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Outside Lands Podcast Episode 492: Richard Rothman

Nicole interviews Richard Rothman about his life with the murals of Washington High, Coit Tower, and the Mother's Building and his work trying to preserve the latter.
by Nicole Meldahl - Feb 18, 2023

Outside Lands Podcast Episode 492: Richard Rothman Outside Lands Podcast Episode 492: Richard Rothman

(above) SF Zoo, circa 1940

Delia Fleishhacker Mother's Building in what was then Fleishhacker Zoo. [West Side Album]

Podcast Transcription

WNP492 - Richard Rothman

Nicole: [00:00:00] It’s Outside Lands San Francisco, podcast of Western Neighborhoods Project, your weekly dose of friendly neighborhood history. Hello Outside Landers. I'm Nicole Meldahl and it's great to be with you again this week. Now, I'm hosting solo today because it's our first interview podcast of 2023, if you can believe that. And as history folks, you know, we spend a lot of time talking about people and places that are no longer here, but thanks to the tireless advocacy, advocacy of a comparatively few passionate San Franciscans, we're able to preserve some very special places. And one of those San Franciscans who has a long history with the west side joins me today. So, let's welcome Richard Rothman. Hi Richard. Thank you so much for being with us.

Richard: Glad to be here.

Nicole: [00:01:00] So Richard, this is going to be like an overall snapshot of your life, but very, very short, cause you do have a long and deep beloved history with the west side. So, if you don't mind, maybe we could start from the beginning. Like tell me about your parents and what neighborhood you grew up in.

Richard: Well, I grew up in the Western Addition, in the Jewish community around Fallon. Fallon-Steiner, we lived there. It was a Jewish community, and then my parents, when my sister came along in 1949, we moved to the house I'm living in today on 38th Avenue, across from Cabrillo Playground. And myself and my sister used to play in the playground. And go to Golden Gate Park. I got lost there one day and, [00:02:00] and I went to, I started Lafayette in the second grade and went to Presidio and George Washington High School and then City College in San Francisco State. And I retired from the city after working for the city for, what was it, 26 years. So, I've been retired since ‘09.

Nicole: Well, that was a really fast overview. Let's maybe take a little more time with your time in the west side growing up. So, what year did you officially get to the Outside Lands?

Richard: 1949.

Nicole: And what do you remember about your first, like moving into the house? How old were you?

Richard: I was seven.

Nicole: Do you remember, was it a lot different than living in the Western Addition?

Richard: Yeah, I mean, my mother did have to walk me up the big hill to go to the playground. It was right across the [00:03:00] street. And I know the other thing I remember is that most of my friends were Catholic. There was a St. Thomas School up the street. So, being Jewish, most of my, I didn't have many Jewish friends, you know, right in the neighborhood here. A lot of them lived in, in the Sunset. And so, I'd always thought that Catholic was the majority religion and until I got to City College and learned that it wasn't. So, that's basically what I remember. And I think the other thing I remember, there was only one Chinese restaurant on 18th and Geary growing up and my parents went there. And, and Playland at the Beach, there was the Hot House there, although the food's not the same. But, [00:04:00] you know, my cousin who was same age as myself, she moved to Seattle, but we went to the Playland at the Beach and we used to go to the Balboa Theater on Saturday and watch the, the matinees. And it was, I remember sitting in the first row, that was science fiction movie. And, and I also remember the day the Cliff House burned in, it was in the ‘50s. Going out there and, and seeing that and. and climbing on the rocks. We climbed the rocks across from the Cliff House, up the hill there. And we were little devils when growing up. So…

Nicole: I believe that.

Richard: But I always remember my, you know, walking to school too, even to Presidio, you know, so I always, [00:05:00] you know, I always walked to school.

Nicole: And I, I bet you spent a lot of time at Cabrillo Playground. Did you have, was there a recreation director there or was it…

Richard: Yeah, Rozzy was a playground director. I forgot her. Paul knows her last name. But yeah, she was there and she was very nice. And well, the bus would take us every summer, once a week to Silver Tree Camp.

Nicole: Oh.

