VLN: Bay Area Time Line: 1 2 3 4 Modernism (1930-1960) 6 7

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19th century architecture slide show


During the three decades between 1930 and 1960 development stagnated. The Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge were built during this period. The International Style had much greater influence in Chicago and New York than in San Francisco.

The city's first public housing was inspired more by Wurster's Valencia Gardens in the Mission District (1943) than by the large apartment towers favored by the European modernists.

In 1959, the mega firm, Skidmore Owings and Merrill (SOM), built the first modernist building in San Francisco, and a new city with little or no relationship to what had been built prior to the 1930s began to develop within the old.

The growth of a vigorous preservation effort emerged almost at once and soon became a larger social movement made up of neighborhood activists, environmentalists, supporters of low-income housing and slow-growth advocates.


Modernism (1930-1960)

1930-1960: Development stagnated, and the skyline of the city remained virtually unchanged during these three decades marked by the Great Depression and World War II.

1931: California School of Fine Arts (CSFA) alumnus Henry Kiyama publishes The Four Immigrants Manga, the first graphic novel published in the U.S.

Mexican muralist Diego Rivera paints The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City in the California School of Fine Arts (CSFA)'s gallery, assisted by faculty member Ralph Stackpole and others.

1932: Although a handful of American architects sought out the European modernists in the 1920s, it was a show at the New York Museum of Modern Art in 1932 that drew widespread attention to what had transpired across the Atlantic. The show featured the works of, among others, Walter Gropius, Mies van der Rohe, and Le Corbusier, the most commanding figures in the modern movement...The exhibit traveled to 13 American cities, and an accompanying book, The International Style: Architecture since 1922, announced the arrival of what its authors, Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Philip Johnson, claimed would be the new universal style (Wiley 2000: 136).

A series of murals by Gottardo Piazzoni, former student and faculty at the California School of Fine Arts (CSFA), is installed in the new San Francisco Public Library.

1933: Groupius had helped found the Bauhaus and was its first director; Mies was its director in 1933 when the Nazis shut down the school (Wiley 2000: 136).

Faculty of the California School of Fine Arts (CSFA) Ralph Stackpole, along with Bernard Baruch Zakheim, asks the Works Progress Administration (WPA) to fund a series of murals for the interior of the new Coit Tower. This project becomes the prototype for the agency. Most of the artists employed are faculty or students at CSFA, including Maxine Albro, Victor Arnautoff, Ray Bertrand, Rinaldo Cuneo, Mallette Dean, Parker Hall, Edith Hamlin, George Harris, Robert B. Howard, Otis Oldfield, and Frede Vidar.

California School of Fine Arts (CSFA) alumnus Sargent Claude Johnson's Forever Free is featured in an exhibition in New York at the Harmon Foundation. Johnson was one of the first African-American artists from California to achieve a national reputation.

1936-60s: SOM was the first architectural megafirm. It was also the first architectural firm to which New York's Museum of Modern Art devoted an exhibit. Founded in Chicago in 1936, by the 1960s SOM had 18 partners, 700 employees, and branch offices in Portland and San Francisco (Wiley 2000: 138).

1937: The City Supervisors again demanded that the bodies in the graves be evacuated and voters upheld the decision. Influenced by the opportunity to use the former Masonic burial grounds as a university site (USF), the Catholic Archdiocese transferred the Calvary cemetery's occupants south to Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma.

1938: California School of Fine Arts (CSFA) alumna Louise Dahl Wolf's photos help define a new American style of "environmental" fashion photography that is wholesome yet sophisticated. She works for Harper's Bazaar from 1938 to 1958.

1939-40: Laurel Hill Cemetery closed. The remains were moved to Laurel Hill Mound, Cypress Lawn Cemetery, Colma, California.

