of San Francisco

 The Downtown Center Garage is nine-levels and constructed of reinforced-concrete. Pairs of circular, spiral ramps extend up from the basement to the roof at the southeast corner of the building. The concrete slabs and walls bear the impressions of plywood board forms and the columns of the Sono-tube forms used to create them. The circular ramps are expressed on the exterior of the building as curved and slightly inclined slabs that spiral upward, helix-like, toward the roof. Thin, tubular steel railings wrap around the perimeter of the slabs, providing protection to users as well as a modern decorative motif.

Architect and Engineer Magazine 1950's San Francisco

The structure, featured in the 1955 Architect and Engineer was designed by George Applegarth (1875-1972).

Applegarth, born in Oakland, was a student of Bernard Maybeck, who encouraged him to train at the Ecoles des Beaux-Arts.

Applegarth’s most famous works were under the commission of Alma de Bretteville Spreckles.  He designed both the Spreckles Mansion and the Palace of the Legion of Honor for Alma.

In 1921 and 1922, Applegarth was President of the San Francisco Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. During the 1920’s he had begun to make plans for the parking garage that now stands under Union Square, the project was eventually given to Timothy Pflueger and not completed until 1942.  In 1952, he started researching double-spiral ramp, multi-story, self-parking structures which gave us one of his last major projects in San Francisco, the Downtown Center Garage.

Architecture in San FranciscoA shot from the 1955 Architect and Engineer.  Notice the lack of safety equipment.

Parking Garages of San FranciscoFrom the 1955 Architect and Engineer Magazine

The shopping strip along the exterior of the building was added sometime in the 1980’s.

May 112014

Maritime Museum
Aquatic Park

Maritime Museum Sargent Johnson Tile Mural

This 14′ x 125′ glazed tile mural was created by Sargent Johnson in 1939 with the help of FAP (Federal Art Project) funds. The east end is incomplete because of artist protests over plans for a private restaurant on the site.

Johnson has been in this website before here for the slate art piece on the front of the building.

Sargent Claude Johnson*

Sargent Claude Johnson*

Tile Mural at Aquatic Park*

Sargent Johnson

This shows the unfinished section of the mural.

And yes, those two animals are by Beniamino Bufano.


 Posted by on April 28, 2014
Apr 282014

San Francisco Conservatory of Music
50 Oak Street
Civic Center

Exultagio by Daniel Winterig

Fulfilling the 1% for public art requirement for private development in San Francisco, this glass curtain wall of the music school includes 8” deep horizontal and vertical glass fins. A dichroic glass bevel at the front edge of each fin casts colored light across the building facade and the interior classrooms. The combination of sunlight and glass creates an ever changing composition of colored light throughout the day.

The project is by Daniel Winterich.  The glass was fabricated by Lenehan Architectural Glass Company.

Exultadagio by Daniel Winterich

San Francisco Conservatory of Music GlassInterior Shot courtesy of Winterich Studios

According to Daniel Winterich’s website he was raised in a ninety-five year old family business devoted to the liturgical arts, his training in stained glass, painting and mosaic work began in 1975. His extreme attention to materials and details developed over these early years while working on ecclesiastical projects across the Midwest and southern states.

During his studies at the University of Cincinnati School of Architecture and Interior Design, Winterich expanded his education at the German stained glass studio, Oidtmann Glasmalerei in 1982 where he apprenticed in glass painting while working with Germany’s leading glass artists.

After completing his undergraduate design degree, Winterich’s interest in the integration of art and architecture led him to work with three award-winning architectural firms from 1984 to 1994 and become a registered architect in the state of California.

Screen Shot 2014-03-15 at 1.53.32 PM


 Posted by on March 31, 2014
Mar 312014

154 McAllister Street
Civic Center

Peace by Reka


According to Reka’s own website:

James Reka – Melbourne, Australia

Self-taught artist

James Reka is a young contemporary Australian artist based in Berlin, Germany. His origins lie in the alleyways and train lines of Melbourne’s inner-suburbs where he spent over a decade refining his now-emblematic aesthetic. His character work has come to represent the beginnings of a new style of street art: clean, unique and not necessarily on the street (much to his mother’s joy). With influences in pop culture, cartoons and illustration, Reka’s style has become known for its fusion of high and low art. This style emerged from his Pop-Art-influenced logo design background, featuring simple but striking lines and colour ways. Over time, the logos and symbols he created for clients evolved into more structured, animated forms and embraced variances of the different media he began experimenting with.