Richard: In, I guess it's in Glen Park now, up both where O’Shaughnessy goes up, where that, that canyon is in, in, in Glen Park there. And so, we used to go to, to camp, Today Camp there. And. and I went to the YMCA camp, summer camp. And, and I was in the Boy Scout troop. We had a Boy Scout [00:06:00] troop in the Richmond District. And…

Nicole: Oh yeah.

Richard: We'd go, we didn't go to the Boy Scout camps, we went to the national parks. We, I think we went to Lassen and, I think, the Kings Canyon National Park for our summer trip.

Nicole: Did you, did you come away with any good skills? Like can you tie a knot really well because you were a Boy scout?

Richard: Oh, I forgot all those things.

Nicole: If it makes you feel any better. I don't know anything from when I was a Girl Scout, so…

Richard: Although I met a friend, you know, through the Washington, working on the Washington mural project. I did meet some people who I grew up with and we, and I don't remember them growing up, but I'm a little older than them. And, you know, we had the same friends. So, it was one good thing [00:07:00] about working on the Washington murals is that I got to reconnect with people. They're, I'm a little older than them, but, you know, who were around Washington at the time.

Nicole: Yeah.

Richard: And what I didn't pay attention to the murals. I walked up that, I walked for three years, I walked by those murals and I never, I don't think I ever paid attention to 'em. But I love sitting in the bleachers and looking out at the Bay. I mean, it was the best view ever. You know, the, the view there at, at Washington. You know, it was really to eat our lunch in the bleachers there and, you know, and look at the view. So…

Nicole: Yeah, and we'll talk about your, your efforts to preserve the murals there in a little bit. But I had the pleasure of going on a tour with you, oh, last month of Washington High. And I [00:08:00] thought, holy smokes, to be a high school student and get this kind of view. How did you get any work done while you were at Washington?

Richard: I don't know. Well, we were in the classroom, so you didn't really get to see the, you know, the view and…

Nicole: That's fair. And when you were there, were you, were you really into history? Like, or can you remember any kind of specific subjects or teachers that…

Richard: No, I was on the swimming team and I took, auto, learned how to drive at George Washington and they had driver ed and, you know, I just took the, the basic courses to get through high school. And then I went to City College and I was only gonna stay there for two years. And I took a [00:09:00] humanities class and loved it and said, oh, I want to go on to get a degree. So I, after I finished City College, I went to San Francisco State.

Nicole: What was it about that humanities class that really connected with you?

Richard: I guess it just opened a different world to me and, you know, seeing that there was a whole lot out there that I didn't know and wanted to explore more. I remember the teacher for our test, the New Yorker cartoon, she showed the New Yorker cartoons in class, and we had to analyze them or talk about them. And, and some, the other thing, another teacher used to call City College the Oxford, or the Outer Mission, or the High School of Ashtrays. When I went there, it was still part of the school district. It wasn't till, I think, [00:10:00] in 1964, it became independent. Before that it was, you, you get the teachers from the school district. Then I think, I think right after I left and they formed their own district. So, we got a lot of the teachers from the school district who were teaching there. And, and of course then it was free, you know, City College.

Nicole: Yeah.

Richard: You know, was, was free. In San Francisco State, tuition I think was $38.

Nicole: Yeah. And you, you of course, have done so much work to advocate for so many murals in San Francisco. Do you think that at City College that kind of inspired your life's work? There's so many beautiful art pieces.

