From "The Memoirs," Chapter XII, by
At that time in San
Francisco there was a lot of comment in the press and such about the
“Manhattanization” of San Francisco, and a certain amount of movement to
limit the size and density of the new buildings which were going up in
the financial district downtown. I, of course, always had opinions
about everything and came up with the idea to write and publish a simple
tract about the esthetics of the architecture of the day. I called it
“To Whom It May Concern: ”
“To Whom is may Concern: “ an open
letter to the City of San Francisco, is an artist’s plan for San
Francisco in the year 2020. It is an alternative to the non-creative,
accidental city planning that is going on today. It is a plan for the
future which call for changing the way we view our environment and
bringing an end to boredom.”
Is the time…
... To plan for the year 2020.
This is a plan for aesthetics, not the aesthetics of a few who decide
what our city should look like, but an aesthetics for the people who
live and work here.
How the city looks today is the result of how a number of architects and
city planners think it should look; it did not look like this in the
past and it will not look like this in the future. We can change the
way our city is being built.
New technology in building materials such as steel, glass and concrete
have opened limitless possibilities, but architects and builders are
still using these materials as if they were wood and brick.
San Francisco stands at an important point in its history. We are still
the robust and outrageous city of our legend. We can continue to be
that city in the future; by choosing now to change the way we view our
environment, to achieve concrete results toward aesthetic ends, to end
the construction of boring predictability, to force our leaders into a
commitment far beyond their next election, to begin a continuing
dialogue among the people of San Francisco, to begin now to make a plan
for the future.
But we must not be timid! Even the most extreme futurists of the past
could not imagine the state of our modern world. The same shall be true
of us. We cannot go wrong by going as far as we can.
What follows is a modest proposal for San Francisco in the year 2020,
not so far in the future as we might think.
One of the ideas was to ADD
ART to the buildings.
To show an example, we decided to stage a
photograph using some tall flats from Ready Set which we made look like
one of the “glass box” boring buildings downtown and then we attached to
the top a giant replica of one of Frank Stella’s “protractor” paintings
which I had painted for one of the movies we had done.
Well, we hauled the whole contraption downtown to a vacant lot one
Sunday morning and set it up to look like part of the skyline of San
Francisco. It looked great and we always considered it another of our
And I filled the little book, about 24
pages, with drawings and sketches of what I thought was more “esthetic”
architecture and which I claimed would be a big improvement.
I included all kinds of great ideas to make our city better, like:
There was also a lot of talk about what to do with the Embarcadero
freeway, that hated, colosal monstrosity which blocked off the entire
waterfront of San Franscisco Bay. I said:
At that time, the skyline of San Francisco was dominated by the new,
hideous Sutro Tower, an enormous television broadcasting tower
universally hated by San Franciscans. I suggested:
The western half the city sat facing the Pacific Ocean and was home to
50's style little crackerbox houses of boring, middle class existance.
I thought we should tear them down:
I included a proposed, city-wide art event called "Tie Up the Financial
I proposed new ways to look at architecture in our earthquake-prone
* * *
Well, the little pamphlet
grew and I did a lot of drawings for it and printed up a couple dozen
which I gave out to friends and a few of the friends I had in City Hall,
like Tommy Ammiano, of course, and then one day I tracked down Sue
Bierman, a long-time favorite of mine, at that time head of the Planning
Commission, and put one in her very hands. She thanked me.
* * *
The interesting thing, though, a couple
years later the city began passing laws that any new building had to be
something different than a square box. They were called architecture
“esthetics” laws and set up a board to rule on the esthetics of any new
building. Some people called them the “Funny Hat” laws because every
building that was built from then on had to have a funny hat on top.
I felt vindicated.
* * *
ARCHITECTURE / BILL WOLF