This is Reka’s art: a paradox between sharp design and graffiti, held together with a fuse of passion and spray paint.



This installation was a result of Reka’s show at White Walls Gallery titled 3am Femmes.  The show ran October 12 – November 2, 2013.

Atlantis and Mu

 Posted by on March 13, 2014
Mar 132014

Maritime Museum
Aquatic Park

Hilaire Hiler Mural at Maritime Museum

The interior of the museum is painted with a large mural by Hilaire Hiler, These murals depict the mythic continents of Atlantis and Mu.

Hilaire Hiler


Many know the story of Atlantis, but Mu is not as well known.  Mu is the name of a suggested lost continent whose concept and the name were proposed by 19th-century early Mayanist, archaeologist, photographer, traveler and writer, Augustus Le Plongeon  Le Plongeon claimed that several ancient civilizations, such as those of Egypt and Mesoamerica, were created by refugees from Mu—which he located in the Atlantic Ocean. This concept was popularized and expanded by James Churchward, who asserted that Mu was once located in the Pacific

Mu and Atlantis


Hilaire Hiler was born in St Paul, Minnesota on July 16, 1898. He was educated at the University of Pennsylvania; University of Denver; Golden State University, Los Angeles; and the Nat’l College, Ontario, Canada. Sailing to France in 1919, he continued at the University of Paris while playing saxophone in a jazz band. During the 1920s he ran the Jockey Club (an artists’ hangout) on the Left Bank. At the club he often played jazz piano with a live monkey on his back.

Upon moving to San Francisco in the 1930s, he was commissioned by the Works Progress Administration to paint these murals in the Maritime Museum. He contributed illustrated maps for the Golden Gate International Exposition of 1939 and exhibited at the fair.

Hailer and Hiler Atlantis and Mu

From San Francisco he moved south to Hollywood where he opened a short-lived nightclub on the Sunset Strip. He then lived in Santa Fe (New Mexico), New York City, and in the early 1960s returned to Paris where he remained until his death on January 19, 1966.

Hiler was a Modernist. He helped found the idea of ‘Structuralism’ which aims to create harmony by the presentation of organized color and form. Structuralism design is made for contemplation.

Hailer Hiler Atlantis and Mu

Hiler’s works are in many museums including the Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Museum of New Mexico, Oakland Museum of California, Portland Art Museum, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, and Georgia Museum of Art. His work is in numerous private collections in the United States and abroad.

Hilaire Hiler Atlantis and Mu



Atlantis and Mu


I found this when pursuing the Hiler papers in the Archives of American Art.  I thought it to much fun not to share.Hailer Hiler 1964 ResumeThis was drawn up around 1965.

Atlantis and mu*

Atlantis and Mu



 Posted by on March 11, 2014
Mar 112014

Terminal Three
Post TSA

spyrogyrate at sfo

One weekend in January 2014 the city of San Francisco and the contractors opened the new Terminal Three to the public before it went live.

I used the opportunity to capture as much public art as I could before you had to buy an airline ticket to get access to this part of the airport.

The lighting in the terminal is pretty bad.  There are big windows letting in lots of natural light, but the placement of the art made reflections, often the only thing, I was able to photograph.

This piece by Eric Staller proved to be very popular, it didn’t hurt that there was a DJ playing music for the kids to enjoy as well.

Spirogyrate by Eric Staller at SFO

Eric Staller was commissioned by the SF Arts Commission to create a children’s play area at SFO.  These are twelve, six foot diameter, spirals that seemingly propel one another like gears. The gears are laster-cut acrylic and are motorized to move both clockwise and counter-clockwise. The spirals sit under plate glass, and motion sensors activate the spirals to not only move, but change colors as people walk over them.

eric staller spirogyrate

Eric Staller was born in 1947 in Mineola, New York. His father’s avocation has been architecture, this inspired Staller to study architecture himself. In 1971 Staller completed a Bachelor Degree in Architecture at the University of Michigan.

