Next talk on Pflueger to be in a Pflueger

Alameda Vertical renovated
Renovated Alameda Theatre

This is a tad early for a save-the-date notice, but a special lecture is coming up next year. 

In January, I will be doing a talk on architect Timothy Pflueger for the Alameda Architectural Preservation Society. As a special treat, the lecture will take place inside the Pflueger-designed Alameda Theatre, resplendent since its $15.2 million restoration in the heart of downtown Alameda.

The lecture will cover Pflueger’s humble beginnings as a son of working class German immigrants to his rise as one of the city’s most prominent architects of the 1920s to the late 1940s.  Many of Tom Paiva’s gorgeous photos from our book Art Deco San Francisco will illustrate the evolution of Pflueger’s work — from his early training in the Beaux-Arts style to the exotic movie palaces such as the Paramount and Alameda, to more streamlined work of the Great Depression, to the first inkling of modernism in buildings like the Transbay Terminal.

Because of the special venue at the Alameda, which was dark as a movie theatre for nearly 30 years before its grand 2008 reopening, the slideshow presentation will include some discussion of the restoration project. The nearly $40 million project included building a new cineplex connected to the historic theatre, constructing a parking garage and the restoration of the 1932 theatre.

ADSF25a Alameda Seahorse
Alameda interior

Alameda Architectural Preservation Society members are free. Non-members are welcome for $5.00, and books will be available at a discount.

Please come to the talk on Sunday, January 24 at 6:00 pm, especially if you have not yet been inside this incredible theatre, which can again be called a movie palace. 

If you can’t wait until then, there are plenty of first-run movies playing now. In addition, the Alameda Theatre is offering a classic film series in the historic theatre, starting off this week with “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Other films in the series include “The Bishop’s Wife” and the holiday  favorite, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Charming book chronicles streetcar bohemia

Just before the turn of the century in San Francisco, a few years after architect Tim Pflueger was born in 1892, a quirky community sprouted up among the desolate sand dunes of Ocean Beach.  Some enterprising real estate men and hardy pioneering souls turned a host of obsolete horse-drawn street cars into coffee stands, homes and weekend seaside cottages.

Carville Cover
New Carville-by-the-Sea book

This fascinating development of a beachside bohemia is chronicled in a just-published book, “Carville-by-the Sea, San Francisco’s Streetcar Suburb” by Woody LaBounty, a San Franicsco historian and founder of the Western Neighborhoods Project.

The beautifully designed book is a treasure trove of vintage photographs, postcards, newspaper clippings and old city maps, presented as an old scrapbook. LaBounty has colored some of the black and white photos, which adds more depth and drama. Some photos feature the old street cars tilted among the sand dunes, “looking as though a gigantic box of toys had been spilled and scattered there,” described the Overland Monthly in 1908. Others show these makeshift homes raised on platforms.

This engaging book is full of anecdotes and lively characters, such as Colonel Charles Dailey, one of the earliest settlers. LaBounty guides us through the history of what became known as Carville, from a few lone outposts in the sand dunes to its evolution as a fin de siecle gathering place for writers and artists, to its ultimate demise in 1913.

Traces remain today in the Outer Sunset

LaBounty also takes us to the present, where one can still find remnants and a survivor out in Ocean Beach.

Ever curious about San Francisco history and architecture, I drove out to 1632 Great Highway, which LaBounty says may be the last Carville house in San Francisco. You can’t tell from the front of the house, but thanks to LaBounty’s photos, one can see that this non-descript structure is indeed made of two former horse cars.

LaBounty begins a whirlwind series of lectures tonight at the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society at 7:30 pm at the Jewish Community Center.  The book is reasonably priced at $35 and can be found at Green Apple books, or from LaBounty at many of his upcoming lectures. He will also be giving a walking tour in the Outer Sunset.

UPDATE: Just found Carl Nolte’s story in Sunday’s Chronicle with photos of the surviving house and an interview with LaBounty.

King Tut-mania lives on in San Francisco

Shell Building 2 Postcard004
Shell Building, 1930 postcard

The King Tut exhibit at the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park is not the only place in San Francisco you will find a penchant for all things Egyptian.

The influence of that discovery in 1922 of the Egyptian boy pharaoh’s tomb lives on today in many Art Deco buildings that have survived since the 1920s. Some fine examples can be found in San Francisco, including the Financial District.

