Another Painted Lady

 
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I’d wager that most of us have engaged, at one time or another, in the pastime of seeking out the unassuming but legendary historic homes that link a city or subculture’s past to the present. I once drove out to Bob Dylan’s place in Malibu from east L.A. only to be met with the tallest, widest solid wood gate I’ve ever seen—but I did get a peek at all the tired horses he keeps.

San Francisco is especially ripe for this—off the top of my head, I can think of the Painted Ladies, the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane houses, Anton LaVey’s Black House, 500 Capp Street, and the Black Panther’s first headquarters in Oakland, at 5624 MLK Jr. Way.

In most cases, you’ll end up squinting up at the house, maybe offering a, “Damn, cool,” and quickly moving on. There’s not always much to look at, but if you took the time to locate and seek out the house, you’re probably satisfied—now you too can say, ‘I was there, man.’

The Beatles House is one such house in San Francisco that would have actually offered the seeker much to behold from the street outside.

An amazing essay by Todd Lapin on the excellent San Francisco digital archive site foundsf.org uncovers the history of the Beatles House in the Mission and its incredible mural. Tragically, the mural is gone now. Nonetheless, please go read Lapin’s essay—there are endless cool details and many more photos.

Lapin was also able to track down and interview Jane Weems, who painted the mural. In her words:

I painted the house in 1974, when I was still in junior high school… I had painted the walls of my bedroom inside the house, first with yellow submarine, then, I did the Elton John “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” album cover really big on one wall, and other paintings of the Beatles & Elton John on my walls… they were pretty much covered… so, I asked if I could paint a mural on the house, and my parents said yes… so, I started to draw out what I wanted to paint, with a pencil, all freehand, in the low parts that I could reach… after painting that, my mom rented a scaffold, so I could go up higher to get the whole front done… in the middle of this, I had to go to school every day, so progress was slow.

The S.L.A.’s Emily Harris [of Patty Hearst kidnapping fame] lived secretly in a safe house down the street, and used to come by to “watch me paint” and talk to me about the Beatles.

It was fun, both times I painted it… lots of people would stop & watch, or talk to me when I was up there… when I was finished, for years folks would come by, take pix, ring the bell and see what kind of folks lived inside… the SF Bay Guardian gave me a blue ribbon award once for being voted “The best SF remnant of the psychedelic 60′s” even though it was painted in ’74…

Basically, I was just an artistic kid who ran out of room inside, and started on the outside.
— Artist Jane Weems, interviewed by Todd Lapin

Lapin mentions in the article that the house can be seen in the movie, Living on Tokyo Time. I was able to track down that film, a totally enjoyable indie rom-com from the 80s, and indeed you’ll see the Beatles House appear as a rehearsal spot for the male protagonist’s band.

Long live old, weird San Francisco!

// jamie a.