Archive for the ‘George Washington High School’ Category

Aquatic Park is Streamline Sublime

October 9, 2010

The former bathhouse at Aquatic Park sits like a ship in its berth


 

San Francisco may be famous for its Victorian row houses and over-the-top Queen Annes, but it is also home to one of the most notable examples of a building in the Streamline Moderne style.  The ship-like Bathhouse building, which sits in its berth at Aquatic Park is a great example of the style, which became more popular in the 1930s, and often features nautical references.

As the Great Depression went on, the concept of streamlining, creating clean, sleek lines seemed more in tune with the austere times. But it wasn’t just the economy, there were other influences too, such as Norman Bel Geddes and his industrial designs meant to evoke movement and speed. There was also a growing  influence of the European architects who espoused a sparer form of modernism, dubbed the International Style, and many of them moved to the U.S. to teach or work.

The Aquatic Park bleachers and Bathhouse, now the Maritime Museum and operated by the National Park Service have been undergoing a major $13.8 million rehab project over the last year, the bulk of which is now finished. The bleachers, some of which had to be demolished and others rebuilt, were finished this summer and reopened to the public, and the restoration of the stunning murals in the Bathhouse lobby is now complete. The building is an architectural feast for the eyes for anyone enamoured with this period of design, and it contains a treasure trove of public art.

Aquatic Park was a WPA project

WPA Project

Originally designed as a  public bathhouse, beach and playground at the sea, Aquatic Park also includes an 1800 foot curving pier. It survives as an example of both a triumph and a travail of the city and the Works Progress Administration.  In 1917, the city bought the land at the bottom of Van Ness from the Southern Pacific Railroad, but legal technicalities held up the work. Construction first began in 1931 on the combination breakwater and pier, by a private construction firm, working for the city’s Parks Commission.  The project, however, languished. After the election of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, much of the work moved to the WPA, which began work on the seawall in December, 1935. Architect William Mooser III of the city’s Mooser architectural dynasty, designed the bathhouse as assistant district director of the WPA.

The project, which cost $1.2 million, finally opened in January, 1939, after much public grumbling. The San Francisco Chronicle tried to calm the city in an editorial on July 24, 1936. “It is quite natural for the public to become impatient with the progress of public works…The difficulty is accentuated when construction projects are undertaken by such governmental organizations as WPA.” Five months after the opening, the WPA was called back in, and built a sewage pumping plant, a playground, convenience stations and added stainless steel around the plate glass windows and doors.

Mural of submerged sea continent by artist Hilaire Hiler

The building’s flat roofs and terraces were the root cause of its water damage and need for the lengthy repairs, but it was worth the wait. The murals have also been cleaned and restored. On the first floor, the colorful walls depict an underwater world like Atlantis painted by artist Hilaire Hiler, who created 5,000 square feet of submerged continents and mythical sea creatures.  Just outside on the terrace, beyond the plate glass doors that mirror the bay, there is more art. San Francisco sculptor Beniamino Bufano carved a seal and a frog in his round, inviting forms.

Seal by Beniamino Bufano on terrace at former Bathhouse

Frog by Bufano, mosaics by Johnson

Artist Sargent Johnson, who also worked with architect Timothy Pflueger on the athletic frieze at George Washington High School – where he replaced Bufano who was fired – did some unusual tile mosaics in the same manner as mosaics in Islamic mosques. Johnson also sculpted the slate that surrounds the entrance to the Bathhouse building. Johnson said in an oral history with the Smithsonian Institution’s Archives of American Art that he wasn’t quite sure what the subject matter of the facade was. “It has something to do with the waterfront somewhere, boats – I don’t really know. I just carved the thing,” he said. At the time of the interview, which took place in 1964, Johnson, who was 76, and Mary McChesney, who conducted the interview, discussed how the murals in the Bathhouse were peeling, water was coming down the walls and they were rotting.  They would be pleased to see the restoration today.

Slate carved by Sargent Johnson on facade of Bathhouse building

The last remaining part of the restoration project, which is still awaiting funding, is to repair the plaster damage to the second floor, so that area is still closed to visitors. When that work is complete, the Maritime Museum will reopen its exhibition space. A ranger from the Park Service conducts a daily tour at 3 pm to discuss the art and architecture of the building, with the exception of this weekend, because of the Blue Angels flying overhead.

I will be talking about the Aquatic Park project in my lecture Monday at the SF AIA, as part of its “Rediscover the City” series. It’s definitely worth a visit and the National Park Service gets kudos for finally taking care of this jewel of a building and its art.
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450 Sutter named to National Register of Historic Places

January 23, 2010

Miller & Pflueger’s innovative skyscraper 450 Sutter was named to the National Register of Historic Places, as of last month. The stunning Mayan themed 26-story high rise building,  completed in 1929, was described in the application as a “masterwork” of noted San Francisco architect, Timothy Pflueger.

The listing is on the National Parks Service Web site here.

Congrats to Harsch Investment Properties, the owners of the 450 Sutter Medical/Dental building. The company just completed a major restoration project, and the scaffolding that had been in front of the building for over two years has now come down.

450 Sutter Spotted in Coit Tower Murals

I recently went on the Coit Tower murals tour with San Francisco City Guides, where the tour has access to the second floor closed to the public. On the wall of the staircase leading to the second floor of the tower is a massive fresco mural depicting a walk up Powell Street. One sees a very large and familiar building.

450 Sutter in a mural at Coit Tower by artist Lucien Labaudt

Labaudt, who was also known as a dressmaker, was born in Paris and moved to San Francisco right after the 1906 earthquake. He had a dressmaking shop and was an artist in his spare time.  He eventually became known for his painting and theatre set designs and was chosen to join the 26 artists sponsored by the Works Progress Administration to paint the Coit Tower murals. The tower, designed by architect Arthur Brown, Jr., was completed in 1933.

Ralph Stackpole, who sculpted the large figures outside the San Francisco Stock Exchange for Pflueger, also worked on the Coit Tower murals.

Labaudt is probably best known in San Francisco for his murals at the Beach Chalet on the Great Highway. But he was also one of the artists hired by Pflueger to work on murals at George Washington High School. Along with the murals that adorn the staircase in the main entry hall by Victor Arnautoff, telling the story of George Washington, Labaudt painted another fresco mural in the upstairs library. You can read more about him in this oral history with his second wife, Marcelle Labaudt, in the Archives of American Art of the Smithsonian Institution.

Lucien Labaudt

 


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