Richard: No, I, you know, I had a class where the Diego Rivera mural was. And I'd go in there, all it must have been built when I, cause they said it was built in ‘61, so that's when [00:11:00] I started there. And I had an English class in, I didn't pay attention to it. And neither in, in the science building, the mural there, I didn't really pay attention. But I got interested in murals, before I got married, I did some volunteer work at San Francisco Heritage. I was a, a docent there at their, the Haas-Rosenthal House in what was it, I guess the, in the ‘70s. And they started doing neighborhood tours and one of the neighborhood tours they did, going from Washington Square up to Coit Tower and then down, down the hill to the wharves.  And so, I started going up there, giving tours. And then, [00:12:00] with my late wife, I don't know, we just saw that the murals weren't being taken care of. And so, we met one of the art commissioners, I forgot her name. She passed away. And so, we got the art commission because there, you know, the murals and the On Rec & Park, they're, the Rec & Park owns the building. The art commission owns, is responsible for the murals. So, we got them to fix it up, but, I don't know if you've heard of Van Rosenthal and she did the work. But I didn't read her report or nobody else in the city read her report. So, this was in, in ’83. And then, you know, I got married and worked for the city for 26 years and just did union work and, you know, didn't [00:13:00] pay attention to murals. And then, I decided to become a city guide and I was gonna do the Golden Gate Bridge. But at that time, the director asked me if I'd want to do Coit Tower because they were just starting, previously they only gave Saturday tours, and they just started giving Wednesday tours. So, he asked me if I’d be a guide at City College, at Coit Tower. So, I went up there and saw the murals weren't being taken care of. And then, I found the art commission and Rec & Park weren't talking to each other.

Nicole: Uh oh.

Richard: And Red & Park was bringing light fixtures down the stairs where the murals were, and the vendor didn't take care of [00:14:00] them, And so, well, Rec & Park put somebody in new in charge there, and I started, I don't know what's the right word, test an advocate and got the art commission interested in it. And so, they fixed up the murals in the...

Nicole: Yeah, you, one thing that impresses me most about you, is you're just quietly always on top of people, right? Every meeting I go to, you’re there. Like, you must not sleep, Richard, because you're, you're literally at everything.

Richard: I try not to be at everything. And so, this was in around 2009 and then I met John Gallinger, who's at that, I tried to get Aaron Peskin interested in it, but he was, but John Gallinger was the [00:15:00] president of the Telegraph Hill Dwellers Association. So, he and myself put the chart, put this ballot measure on. And, and lo and behold, at that time, the city had a surplus. So, they had the money to fix it up. And they did a really bang-up job. I mean, they really, you know, fixed it up. And they, you know, one good thing about the Mother's, about Coit Tower and the Mother's Building and Beach Chalet, they weren't designed from murals. So, you know what? Coit Tower had water leaks in it. And so, but they mostly fixed it up in 2012. And they had it closed. And then Anne Rosenthal did a, conserve the murals this [00:16:00] time on the second floor also. And, they look great. Except during the pandemic when the building was closed, there was a water leak and there was some water damage. And what’s ironic, the city knew the, in the, in the Coit Tower, there's two large water tanks. And the city knew, or PUC knew that one of those pipes needed to be replaced and there was water in it. Well, it failed during the pandemic and nobody knew how long until somebody was walking by and saw water running outta the building. And, it's not, I mean, it's just the principle. You have to have a real good eye to see where the, the water damage is. And, and so far, I don't think the city has [00:17:00] fixed the, you know, murals there.

Nicole: Before I, I recently, in the last couple years, bought a 1931 house and before I owned a house and I would hear stories like that. I was like, how could you not fix this thing, you know, needed to be fixed? And now I understand. You hear something,

Richard: I dunno, the city just has, you know, other priorities.

Nicole: Yeah.

Richard: And, you know, the, and Aaron Peskin, John Gallinger before he moved on, I mean, he used to have meetings, and, and, in fact, Connie Chan worked for, I don't know if you know, Connie Chan worked for Aaron Peskin, and she used to chair the meetings that we meet monthly about Coit Tower. And we have to do that for the Mother's Building. And, you know, just keep on. But during the pandemic, it [00:18:00] sort of stopped. But the murals are not, I go up, I still give city guide tours once I, once a month. I was just up there Friday for, I gave somebody a special tour. And so, but they're, you know, they were one of the first ones in the country to start this, the program, the public works of art. Cause we had the Art Institute and we had, Diego Rivera came to the city. And I know it's not in the Western Addition, but you know, we need to worry about what's gonna happen with the Art Institute and…

Nicole: Oh, that's a whole other podcast, Richard .

Richard: Okay.

