Finding San Francisco

Arthur Tress: San Francisco 1964 opens tomorrow at the de Young. Although the primary subject of the exhibition is the city we call home, many of the locations represented in the pictures were difficult to pin point. During his preparations for the exhibition, curator James Ganz tried to track down some of the more mysterious sites portrayed, which resulted in a San Francisco adventure of his own.

Tress 40

Arthur Tress, Untitled (Legion of Honor Museum), 1964. Printed 2010–11. Selenium-toned silver gelatin print. Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. ©2012 Arthur Tress

The year 1964 was a big one for San Francisco: the city hosted the famous republican primary known as the “Goldwater Convention” and was the inaugural stop on the Beatles’ first North American Tour. Civil rights demonstrations against the car dealerships on Van Ness Avenue also garnered national attention for the City by the Bay. The year 1964 was also a big one for the young photographer Arthur Tress as he visited San Francisco for the first time and produced a memorable body of work nearly forgotten until now.

Tress 53

Arthur Tress, Untitled (Union Square), 1964. Printed 2010–11. Selenium-toned silver gelatin print. Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. ©2012 Arthur Tress

Putting together the exhibition and catalog for Arthur Tress: San Francisco 1964 has been a fascinating process. Not being a native San Franciscan—I arrived here only in 2008—I was especially challenged by identifying the locations of Tress’s images, a process made even more difficult by the photographer’s tendency to avoid popular landmarks and instead focus his lens on the people of San Francisco.

Tress 01

Arthur Tress, Untitled (Van Ness at Geary Boulevard), 1964. Printed 2010–11. Selenium-toned silver gelatin print. Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. ©2012 Arthur Tress

About half the images were immediately obvious, either because they included recognizable buildings in the background or even street signs, but the balance required many weeks of detective work. Online resources, such as Google Street View and the San Francisco Public Library website proved very helpful.

Among the images that were especially difficult to pin down were a series showing people standing near a large sign representing a sliced ham.

Ham

Arthur Tress (American, b. 1940). Untitled (Sam's Original Brauhaus, Corner of Turk and Mason Streets) from the series San Francisco, 1964. Printed 2010. Selenium-toned gelatin silver print. Gift of Steven Rifkin and Nicole Browning. 2011.27.56. © 2012 Arthur Tress, www.arthurtress.com

Looking closely at the original contact sheets, I noticed reflections in the windows of other photographs apparently taken on the same day that looked like a major thoroughfare, most likely Market Street.

Ham Contact Sheet

Photograph © 2012 Arthur Tress, www.arthurtress.com

In the corner of one image was a barely visible sign reading “Welcome to Sam’s.”

Detail

Photograph © 2012 Arthur Tress, www.arthurtress.com

Armed with these clues, and thanks to Mark Ellinger’s excellent website Up From the Deep, I was finally able to locate the ham on the side of Sam’s Original Brauhaus, located on the corner of Turk and Mason.

Turk and Mason

Turk and Mason today via Google Maps Street View

On a few occasions, I ventured from my office at the Legion of Honor and tried to follow in Tress’s footsteps.

Pier 1

Left: Arthur Tress (American, b. 1940). Untitled (Embarcadero, Pier 1) from the series San Francisco, 1964. Printed 2010. Selenium-toned gelatin silver print. Gift of Steven Rifkin and Nicole Browning. 2011.27.50. © 2012 Arthur Tress, www.arthurtress.com; Right: Ganz in situ at Pier 1 on the Embarcadero.

Given all that has happened to the city in the 48 years since these photographs were made, it was a pleasant surprise to find how many of the sites are still recognizable.

Aquatic Park 1964

Aquatic park as photographed by Arthur Tress in 1964. Untitled (Aquatic Park) from the series San Francisco, 1964. Printed 2010. Selenium-toned gelatin silver print. Gift of Steven Rifkin and Nicole Browning. 2011.27.20 © 2012 Arthur Tress, www.arthurtress.com.

Aquatic Park 2012

Aquatic park today as photographed by Ganz in 2011.

At the same time, a few mysteries still remain, such as this enigmatic image which crowd sourcing couldn’t even identify!

Mystery Image

Photograph © 2012 Arthur Tress, www.arthurtress.com.

It is my hope that visitors to the exhibition will help us fill in the gaps. 

UPDATE: Trish Daly, a long-time museum staff member and native San Franciscan has located the above mystery spot! It was Bunny's coffee shop in the base of the Shaw Hotel on McAllister and Market Street!

Bunnys

Arthur Tress: San Francisco 1964 will be on view from March 3–June 3.