Kids area at sfo


Spirogyrate was commissioned by the SF Art Commission for $304,000.

spiral at sfo

Sargent Johnson and Aquatic Park

 Posted by on February 13, 2014
Feb 132014

Maritime Museum
Aquatic Park

Sargent Johnson and the Maritime Museum SF

This carved sandstone entry to the Maritime Museum was done as a Federal Arts Project (FAP) by Sargent Johnson.  Johnson was in this site before for the log.

This building was originally a New Deal WPA (Works Progress Administration) building called the Aquatic Park Bathhouse. Construction began in 1936 and the building was dedicated in 1939.  It is a stunning Streamline Moderne style building and a focal point of the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park.

Both the interior and exterior of the building contain art funded through the FAP.

Johnson designed and carved this green Vermont slate that adorns the museum entrance. The two-inch thick pieces of slate were cut into three by four foot pieces and carved by Johnson offsite. They were then attached to the building using wires and plaster of Paris.

Sargent Johnson Maritime Museum

According to Gray Brechin, author of  Imperial San Francisco: allowing Johnson a prominent piece of art on a large scale, was a significant tribute to him and the African American community.  WPA projects should also be remembered for efforts in gender and racial equality. Almost half of the artists who worked for the WPA were women, and room was made for Chicanos, American Indians, Asians and African Americans.

Sargent Johnson at Maritime Museum*

Entry to Maritime Museum SF*

Carvings on front door of Maritime Museum*

Sargent Johnson


 Posted by on February 3, 2014
Feb 032014

Corner of Webster and Golden Gate Avenue
Park behind the Rosa Parks Senior Center
Western Addition

Log by Sargent Johnson

I have driven past this park one thousand times and have always wondered about this tree stump.  Then one day my dear friend Netra Roston told me about an artist named Sargent Johnson. Sargent Johnson was not a stranger to this blog, his WPA work is at the Maritime Museum.

Sargent Claude Johnson

Born in Boston on October 7, 1887, Sargent Claude Johnson was the third of six children of Anderson and Lizzie Jackson Johnson. Anderson Johnson was of Swedish ancestry, and his wife was Cherokee and African American. All of the children were fair enough in complexion to be considered white, and several of Johnson’s sisters preferred to live in white society. Sargent, however, was insistent upon identifying with his African-American heritage throughout his life.

The Johnson children were orphaned by the deaths of their father in 1897 and their mother in 1902. The children spent their early years in Washington, D.C., with an uncle, Sherman William Jackson, a high school principal whose wife was May Howard Jackson, a noted sculptress who specialized in portrait busts of African Americans. It was probably while young Sargent was living with his aunt that he developed his earliest interest in sculpture.

Johnson arrived in the San Francisco area in 1915, during the time of the Panama Pacific International Exposition, which impressed him greatly.

The same year Johnson arrived in San Francisco, he met and married Pearl Lawson, an African American from Georgia who had moved to the Bay Area. The couple had one child, Pearl Adele, who was born in 1923. The couple separated in 1936 and shortly afterwards Mrs. Johnson was hospitalized at Stockton State Hospital, where she died in 1964.

Johnson worked at various jobs during his first years in San Francisco but also attended two art schools, the A. W. Best School of Art and the California School of Fine Arts. Johnson was enrolled at the latter school from 1919 to 1923 and from 1940 to 1942. He studied first under the well-known sculptor Ralph Stackpole for two years, and for a year with Beniamino Bufano. Johnson’s student work at the California School of Fine Arts was awarded first prizes in 1921 and 1922.

The 1930s were the most productive decade in Johnson’s career.  The W.P.A. Federal Art Project provided a number of opportunities for Johnson during the late 1930s in the Bay Area. Johnson’s first large W.P.A. project was an organ screen carved of redwood in low relief for the California School of the Blind in Berkeley. The eighteen-by-twenty-four-foot panel was completed in 1937 and installed in the school’s chapel. In 1939 he undertook another W.P.A. project, decorating the interior of the San Francisco Maritime Museum in Aquatic Park.