Nicole: And we'll say, let's, let, that's a good transition. Richard, let's pull you back into the west side a little bit. So let's, let's track back a little bit. You're heading to San Francisco State and you're like, I'm gonna be a humanities major. What, what was…

Richard: No, actually I was a, [00:19:00] I studied business and got a degree in real estate.

Nicole: What happened to the humanities class?

Richard: Well, it was, I guess real estate was just a more practical thing, although I never went into, to real estate. After I graduated State, I went into Vista for a year, so there was my humanities. I spent a year in New York City and then I worked for my father for about 13 years and he was ready to close. And then I, these policeman used to come around and said, Richard, you gotta go work for the city. No matter what you do, just start working for the city. I took their advice. I spent 26 years working for the city. And I had nothing, you know, nothing to do with humanities or murals. I, the last 12 years I was a purchasing manager in the psych department at San [00:20:00] Francisco State.

Nicole: Oh.

Richard: And, you know, just focused on my union activities and marriage and work. So, so it wasn't until, you know, I retired and then I, well, I worked at Point Bonita for about, oh, maybe six years or seven years. And I couldn't walk up the hill anymore because of the, because I had knee surgery, back surgery. But you know, the city, you know, they put a new bridge in there and they, they're not taking care of it. They let it go to, you know, apparently now they're gonna, you know, after people complain. But it's really a shame. But back to the, so now I'm a volunteer at the Maritime Museum on…

Nicole: Oh.

Richard: And, and so, I get to look at murals every Sunday morning.

Nicole: Your whole life there, at the beginning of your life, you, you, [00:21:00] like, you had a blindness for murals. You walked right by them. Your whole, your whole like childhood, and now your whole life revolves around murals.

Richard: That's, that's right. It, it, it does, you know, and you just realize that, you know, they need to be taken care of. In fact, the Mother's Building, you know, I grew up, and I'm sure my mother took me there. You know, the original use of them, you know, the mother's building was part of Herbert Fleishhacker’s area there. And I noticed you interviewed David Fleishhacker.

Nicole: We did, yeah.

Richard: I might wanna ask him if he wants to contribute to the Mother's Building. So, I've asked him and he’s friendly about it.

Nicole: So, yeah, we did bring it to his attention and he was, he's, he expressed interest, of course, in, in fixing the Fleishhacker building up. But, but, it didn't go any further than there.

Richard: Well, [00:22:00] if he does, you can. So, you know, I vaguely remember my mother taking me there and, you know, the original use of the Mother's Building was only for mothers to change their diapers of their kids. So, fathers weren't allowed in the building.

Nicole: Right.

Richard: And I'm sure my mother took me in there and there was a wading pool there. And, that was the main entrance until, well, I think around 2000. They had to close a Sloat entrance for ADA issues and they closed the Mothers Building, but it was a gift shop before.

Nicole: Yeah. And for, for listeners who maybe don't know, we do have a podcast on it, episode number 167. But this is in the San Francisco Zoo, which the parking lot of the zoo used to be the Fleishhacker Pool.

Richard: Right.

Nicole: And this Mother's Building was situated right off of the pool.

Richard: Not quite right off, but near. But it [00:23:00] was, it was built to be the main, to be first building you saw when you walked in the, in the zoo down the, you know, down there. And so, and when they close that entrance, they just closed the Mother's Building. So, it's been vacant for, you know, over 20 years.

Nicole: And when did you first, when I first met you, when I first came to WNP in 2012, it was, it was Woody and David were like, oh, Richard Rothman, the Mother's Building. So, was that around when you got invested in preserving it?