1939: WPA records show Charles Harvey, contractor (who later built Candlestick Park) was paid 80 cents a ton to dump walls, crypts, and markers into the Bay, later to become the Marina Yacht Harbor jetty. Other smashed tombstones made fine retaining walls in Buena Vista Park. Calvary Cemetery was covered by a Sears building, a Kaiser Hospital, and housing. Laurel Hill Cemetery was covered by more housing, a shopping center, and the Fireman's Fund Building.

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1940: Body removal from Laurel Hill Cementery to Cypress Lawn cemetery began. Decendants of lot holders were given the opportunity to have family members privately moved. Approximately 1,000 took advantage of this offer.

California School of Fine Arts (CSFA) alumnus and faculty John Collier begins photographing for the Security Farm Administration.

1942: Designed by Timothy Pflueger in cooperation with the city park department, Union Square was transformed into the first-ever, under-a-park garage, which doubled as a bomb shelter.

The fight to keep the cemeteries [in San Francisco] that had lasted for many years finally came to an end when the last bodies were removed from Laurel Hill Cemetery.

1943: The style of the city's first public housing was inspired more by Wurster, who designed Valencia Gardens in the Mission District in 1943, than by the followers of the European modernists who opted for large apartment towers (see illustration on page 309). San Francisco built only three high-rise towers, and even they were of modest proportions as compared with those in Chicago and New York. (Two of these have been demolished, the most recent in 1998.) (Wiley 2000: 141).

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World War II: All non-defense building came to a halt. Large numbers of defense workers occupied the Western Addition, and serious overcrowding was typical of the poorer parts of the city. The exodus to the rural suburbia of Marin County and the Peninsula resulted in fine Victorian houses selling for under $15,000.00.

post-World War II: At the end of the post-World War II years, the Haight-Ashbury district housed a diverse mixture of members of the Beat Generation, blacks displaced by urban redevelopment in the Western Addition, long-time residents, and others taking advantage of the low rents.

After World War II, when the skyline changed most dramatically, we speak of the "Manhattanization" of the downtown financial district--with the major contribution made by the local office of the Chicago-based firm of Skidmore Owings Merril (Wiley 2000: 126).

When commercial contracts revived after World War II, Gropius, Mies, and their compatriots began to shape the architectural landscape, not only through their own work but through the work of a new generation of architects whom they trained. The École's approach to the academic training of architects had been the primary influence at American architectural schools from the founding of the first program at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1865. With the ascendancy of Mies, Gropius, and their peers, modernism became the new orthodoxy (Wiley 2000: 136).

European modernism did not have a significant impact on the skyline of major American cities until commercial building revived after World War II. The first modernist skyscrapers, such as Skidmore Owings Merrill (SOM)'s Lever Building and Mies's Seagram Building, both in New York, were striking in their boldness, in the way they stood apart from the skyline built up in the three decades before the Depression (Wiley 2000: 138).

1945: Ansel Adams founds the first fine art photography department at the California School of Fine Arts (CSFA). Faculty include Dorothea Lange, Imogen Cunningham, Minor White, and others.

Douglas McAgy becomes director of the California School of Fine Arts (CSFA) and makes the Bay Area a hub for abstract expressionism. He hires painters Clyfford Still, Hassel Smith, David Park, Elmer Bischoff, and Richard Diebenkorn, as well as inviting New York artists Mark Rothko and Ad Reinhardt to teach summer sessions.

1947-49: In 1947, Lewis Mumford, noted architectural critic, wrote a column for the New Yorker on what he called the Bay Region Style. Two years later the fledgling San Francisco Museumn of Art (later the Museum of Modern Art) mounted an exhibit, "Domestic Architecture of the Bay Region." In an essay for the catalog Mumford wrote that the "exhibition repairs a serious omission in the existing histories of American architecture: it establishes the existence of a vigorous tradition of modern building, which took root in California some half a century ago." Mumford went on to say that although the style "was thoroughly modern, it was not tied to the tags and clichés of the so-called International Style: that it made no fetish of the flat roof and did not deliberately avoid projections and overhangs: that it made no effort to symbolize the machine, through a narrow choice of materials and forms: that it had a place for personalities as different as Maybeck and [Gardner] Dailey and Wurster and [Ernest] Kump."48 Mumford had given a name to a tradition begun by Willis Polk and his colleagues in the 1890s (Wiley 2000: 137).