After Tutankhamun’s tomb was discovered in late 1922 by archeologist Howard Carter, the world became fascinated with ancient Egypt. What Deco-philes now refer to as “Tut-mania” was a sudden popularity of Egyptian imagery in the design of clothing, jewelry, furniture, and architecture.
Shell Facade by Paul
Shell Building facade with lotus flowers

According to Christopher Frayling, in the catalog for the stunning “Art Deco 1910-1939,” an exhibit that came to San Francisco’s Legion of Honor in 2004, the mania was widespread around the world.

“The craze touched every aspect of design, from the ‘Tutankamen Rag’ played by the jazz orchestra in the ballroom of the Winter Palace Hotel, Luxor, to the latest lines in Egyptian-inspired garments, furniture, interior designs, bookbindings and fashion accessories in London, Paris, Berlin and New York,” Frayling wrote.

The Tut-mania craze, which Evelyn Waugh later wrote “so vulgarized” the discovery of King Tut’s tomb, manifested itself in architecture through the use of symbols and imagery evocative of ancient Egypt, typically as the decorative ornament of buildings, particularly skyscrapers with any semblance to a ziggurat or stepped towers.

The Shell Building, designed by architect George Kelham and completed in 1930, is an excellent example of the obsession with Egypt. A lovely brass screen above the front entrance of the building has a lotus flower pattern, as do the elevator doors inside the lobby (see above photo for exterior view). The lotus flower, a symbol of rebirth in   ancient Egypt, was used frequently as ornament and in the capitals of columns.

130 Montgomery Street
130 Montgomery's tomb-like entrance
A brief stroll just in the Financial District alone can uncover several Egyto-mania references hidden or blatant in some of the city’s oldest and most elegant office buildings.  Another symbol of rebirth or reincarnation is the scarab beetle. Who knew one could find a scarab on Montgomery Street, Wall Street West. But a close look at the ornament on each side of the tomb-like entrance of 130 Montgomery Street, completed in 1930 and designed by the O’Brien Brothers and Wilbur Peugh, reveals two scarabs in bas relief, accentuated by flat column-like speed lines.

Scarabs were beetles that were sacred to the Egyptians who were often buried with them. The scarabs, or dung beetles, meant transformation, resurrection and are connected with death and rebirth. In King Tut’s tomb, for example, one of the glorious golden necklaces found among the treasures had a piece of glass depicting a scarab, leading scientists to try to determine how did a piece of yellowish glass end up in a piece of jewelry in Ancient Egypt. But that’s another story.

Architect Kelham, who started out his career as a Beaux-Arts trained classicist,  seemed fascinated with Egyptian motifs. Kelham, a rival of Timothy Pflueger in the design of the city’s earliest high-rise skyscrapers, mimicked the stepped form of Miller & Pflueger’s Telephone Building, and found his own exotic references for the Shell Building. As Pflueger embraced China as a theme for 140 New Montgomery, Kelham chose Egypt for the Shell.

The building, designed for the Royal Dutch Shell Oil Co., also has shell motifs, and other typical Moderne images of the period, such as zig-zag patterns, chevrons and fern fronds. But it was a significant departure from Kelham’s neoclassic buildings, many of which still stand, sturdy and strong on Montgomery Street.
Egyptian ornament 300 Montgomery cropped
Ornament on 300 Montgomery looks Egyptian

One of those structures is at 300 Montgomery, a very proper Greek revival design by Kelham for a bank in 1922, later remodeled in 1941.  The building, originally the home of the American National Bank, also has exotic detailing, including this Egyptian-looking warrior. The columns on each side of the warrior look like they are adorned with lotus flowers. A snake (perhaps an asp?), encircles the spear of the muscular figure.

These are not the only Egyptian designs in San Francisco but just a small taste for inquiring minds. One example that has sadly disappeared, is  a building for the Egyptian Lacquer Manufacturing Co. (yes there is still such a firm. Lacquer was a popular material in the 1920s ), designed by Miller & Pflueger at 1050 Howard Street. It appears the building has been destroyed or totally altered.
Egyptian Lacquer cropped
An ad in Pacific Coast Architect, December 1925

Egyptian Lacquer played a role in the development of the Telephone Building, according to Pacific Coast Architect. Lacquer was used to finish the metal windows, door casings and base and on the hundreds of walnut and oak hardwood doors with ebony inlay.

The former West Coast offices of Egyptian Lacquer are pictured here. Moderne-styled ornament with Egyto references and a wall of entire glass panes contrast with a traditional cornice.  It’s an exotic design with a trace of Bauhaus for this small industrial building.