Richard: Oh, it was 2012. It was about 10 years ago, about that. Actually, I heard, I forgot all about it actually. I heard about it on a, John Gallinger and Gray Brecken were doing a, a podcast, uh, doing a, I think a program on KQED about the ballot measure in [00:24:00] 2012. And Gray Brecken just happened to mention, oh, there's this, the Mother's Building out at the, you know, at the zoo and you're not really, you know, I forgot about it. And, I'm on the Park and Open Space Advisory Committee, so I know something about Rec and Park and so, I started going to the Joint Zoo Committee meetings and asking about it. And then, they let me in the building and I was just blown away by these beautiful murals. But I haven't been in there in a year, so who knows? Though I, hopefully they're, hope they should be okay. And so, I, the first time, you know, I get so excited every time I go in the building and so I'm looking forward to going to the building, you know, [00:25:00] within a month or so. And it's really, it's just so exciting to see this, these hidden treasures here. And, you know, I've, I've studied, I know quite a bit about the two women artists who did the work inside. And the two mosaics, I didn't know much about 'em until accidentally, I listened to, the Treasurer Island Museum had a podcast about this lady, Wendy Good, wrote a book about sisters in the art. And it was all about the three sisters who painted the mosaics.

Nicole: Yep.

Richard: And they were, this was the start of their career. They went on to work with Diego Rivera. And they did a lot of artwork in, in. in hotel, in bars in [00:26:00] San Francisco and, you know, at that time the fancy, like at, I think the, the Mark Hopkins. And so, they went on to be famous and Wendy wrote a book about 'em, then I got to meet her and we talked a couple of times and her book. So it's, it's really an interesting story to talk about. And the two women who, Helen Forbes and Dorothy Puccinelli, were originally signed up, were put an application in to work at Coit Tower. There was, there were 26 slots and 50 people applied.

Nicole: Wow.

Richard: So, they decided instead of waiting, they would go out to the zoo. Apparently they painted, they did some drawings of animals, which I cannot find. I [00:27:00] don't know. I checked with the, the museums in the city and other, and I can't find them. And, and so, they just decided to go out to the zoo and, and there were these four blank walls there. Originally, they were just gonna do a little part, and then they decided to do all four walls. I think the big murals are a hundred feet long.

Nicole: Oh my gosh. And for me like that, that's, that's a really compelling story for me at the Mother's Building. The structure was built in honor of a woman for women and decorated by women. And it's, it's, it's such a unique space. Women weren't a huge part of the WPA program as far as I understand, right? There's not as many works remaining by women from that time period. So, this is a very special space in San Francisco.

Richard: Well, [00:28:00] Robert Churney's writing, is writing a book about Coit Tower. And then, so another guide is writing a book about Coit Tower. So, there's gonna be two new books coming out about Coit Tower.

Nicole: Oh my gosh.

Richard: So, I put 'em in contact with each other, but that's useful. But, you know, one of the artists, Dorothy Puccinelli, said that, you know, the, the WPA gave a chance for the woman to, you know, to, to practice their art. Although not, you know, they had this rule that only one family member could work in the government program.

Nicole: Oh, interesting.

Richard: So that, Helen Forbes never married. Dorothy Puccinelli, she married, I think, three times. She has a daughter my age or had a daughter, and I tried to find her. [00:29:00] And. I could never, never find her. But she said it gave a chance for a woman to, you know, to, to show their art. To show their work and do the work. And the other thing was, was that this artwork is free and open to the public. Well, when we open the Mother's Building, it'll be free and open to the public. And, you know, like Coit Tower and Beach Chalet, so people can come in, you know, and enjoy it and don't have to go, you know, to a museum to see the, to see the work there. And…

Nicole: Yeah.

Richard: So that's why I, you know, why that's, why this is important to me to make sure that the Mother's Building is, is gonna be free and open to the public.

Nicole: And she turns 100 in 2025. So Richard, what can we and all, all of our [00:30:00] listeners do to support you in getting this building fixed up and reopened to the public?

Richard: Well right now, thanks to Supervisor Melgar and Gordon Mar, and, and Supervisor Melgar said we finally have a woman in District Seven. Because Sean Elsbernd for one, didn't wanna do anything. And Gordon and Norman Yee was only interested in car, you know, he was hit by a car, so he was only interested in, in pedestrian safety. But, you know, and I, Supervisor Melgar has been really great. She was the one who helped get the building City landmark. And she and Gordon Mar appropriated a hundred thousand dollars to do an economic study and hopefully I'll know on Thursday [00:31:00] who the vendor is. And so, once we do the economic study, you know, we'll have a plan and, and then we can start, to start selling it. And you know, either we have to, name your combination of raise private funds or put it on the ballot. And, and if your board members know any members of the Zoological Society board, I would love to talk to them. They have not been, they really don't want anything to do with the building and it's a shame.  And…

Nicole: It sounds like the building's kind of complicated, right? Cause it's, remind me, it's, it's on, it's within the zoo parameters, but technically it's within the jurisdiction of Rec & Park, right?