For the Golden Gate International Exposition Johnson completed his largest figures. He designed two eight-foot-high cast stone figures, which were displayed around the fountain in the Court of Pacifica. Johnson’s figures depicted two Incas seated on llamas and were distinctly East Indian in inspiration. They are known as the “happy Incas playing the Piper of Pan,”. He also designed three figures symbolizing industry, home life, and agriculture for the Alameda-Contra Costa Building at the Exposition.

Sargent Johnson Golden Gate Expositon

Johnson moved a number of times in the final fifteen years of his life. Following an illness in 1965, Johnson finally settled in a small hotel room in downtown San Francisco. In October 1967 Johnson died there of a heart attack.


This was Johnson’s last large work.  It is not titled, and I could find out literally nothing about it and how it came to be sitting at this corner.  The brochure that Netra gave to me was regarding a fundraiser titled Reclaiming Our Treasures.  The intent was to raise funds to restore and resurrect the “log” along with the intent to place an historical marker near it.  The fundraiser took place in 1997, I have not been able to find out anything more.

The Smithsonian has a transcript of a delightful conversation between Johnson and fellow artist Mary McChesney about Johnson’s work that can be found around San Francisco.  You can read it here.

Sargent Johnson at Rosa Parks Senior Center

*carved log on Webster Street


update 2016:  The log has been removed and is now with the University of California for both authentication and potential restoration.  It most likely will not return to this location.

Goddess of Progress

 Posted by on January 29, 2014
Jan 292014

City Hall
South Light Court

Head from Old City HallGoddess of Progress by F. Marion Wells

The plaque that accompanies her reads: On April 17, 1906, the dome atop San Francisco’s City Hall that was completed in 1896 supported a twenty foot statue by F. Marion Wells.  The Goddess of Progress, with lightbulbs in her hair, held a torch aloft in her right hand, causing some contemporary counts to refer to it as the Goddess of Liberty.  The statue was so securely mounted that on April 18, 1906, when City Hall and the city around it lay in ruins from the great earthquake-fire, it continued to stand at the peak of the now exposed steel tower.  After workmen brought it down from the precarious perch when the building was finally torn down in 1909 the statue fell from a wagon and the 700-pound head broke off.


It is my understanding that the whereabouts of the body is unknown.

City Hall after the 06 earthquakePhoto courtesy of the San Francisco Public Library taken in 1906

Francis Marion Wells was born in Pennsylvania in 1848. Wells arrived in San Francisco about 1870 and was a cofounder of the Bohemian Club in 1872. He was Douglas Tilden’s first teacher in 1883 and the following year was commissioned to do a bust of Hawaii’s King David Kalakua who was visiting in Oakland. Wells was active in the local art scene as a teacher as well as a producer of portrait busts and bas reliefs.

Once a very wealthy man, he fell on hard times, as this article from the San Francisco Call of July 14, 1903 attests:


Well-Known Sculptor, Artist, Literateur and Former Club Man, Afflicted by Illness, Compelled to Ask Municipality for Help

FRANCIS  MARION WELLS, sculptor, literateur, club member and well-known man about town, was forced by dire illness and strain of circumstances to apply for admission to the City and County Hospital yesterday. He is now lying there in a helpless and pitiable state. Not one single friend came to him in his distress, although when in affluent circumstances his beautiful home and grounds at Berkeley were filled with those who enjoyed the royal hospitality that they were always welcome to there.

Broken in spirit, sick nigh unto death, his arms paralyzed, his mind partially deranged from his sufferings, he was compelled to seek the only relief at hand and become a ward of the city. His faithful wife has struggled nobly during his four months illness. He has been during all that time entirely, helpless, the result of five apoplectic shocks.

Two months ago, to save the family from actual starvation, Mrs. Wells took a position as housekeeper at the Vienna Lodging-house, 533 Broadway, where, with their two young sons, she was just enabled to make enough to keep the wolf from the door. As she had to do the entire work of twenty rooms and also cooking for the family, she had no time to give her husband the constant nursing that his case required, but was by his side whenever she could steal a moment from her work.

Yesterday afternoon when the ambulance came to take Wells away he said: “I hope there won’t be a crowd to see me put into the ambulance, as I don’t want the people to see me in this poverty stricken condition.” This was too much for his wife to bear, and she borrowed $2 from some kind neighbors, a hack was procured and the sufferer was, carried down the rickety stairs and placed in it. His wife and sons accompanied him, to the hospital and made him as comfortable there as possible and then bade him farewell and returned to  their humble lodgings.

