Friday, April 5, 2013

Paintings / Picon / Preservation

I am scheduled to have lunch with a long-ago colleague from SOM this coming week at the Pied Piper Bar and Grill in the Palace Hotel.   "So?... " You may say.

So...  There's a lot embodied in that lunch hour.

First, I am reminded of my time at Skidmore.  Great training ground, despite the fact that my tenure with the venerable firm coincided with its nadir in the design world.  Hopefully the two conditions were not related.  Since my time there, SOM SF has produced a large portfolio of extraordinary buildings, Including both the international terminal at SFO and the Cathedral of Light in Oakland.  I applaud their work, and I continue to strongly suggest to young architects that it is a great place to hang their hat for a short period of time.

Then, I am reminded of how much I don't really like Maxfield Parish.  He is the artist who was commissioned in 1909 by the hotel to paint the "Pied Piper of Hamelin" a 16' x 6' painting that hangs behind the bar.  As an undergraduate, Maxfield Parish's studio / museum in Cornish, New Hampshire wasn't far from my college.  As was Augustus Saint-Gaudens'.  Saint-Gaudens was a lot more interesting to me than Parish, who always seemed to be the Norman Rockwell clone of Hieronymus Bosch, without the intellectual content.  Saint-Gaudens, on the other hand, at least did some very cool designs for money.

And, finally, all of this gets me to start to think about the power of historic preservation commissions and City agencies.  As an architect, these regulatory boards are just one of the many banes of my existence.  But, as a participant in something that loosely makes up a living organic urban fabric that we call "city", I rely on these entities to protect the many "things" that provide for this fabric to be,  for lack of a better word, enjoyable.  So, should an historic preservation commission be able to regulate the interior of a hotel, and require that a painting not be removed from a bar? Or, should the hotel owner be able to do as they please, and sell the painting on the free market, thus changing a piece of the fabric that has, for many years, contributed to the City?  Because the bar is a public  place, and enjoys an economic benefit as such, does it then fall under different consideration than other interior spaces?  As Kevin Starr, the unofficial state historian of California has noted, growing up in San Francisco he was introduced to life in the City when he was taken to the Pied Piper, at 18, for a drink and to admire the painting.

Luckily, we don't need to decide if the interiors of buildings, and this painting, are protected.  In the end, at least for now, the Palace Hotel has decided to keep the painting in place.

So, head to the Pied Piper Bar and Grill, and enjoy a little bit of history in a wonderful setting.  And, when you do that, you will be taking in one of San Francisco Architectural Heritage's 25 Legacy Institutions.  Which is a whole different, and just as interesting, topic.

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