Richard: The whole, well, Rec & Park owns all the property.

Nicole: Okay.

Richard: Where the zoo is. In fact, they [00:32:00] own the animals too, which…

Nicole: Oh my gosh.

Richard: I learned at the Joint Zoo Committee. I didn't know that. I sat at those meetings for about a year until I, you know, cause I used to go there and talk about the Mother's Building.

Nicole: Yeah.

Richard: But I think the main thing is, cause there's no live animals in the Mother's Building.

Nicole: Right.

Richard: That's why, you know, they're not in their mission, but, you know, we're gonna do this economic study of how to best use the, the building. Maybe after the economic study, like, you know, we could have a community meeting or, you know, we talked at the Parkside Heritage maybe. Or Rec & Park could have a, a meeting. And you know, right now is just to thank, you know, all the supervisor. So, although Joel said, Engardio [00:33:00] said he's gonna honor all of Gordon Mar’s commitments. So, he, he hasn't been out there yet, so we hope to take him out there.

Nicole: And he's pretty new still.

Richard: Yeah, he's pretty new, but it's funny, his one of his age, you know who was on the call? Joe, was that named Joseph? I think Goldberg.

Nicole: I forget.

Richard: Yeah, well he used to work at Public Works and one of small warders cause uh, Katie Tang and Ashley got money to do some rehabilitation on the building.

Nicole: Yeah.

Richard: And he managed the project for Public Works. So.

Nicole: It's a small world. Richard's referring to Katie Tang, who was our district supervisor out here, and then Ashley Summers, or I believe was her name, who's worked in Rec & Park in various faculties.  We, we used to work with her.

Richard: Yeah, she worked, she was, Ash, she was Katie Tang’s aide then. [00:34:00] Now she's a commission secretary.

Nicole: She's great. We love Ashley.

Richard: Yeah, so she's been helping me for 10 years on this project here. So, you know, right now just to, to, if anybody knows any zoological members or you know, right now, send a letter of support to the supervisors, you know, in District Four and District Seven. Aand to the Rec & Park commission to let them, you know, that. But I think the big push is gonna come when we do the economic study.

Nicole: Yeah.

Richard: Which hopefully will be finished in about, who knows? Everything is maybe six or seven months, you know, that's to do the study and how, how best to use the building and how to, you know, to raise the money and, [00:35:00] and, you know, the, the best use, the best use for the property. So, you know, all I can say is stay tuned. But if they wanna write a letter to Rec and Park Commission and to Phil Ginsburg and to the, you know, especially if you live in District 4 or in, in Seven. And also, Connie Chan has been, you know, I live in her district and she, and before she, you know, we had a meeting about it. So, she knows all about it. She's a big supporter. And even Aaron Peskin is a big supporter. So, we got those people, you know, maybe we'll ask the supervisors for more money, but…

Nicole: Yeah, we should tell our listeners. Everybody knows Richard Rothman. If you bring up the Mother's Building to a district supervisor, the next words outta their mouth is, oh yeah, Richard Rothman.

Richard: Well maybe not Dorsey or some of the new [00:36:00] supervisors. I don't think all of them. I'm not sure Hillary Ronen would know, or, or, but the ones on the west side, well, I haven't met the new. So I, you know, but well, we, but if you can let him know or, you know. Yeah.

Nicole: Because that's the key with them, I mean, you know, I'm still kind of a new kid on the block for historic preservation and things like that. But from what I've seen, just consistent pressure, keeping what you're working on at the forefront of everyone's agendas. Cause like supervisors get busy, everybody gets busy, even the folks who live in the neighborhood, right? But constantly reminding them that this space is special and needs to be activated. And what would you like to see inside the building? Richard? Like, I want your civilian opinion. No agenda. What would you love to see inside the Mother's Building?