1947: Sydney Peterson teaches the first film course at the California School of Fine Arts (CSFA). The class produces the film The Cage.

1948: Studio 13 Jazz Band is playing regularly, with David Park on piano, Wally Hedrick on banjo, Elmer Bischoff on trumpet, Charlie Clark on clarinet, Jon Schueler on the bass, Conrad Janis on the trombone, and Douglas McAgy on drums.

1949: Collage artist Jess (Collins) renounces a career as a plutonium developer and enrolls at the California School of Fine Arts (CSFA) as a painting student.

The California School of Fine Arts (CSFA) hosts the Western Roundtable of Art, with Marcel Duchamp, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Gregory Bateson as participants.

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1950s: "Urban Renewal" razed 28 blocks of residential architecture, leaving the Golden Gateway, the Western Addition, Diamond Heights, and Yerba Buena as empty waste lands for a number of years. As the demolition for the Redevelopment Area proceeded in the late 1950s, community protest halted the destruction near Bush, giving a reprieve to buildings in the 2200 block of Pine St. and the 2100 block of Bush St.

But when the state announced plans to crisscross, surround, and generally transmogrify the city with new freeways in the 1950s, it triggered the growth of a vigorous preservation effort, which eventually became part of a larger social movement made up of neighborhood activists, environmentalists, supporters of low-income housing and slow-growth advocates. The "Manhattanization" of the skyline was under way, and a large number of San Franciscans, many of them wealthy and influential in their own right, were not pleased with the results (Wiley 2000: 140).

1952: California School of Fine Arts (CSFA) faculty Minor White becomes the first editor of Aperture magazine. Faculty Dorothea Lange's work appears on the first cover.

1953: California School of Fine Arts (CSFA) alumnus Jess Collins, along with his partner, poet Robert Duncan, and painter Harry Jacobus, starts the King Ubu Gallery at 3119 Fillmore Street, an important alternative space for art, poetry, and music.

1954: Poet and California School of Fine Arts (CSFA) faculty member Jack Spicer opens the Six Gallery with five students in the King Ubu space. The "six" were Wally Hedrick, Hayward King, Deborah Remington, John Allen Ryan, and David Simpson, plus Spicer, who hung his poems for the opening show.

1955: Allen Ginsberg gives the first public reading of Howl at Six Gallery, during California School of Fine Arts (CSFA) alumnus and faculty Fred Fred Martin's exhibition, Crate Sculptures.

Joan Brown begins studying at the California School of Fine Arts (CSFA) and meets Manuel Neri in 1956. After graduating they both join the faculty.

"In the late 1950s, there began to develop a new city within the old that had little or no relationship to what had been built before...If downtown San Francisco had been invaded by another planet the juxtapositions between the city of 1930 and the post-war city could not be more jarring (Corbett 1979: 23, in Wiley 2000: 140).

1958: Jerry Garcia, lead guitarist and vocalist for The Grateful Dead, studies with Wally Hedrick and Elmer Bischoff of the California School of Fine Arts (CSFA).

1959: Construction of the third generation of San Francisco skyscrapers, the tallest and most controversial, was delayed until the late 1950s. The first modernist buildings were the work of Skidmore Owings Merrill (SOM). This firm's work was influenced by Gropius, Mies, and Le Corbusier. Indeed, some of Mies's best-known protégés joined the firm and shaped its design values. SOM collaborated with Hertzka and Knowles on the city's first post-World War II glass curtain skyscraper on Market Street for the Crown Zellerbach Corporation, which was completed in 1959 (Wiley 2000: 138).

California School of Fine Arts (CSFA) faculty Wally Hedrick and Jay DeFeo are included in 16 Americans at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Hedrick paints a series of anti-war paintings and stops teaching as a protest against the Vietnam war. He is fired.

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