Beatniks, Bank and Belli Buildings
I was born in San Francisco so I grew aware of the major sights.in the city, but it was In 1958, when my aunt and I visited upper Grant Avenue, the Italian North Beach area of San Francisco, that I became aware of the counter-culture — from the late ‘50s to the early ‘60s. It was the time of the Beatniks (costume: black clothing, leotards, and often a baret and dark glasses). Named, “Beatniks” on April 2, 1958 by Herb Caen of the SF Chronicle The Beat Generation was found in San Francisco’s North Beach, Los Angeles’ Venice West, and New York City’s Greenwich Village.
The old established businesses in the North Beach area were resistant to the changes in their neighborhood. Because my aunt and I were wearing the fashion of the day that included capri pants — we were stopped at the door of the La Pantera Café, We could see a space at the family-style table near the front door. My aunt, luckily, knew the owner, Rena Nicoli, and when she met us she allowed us to step in quickly (not wanting her restaurant’s dress code to be seen, challenged). Even in 1962, the dress code at CCSF was that female students wear skirts.
A favorite place for Beatniks to dine was at San Francisco Landmark #127 Old Spaghetti Factory at 478 Green Street (Between Stockton and Grant) Built 1908. Pasta with performances, such as the Kingston trio and Arlo Guthrie.
The Beatniks’ sound was bongo drums or cool jazz played as background to poetry readings, A photo record of the time was covered by Larry Keenan: https://www.larrykeenan.com/ (who, much later, became a Geezer member). There were artists displaying their paintings along the sidewalks and graphic art notices and small posters on the walls of the well-known Co-Existance Bagel Shop. The major painters were Nathan Oliveira, Louis and Lundy Sigrist and the big five: Diebenkorn, Park, Bishoff, Joan Brown, and Thiebaud.
There was sculptor Manuel Neri. Leroy Neiman worked more commercially and the works of Margaret Keane’s paintings of big-eyed waifs were the commercial success of the ‘60s.
My first job location after finishing my graphic art schooling at CCSF and a summer at the Academy of Art (when its only location was on Sutter Street) was at: the San Francisco Landmark #131, Union Trust Wells Fargo Bank at Market Street (at the foot of Grant Avenue) built in 1910, steel frame / grey granite, with 6 columns 38 feet high in the interior. There were bronze doors and marble floors and counters with gold-plated teller-windows. An elevator to the 2nd floor, opened to old desks, battered tables and massive amounts of grey metal file cabinets. It wasn’t pretty, but it was a job. I did get promoted to the “Stop Payment“ desk. I took the job there as a bank clerk after showing my portfolio all over town without getting any kind of art job.
In 1964, Bill Davis, who was my teacher at an evening graphic arts class at Lincoln High School (and who later became the head of the Graphic Arts Department at SF City College) called me at the bank and sent me to San Francisco Landmark #9, (722 Montgomery Street) the Belli Building where the partners: Butte, Herrero and Hyde had their studio on the 2nd floor, front with Melvin Belli’s offices on the ground floor. I got the job as receptionist, art supply purchaser, paste-up person, coffee maker, post office runner, AND an artist to do small spot illustrations!
This landmark had a long history of changes. Built: 1849 – 1850. After a fire it was rebuilt and housed: Langerman’s Tobacco and Segar (Cigar) Warehouse and then the Melodeon Theatre where Lotta Crabtree performed.
Nationally known, Melvin Belli (who, in his younger days, even represented my grandfather for a shipboard injury) also owned the building next-door (728 Montgomery Street) which he called Caesar’s Annex, named after his son.
San Francisco Landmark #10 Genella Building (Belli Annex). California Historical Landmark #408. Birthplace of Freemasonry in California, 728 Montgomery Street 1849.
After a year, BH&H (Butte, Herrero & Hyde) broke their partnership and I was then a free-lance artist renting space from Bill Hyde in Caesar’s Annex. (We were at the third floor, front.)
Both buildings (the outside and interior walls) were the original brick, exposed. At times bits of the brick would fall near our drawing boards. Wind would whistle through and rattle the loose fit windows and the only heating in the top floor of 728, was the Ben Franklin Stove that Bill Hyde had installed before we moved in. Mr. Belli would hire a roofer and then the ceilings would leak.
I wrote of this earlier: https://geezersgallery.com/self-inventive-gofer-duties/
At the parting of the talented three, Lowell Herrero moved to a second floor studio on Jackson Street (then later, to a floor over the old, historic Cannesa Printing Co. at 708 Montgomery St., next to Doro’s restaurant.) Bruce Butte moved to 250 Columbus Avenue, neighboring Specs’ (more than a) bar at 270 Columbus or 12 Adler Place (now called William Saroyan Place). Here again, there is much to read about “Specs”. I was still working for the ex-partners and on occasion, visiting Bruce, I could hear live “Peanuts” piano music — Vince Guaraldi had a room down the hall.
When I was located at 722 – 728 Montgomery, the south corner of Montgomery Street at Washington Street fenced off a great vacant lot that had been the Montgomery Block Building. (”The Monkey Block”) was a building of famous persons and city history) The plan for this location was to be the building of the Transamerica Pyramid.
Another cultural change (not far in distance nor time from the Beatniks) — was the Topless (!) Culture (?). In 1965, this area of the SFs’ nightlife changed when San Francisco legalized topless dancing. At the Jackson Street corner, just north of the Belli Buildings was the Playboy Club. (I visited twice – – only to pick up and then deliver an assignment for the design of their lunch menu.) Just up Montgomery Street on the left, was the “Roaring Twenties”. Topless girls on swings hanging from the very high ceiling. Farther up, passing Gold Street, was Broadway. East to the “Gay Nineties” and west, past Vanessi’s Restaurant, Enrico’s Sidewalk Café to more topless venues including the Condor Club with Carol Doda performing.
Here, below, is the printed art of the Belli Building which was produced by BH&H as a self-promo.
When I was there at 728 Montgomery, I was noticing a change in commercial illustrations. I tried out the new subjects (“Topless” lead to nudes) styles and lettering. Other artist were also seeing the new styles and made new choices in colors, too.
Music of the Dave Brubeck Quartet (“Take Five”) and Cal Tjader’s Latin sounds (Soul Sauce)
were heard in San Francisco from the 1950s through the 1960s and on. Rather than the Fillmore Street clubs and those in North Beach — from the 1940s though the 1970s — there was found on Divisadero Street, major individual jazz talent at the BothAnd Club.
End of Part One: Next Hippies and a Native American cultural take-over in SF Bay.
Part two soon.