Richard: Well, I'd like to see a mixed use. [00:37:00] You know, Sloat could be an entrance to the, the Mother's Building, and then put a gate near the Mother's Building so people could pay to go in. You know, they have all, you know, the 18 we want, I want, I'd like to see the 18 bus go to Daly City BART. And you know, there's the what, the 29, the L. So you know, to be an entrance and Jane Tobin and I, you'll, you'll get to meet her someday, had this blue cadet. Do you remember, you know, like what, what Ben Wood did.

Nicole: The projections.

Richard: You know, do something like that. But, you know, there's going to the Joint Zoo Committee meeting. The zoo is, is done a fair amount of work outside the zoo, like protecting small animals, I think in [00:38:00] Yosemite. And another whereas, and so, you know, that is a transition between what the zoo is doing outside and inside. And maybe some AV programs to explain, you know, what the zoo is about there. And John Gallinger had some, made some chalkboard or, or some poster signs of all the artists at Coit Tower. Maybe we could put the women artists there and maybe, you know, I would talk to Woody about maybe having a history display in the building there. And then also at night, cause the murals are high up, so that they could serve food there. Maybe have, you couldn't cook the food in the room, but you could bring [00:39:00] food in there and have hot food and, you know, and rent it out for parties and, you know, that. But I, you know, I'd just like to see it as a, you know, as a community space. I mean, this is what the economic study is going to, you know, tell us and just, and bring it back, its original use. The parents could take their kids, you know, inside the building there.

Nicole: Yeah.

Richard: You know, change your diapers and, and have a place to rest out in the, in that end of the park. Cause for a while that the zoo really hadn't paid attention. They opened the, the playground there, but they hadn't paid much attention to the north end of the park.

Nicole: Well, I know Woody LaBounty, our co-founder for those who don't know, when he, he's always been really invested in this space. I know I've, I remember him working [00:40:00] on this way back when I first got to WNP. And I love the idea too, of it being a community space, Richard, A flexible space. And it would be wonderful if you ever need help with like programming and history or helping to activate the space with local artists, you know, Western Neighborhoods Project is here for you in the zoo. And anybody else who gets their hands in this pie.

Richard: Well, it's a long road to go. We gotta, the building isn't, besides the, the building wasn't designed for murals. When you, the, the, the murals are in great, there's three walls. They're, although I haven't seen it, it had been there in nine months. But the building is in, the murals, except for the wall, the western wall cause water set in. So hopefully the protection they put on there, prevented more water from coming into the building.

Nicole: Yeah.

Richard: And, but the building is [00:41:00] built on sand, so it needs to have a, the main cost is to have the, the building, the structure of the building, you know, shored up. You know, Katie Ting and Ashley gave us the money to do the short term and immediate repair. So…

Nicole: Yeah.

Richard: But, oh, you know, we got, I don't know, you remember the Emporium?

Nicole: Oh yeah.

Richard: Well, we got some of the, one of the largest grants from the Emporium settlement to do…

Nicole: Richard's talking about the money that went into a fund, specifically for historic preservation work, that came out of the old Emporium being improperly treated by its new owners, Westfield Mall. I believe they, they destroyed some historic infrastructure in, in the old Emporium buildings. So, cause of that, they had to pay [00:42:00] millions of dollars in fines. And it all went to historic preservation purposes. So…

Richard: Well, it went for, not for actual projects, but it went in for planning. I think the Western neighborhood got some. So, Rec & Park and the art commission and the zoo applied in, so ARG did a condition assessment of the building. And…

Nicole: Yeah.

Richard: And so, we know how much it's gonna cost, and we know, although it keeps going up, and the longer they wait, the more it costs.

Nicole: I know. And I know our dear friend Alexandra Mitchell of Act Dark Conservation is, is at the ready to help you conserve those murals whenever the call comes.

