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San Francisco WPA ART

The amount of art extant in the San Francisco area is phenomenal. Only a few pieces will be mentioned here, but anyone visiting the area will want to check out the Anton Refregier murals at the Rincon Center, Coit Tower with its gorgeous P.W.A.P. frescos, the National Maritime Museum, and the Beach Chalet at Golden Gate park, just to mention a few.

In 1938, the merchants of Chinatown commissioned a stainless steel and red granite statue of Sun Yat Sen in order to commemorate his visit to San Francisco. It was done by Benjamino Bufano and still stands in the Chinatown City Park at the corners of Grant & California Streets, St. Mary’s Square.

 


 

The Beach Chalet on Ocean Drive at the far west end of Golden Gate Park is a dream come true. It is a pre-Depression era building restored with the incredibly beautiful fresco murals intact.

These murals encompass true fresco paintings as well as tile murals which extend up the staircase to the second floor microbrewery! Lucien Labaudt supervised and designed these works of art in 1936 which were restored in 1988.
Not only is the art superb, but the beer on the second floor is good and the view of the ocean unsurpassed. The Beach Chalet is a hidden (and free until you order a beer!) treasure of San Francisco.

 


 

Victor Mikhail Arnautoff, supervisor of the PWAP mural project at Coit Tower, was appointed to do a fresco for the east wall of the Presidio Chapel under the State Emergency Relief Administration (SERA) in December 1934.
Artists assisting Arnautoff included Suzanne Scheuer, b. Cunningham, Edward Terada, Richard Ayer, M. Hardy, P. Hall, P. Vinson, G. Serrano, M. Cohen, P. Zoloth, T. Mead, and W. Mannex (plasterer). It took forty-two days to complete Project Number 2-F3-100-public works of art.

Historical figures are depicted in the mural. In the upper left is Maria de la Concepcion Marcela Arguello, born in the Presidio in 1791 and betrothed at the age of 15 to Russian Chamberlain Nikolai Rezanov. Her father, Presidio Commandante Don Jose Arguello stands behind them.
The right side of the mural shows some of the peacetime activities of the Army In spite of changes to the Post Chapel building, the mural is still on display for the public.

 


 

No mention of San Francisco is complete without the Rincon Center. Located off Market Street, the Rincon Center houses 29 huge panels by Anton Refregier depicting “The History of California”. They are casein on wall and were done from 1947 to 1948, funded by The Section of Fine Arts program. These murals caused a great deal of controversy and were the focus of a Congressional investigation for anti-American content. Refregier painted out several offensive parts of his panels to appease the US government and public.
This mural is entitled “Finding Gold at Sutter’s Mill”. The text with this panel states “Sutter’s Mill was a sawmill on the property of John Augustus Sutter. Located on the South Fork of the American River, it was financed by Sutter and constructed under the supervision of his partner in the venture, John W. Marshall. Marshall discovered gold there on January 24, 1848 and began the California Gold Rush. The nugget he found is known as the Wimmer Nugget, named after Marshall’s assistant, Peter L. Wimmer.”

This photo shows two murals intersecting at the wall corner. The mural on the left is entitled “Riot Scene, Civil War Days” and depicts the riots which erupted in San Francisco during the Civil War between North and South supporters. The mural on the right is entitled “Beating the Chinese” and shows the mistreatment of the Chinese by the white laborers during the 1870s.

The Mothers’ House at the San Francisco Zoo has wonderful interior murals by Helen K. Forbes and Dorothy W. Pucinelli, and exterior mosaics by Helen, Margaret and Ester Bruton for the PWAP. Originally built in 1925 as a refugee for mothers and their children, it served as the Zoo’s gift shop from 1978 to 2002. In recent years, the Mother’s House has been severely damaged by its exposure (especially on the west wall) to winds and weather. The interior murals are deteriorating and desperately need restoration. In 2002, the Mother’s House was closed as a gift shop and its future is uncertain. (History of the Mothers’ House).

(Article with additional information about California Mosaics by Jean Goodwin.)

Check out the Diego Rivera murals in San Francisco: located at the San Francisco City College, the San Francisco Art Institute, and the San Francisco City Club (available through tour). Even though these murals were not funded by the WPA or any of the other New Deal art programs, they were done around the time of the WPA and certainly should be studied to show the influences of Rivera on other WPA artists.

San Francisco State Normal School – Reuben Kadish’s mural, “A Dissertation on Alchemy” (December 1936) mentioned on pages 16 and 34 from the UCB Laguna Extension Campus Historical Resources Study.

San Francisco State College - mural by Jack Moxom in the library of the Frederic Burk Training School of San Francisco State College, corner of Herman & Webster Streets; marble mosaic by Maxine Albro over the Haight & Buchanan Streets’ entrance to the Hall of Natural Science, San Francisco State College (source: “Mural Decorations – Completed and in Progress” April 1, 1937)

Office of the Coroner – oil on canvas mural by Gottardo Piazzoni (source: “Mural Decorations – Completed and in Progress” April 1, 1937)