Mrs. Wells, who is a highly educated and refined Parisian, is broken hearted over the thought of his position.” She said with tears streaming down her pale face: “I do not care for myself;  I am young and can work for my two boys, but to think that my husband’s friends should allow him to become a burden to the city is almost more than I can bear. When we were in deep distress, surrounded, by poverty and sickness, I wrote to several of his former wealthy, old-time and intimate friends in the Bohemian Club  to come to his relief with food and medical attendance, but not one of  them replied. I did not ask for anything for myself, only for him, and that  appeal they refused him. Today he fainted four times on the way to the hospital, and when I left him he was almost, unconscious. Oh! I do not want him to die there. Don’t you think some of his old friends will do something for him and put him into a private sanitarium where his last hours can be spent?


“We have been very unfortunate.. When I came from Paris, fourteen years ago, I brought $60,000 with me and used it in buying  property here and then built a beautiful home in Berkeley. All went well until General Ezeta persuaded us to go into his San Salvador scheme,  and he was so persuasive that we put in $40,000— and we lost every cent of it.

Bad luck  followed, we mortgaged our home; and lost it. Then I commenced to sell my jewels. My  $8000 diamond necklace, which my mother gave me, I pawned for $1200. I had hoped to redeem it, although Mr. Shreve had offered to buy it for $5000. Little by little everything went, and now we are worse than penniless. My husband was always goodness itself to me, and we all love him dearly. My oldest son is 13. He has just ha, the misfortune to cut off the end of his finger. My youngest boy, Emanuel, is 11, and helps me as much as he can.  “My husband is a member of the Universal Order  of  Knight Commanders of the Sun, and here are the original parchments granted him.  I think he was also one of the charter members of  the Bohemian Club. It is a very sad ending to the  life of a man with a brilliant brain, with accomplishments and with so generous and kind a heart for all his friends.

He was born in Louisiana, his father being General Francis Marion Wells, but he was educated in the eastern part of Pennsylvania.

SCULPTOR OF LIBERTY. Marion Wells, as he was called, has been well known here for many years and has been one of the most prominent sculptors in the city. His statue of Liberty on the dome of the City Hall is a fine piece of work and a monument to his abilities. The figure is modeled from his wife and the poise is extremely graceful. The bas relief of John Lick, which was executed at the request of the Lick trustees, and now hangs in the Pioneer Hall, is a splendid likeness of the great philanthropist. The John Marshall monument in Sonora County, erected to commemorate the first discovery of gold in California, also exhibits great talents.

Among other works are the bears over the entrance to the First National Bank, which have marked merit in conception and design. He also did some artistic modeling for the Hibernia Bank, which adds much to the beauty of that handsome structure. The great owl which stands at the top of the grand  stairway of the Bohemian Club is also of his handiwork. Other work which has been highly commented upon adorns St. Ignatius Church, the quadrangle and the memorial chapel at Stanford University.
Wells Died, July 22, 1903

Francis Marion Wells

The head suffered a few indignities on its way to the San Francisco City Hall Museum area.

The head was apparently given to John C. Irvine by former mayor James D. Phelan after it was removed from the old City Hall. It was, later, owned by his son, William Irvine.

It then came into possession of the South of Market Boys who gave it back to the city April 18, 1950, the 44th anniversary of the Great Earthquake.

It was later displayed in Golden Gate Park, then placed in storage.

Seven years later, in 1957, the head was sold, along with several cable cars, at public auction to Knott’s Berry Farm, a Southern California amusement park. It was given back to the city by Knott’s Berry Farm in the mid-1970s.

The goddess was, for many years, displayed at the Fire Department Museum, but was moved in 1993 to the Museum of the City of San Francisco. The goddess was then moved to City Hall in 1998 to celebrate the reopening of the structure after it was repaired following the 1989 earthquake.

Os Gemeos, Bode and The Warfield

 Posted by on January 27, 2014
Jan 272014

Taylor and Turk
The Tenderloin

Os Gemeos and Mark Bode

This fun mural was finished in September of 2013.  It is a collaboration between Os Gemeos and Mark Bode, both whom have been in this site before.

