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The Arts Voyager, 3-20: San Francisco, 1964
Tress revives a heritage that died for Dan White's sins

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

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Text copyright Paul Ben-Itzak

The cult of San Francisco usually reduces the lore to two epochs: The 1950s of the Beats and the '60s of the Hippies, with the latter's concomitant civil rights, free speech, anti-war, and, later, gay liberation movements. Yet there's an eternal San Francisco too, the historic Barbary Coast of the '49ers, the old Irish, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Philipino, Mexican, African-American, and a smattering of Jewish families, the San Francisco of the Golden Gate and open vistas, of precipitous streets and Tony Bennett's 'cable cars that climb half-way to the stars.' It's a memory that's been threatened with extinction as the flower children and gay migrations have been succeeded by hoards of Yuppies, the Deadheads supplanted by Sillicon-heads, old-family districts like Eureka Valley -- whose very name evokes the '49er pioneers who built this city -- rewarded for their welcoming attitude towards the gays by seeing them raname their neighborhood "the Castro," the authentic, African-American owned soul-food restaurants of the Western Addition (can anyone tell me if the Church of John Coltrane still beckons to the faithful from its store-front church on Divisadero?) replaced by faux soul food cooked up by white foodies at twice the price, the brilliant minds of the Beats superficially mimicked by a generation of pie-hatted 'hipster' wannabees who confuse tablet computers with the tablets on which troubadors like Ferlinghetti and Rexroth scrawled their espresso-addled paenes to the City by the Bay and its Sun-deprived, pale-faced denizens. The Church of St. Francis in the City of St. Francis where Ferlinghetti observed a naked Godiva riding by on a horse has long-since been marginalized by the Temple of the Foodie, the small tales of the city with which Herb Caen regalled his readers replaced by small plates with big prices, the poetic 'Pabst Blue Ribbon' re-christened 'PBR' to make it hipster-palatable and worthy of sharing a menu with the latest parvenu micro-brew. Into this historically bereft landscape where the city's chronically short-term memory has become even more truncated, enter Arthur Tress and his series of black and white photographs, "San Francisco 1964" -- on view at the de Young Museum through June 3 -- to re-suffuse the canvas of the city with its own colorful history, remind it of its eternal self and perhaps give it back its soul.


Arthur Tress, Untitled (Ocean Beach), 1964. Printed 2010-11. Selenium-toned silver gelatin print. Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. ©2012 Arthur Tress. The author was 3 1/2 years old; that could be his tricyle.


Besides being an interstice between the Beatnicks and the Hippies, 1964 marked a critical juncture for San Francisco and the larger cultural history. Both the Republicans and the Beatles were in town, the former convening at the Cow Palace to nominate Barry Goldwater for president, the latter performing at Candlestick Park, field of dreaming for the Say Hey Kid himself, Giants star center-fielder Willie Mays. But in lieu of photographing memorable places or even many memorable events, Tress focused on the regular denizens of the city in their mundane milieus (the most touching series among the over 70 photos on view at the de Young may well be portraits of the ordinary citizens around 5th and Market, these days the latest bastion of gritty San Francisco to come under the wrecking ball of 'progress'), thus immemorializing a part of the city that, if not lost, has long been forsaken by the media radar, its memory dying for the sins of Dan White, the old Irish San Franciscan who, discommoded by the change they represented, assassinated Mayor George Mosconi and Supervisor Harvey Milk in 1978. Tress has rescued that legacy from Dan White's funeral pyre, reviving a rich, lost morsel of San Francisco heritage and giving it back to the City by the Bay.


Arthur Tress, Untitled, 1964. Printed 2010-11. Selenium-toned silver gelatin print. Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. ©2012 Arthur Tress. Like the fog-weathered faces of his portraits, signs like these configured the landscape of San Francisco, 1964.


Arthur Tress, Untitled (Union Square), 1964. Printed 2010-11. Selenium-toned silver gelatin print. Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. ©2012 Arthur Tress. In a harbinger of the rest of a turbulent decade that was to follow, two countering cultures converged on San Francisco in 1964, the Beatles and the Republicans.


Arthur Tress, Untitled, 1964. Printed 2010-11. Selenium-toned silver gelatin print. Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. ©2012 Arthur Tress. San Francisco's Irish roots run deep.


Arthur Tress, Untitled (Powell Street), 1964. Printed 2010-11. Selenium-toned silver gelatin print. Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. ©2012 Arthur Tress. The scene depicted is on a cable car.


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.


Arthur Tress, Untitled (5th and Market), 1964. Printed 2010-11. Selenium-toned silver gelatin print. Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. ©2012 Arthur Tress. "We both met a girl named Maria" most likely references "West Side Story," the musical by Arthur Laurents, Leonard Bernstein, and Stephen Sondheim.


Arthur Tress, Untitled (City Hall), 1964. Printed 2010-11. Selenium-toned silver gelatin print. Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. ©2012 Arthur Tress. The newspaper, the News - Call Bulletin, one of several published in the city in 1964, has long since ceased to exist, San Francisco devolving like most U.S. cities into a one-paper town.


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


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