This whimsical piece sits on the back of the Warfield Theater on Market street.  The two cousins from Brazil and San Francisco artist Mark Bode  painted this mural which includes one of Os Gemeos’ characters and the iconic comic character “Cheech Wizard” created by Mark’s father Vaughn Bodé in 1957.

Cheech WizaardCheech Wizard

The wall was organized by the Luggage Store Gallery and Wallspace SF.

Os Gemeos and Mark Bode Collaborate at the Warfield in San Francisco

Caruso’s Dream Causes Pianos to Fly

 Posted by on January 24, 2014
Jan 242014

55 Ninth Street
Mid Market/SOMA

Caruso's Dream by Brian Goggins

I spoke with Brian Goggin about his installation of Caruso’s Dream well over a year ago.  While it is taking a long time to get installed, and is was not quite finished when I wrote this post, I thought I would bring it to you anyway.

Brian has been in this site many times, you can read all about him here.

This is a public site-specific artwork commissioned by the developers of AVA 55 Ninth, a 17-story apartment complex on Ninth Street, sitting between Market and Mission.

After singing Carmen in San Francisco, the famous tenor Enrico Caruso woke the next morning in his room at the Palace Hotel to the shaking of the 1906 Earthquake. “But what an awakening!” he was quoted in the newspaper, “…feeling my bed rocking as though I am on a ship in the ocean, and for a moment I think I am dreaming.”  This artwork, inspired by that quote, imagines Caruso’s dream on that fateful night.

Brian Goggin Caruso's Dream

Goggin, studying SOMA history, found that several piano companies were founded in San Francisco, most notably Sherman Clay. Sherman Clay is built on the spot where a piano was buried to fill a large pot hole thus inspiring Goggin and Caruso’s Dream. “Potentially that piano is still under Mission Street today,” says Goggin.

This installation is a joint project with Goggin and Dorka Keehn.  They brought San Francisco the “Language of the Birds” that you can read all about here.

To build the 13 pianos, Goggin and Keehn collected 900 pieces of chicken-wire glass of different textures and colors.

The wooden struts that support the pianos were salvaged from pilings in the old Transbay Terminal. The ropes used to lash the piece are modeled after nautical hemp, tied in knots used by longshoremen.

The project was done at a cost of $750,000.  This was part of the 1% for the arts program.


Flying Pianos on 9th Street in San Francisco

For those not familiar with the story:

The evening prior to the Great 1906 Earthquake and fire had been the opening night of the New York Metropolitan Opera Company’s San Francisco engagement. Caruso—already a worldwide sensation—had sung the part of Don José in Bizet’s Carmen at the Grand Opera House on Mission Street.  “But what an awakening!” he wrote in the account published later that spring in London’s The Sketch. “I wake up about 5 o’clock, feeling my bed rocking as though I am in a ship on the ocean….I get up and go to the window, raise the shade and look out. And what I see makes me tremble with fear. I see the buildings toppling over, big pieces of masonry falling, and from the street below I hear the cries and screams of men and women and children.”

The Palace Hotel, where Caruso and many others in the company were staying, collapsed later that day, and sadly, not all would make it out alive. Caruso, however, made it out safely, his obviously very devoted valet even managed to remove the bulk of his luggage, which included 54 steamer trunks containing, among other things, some 50 self-portraits. “My valet, brave fellow that he is, goes back and bundles all my things into trunks and drags them down six flights of stairs and out into the open one by one.” That same valet would eventually find a horse and cart to carry the great Caruso and his many belongings to the waterfront Ferry Building—no mean accomplishment on a day when tens of thousands were attempting to escape the fires ravaging the city.

“We pass terrible scenes on the way: buildings in ruins, and everywhere there seems to be smoke and dust. The driver seems in no hurry, which makes me impatient at times, for I am longing to return to New York, where I know I shall find a ship to take me to my beautiful Italy and my wife and my little boys.” By nightfall, Caruso was across the bay in Oakland and boarding a train back to the East Coast.

After this experience Caruso vowed never to return to San Francisco, and he kept his word. Unlike Caruso, I promise to return to the site and bring you photos of the finished project soon.