Richard: Well, we don't need much. I don't know, we might just leave the murals the way they are and, you know, let people see what water damage can do to them. And, [00:43:00] so well, we'll, we'll see what this, what the study says. But I actually found a video or an old movie of how the murals looked before the water damage.

Nicole: Oh.

Richard: Just by accident. I, there was a, a major show down in Santa Clara. I think in the ‘50s and they did this whole show about WPA murals.

Nicole: Oh,

Richard: And talked about the Mother's Building. Actually, art commission had funds to fix up the murals. That was around 2010, somewhere around there. But they didn't wanna spend the money cause they, cause they wanted Rec & Park to fix the, to fix the building.

Nicole: Yeah, you can't, it's the chicken or the egg, right? The building or the, or the murals.

Richard: But, well, you gotta have to [00:44:00] fix the building first before you, you, but the building wasn't designed, you know, for the murals, and it wasn't built on solid ground. And, although it was designed by a famous architect, so I don't know why he didn't, he didn't build it on, on more solid foundation there. It's one of the, I think that and one other building's, the only, the original buildings left from the original Fleishhacker. Because the other building burned down the one. The bath house burned down.

Nicole: It sure did. So, I think that's a good place to end, unless there's anything else about the, the, the Mother's Building that you'd like to add before we go for the evening.

Richard: Oh, we didn’t talk about Washington.

Nicole: I know we're already at 49 minutes. Richard.

Richard: Okay.

Nicole: We can, we can do another podcast about Washington. But, [00:45:00] but so, the big takeaway is, you are an Outside Lands man. And you've spent a lifetime advocating for overlooked murals in San Francisco, and right now you need help to save the Mother's Building. So, write to all of your District Supervisors. Write to the Arts Commission, and to Rec & Park to help Richard get this building back open for all of us.

Richard: Right, yes.

Nicole: And Richard, I really appreciate you taking the time to spend with me tonight.

Richard: Oh, thank you for letting me.

Nicole: So, if you can stick around for a few more minutes. I have five really hard-hitting questions for you to answer. Are you ready?

Richard: Okay. I know the answers to everything.

Nicole: So, number one, what is the best meal you've ever eaten in San Francisco?

Richard: Oh, Little Joe’s in North Beach.

Nicole: That is a great answer, Richard. Number two, what is your favorite place in San Francisco? The one place you go back to again and again,

Richard: [00:46:00] I guess Coit Tower.

Nicole: Yeah. That's a good one. So maybe just gonna answer the same thing for all these questions, but what is the one thing out of town or shouldn't miss? Like where do you take people when they visit?

Richard: Oh, take 'em to see them murals in the city.

Nicole: Yeah, that's a good one too. A private Richard Rothman tour of all the murals. Number four, what's one San Francisco thing you would bring back, if you could?

Richard: All the old Italian restaurants in North Beach. Like, Sam Remo’s and the Golden Spike and yes.

Nicole: Richard…

Richard: Because my grandfather used to take us there on Sunday nights.

Nicole: Ah, there's nothing better than like a big bowl of pasta on Sunday nights. I think you and I are gonna have to get dinner at the Gold Mirror at some point.

Richard: Right, I was just thinking about that. Well, we should go there. Yes. [00:47:00] I've gone there a couple of times.

Nicole: That's my Christmas spot. We always have a special Christmas dinner there. Okay, number five, last one, and it's a doozy. Why is history important?

Richard: Well, people have to remember their past and preserve their past. Otherwise, they might lose some context or something. You know, it's just important to, cause if you wanna appreciate the future, I think you have to appreciate, you know, the past, and see what, what beautiful artwork or books there are to read. I just saw, I just bought Vertigo and saw it again, and, you know, they don't make the movies like that anymore. You know, it's just, you know, it's, it is just, I, you [00:48:00] know, you have to, I think you have to know the history in order to, to move forward and, and to, you know, to appreciate life.

Nicole: Right, Richard. Have a good night. I'm going to launch into the last section of the podcast now. Bye.

Richard: Good night.

Nicole: But now it's time for listener mail. So first of all, dear listeners, of course, you know, I don't have to tell you, but I'm gonna tell you anyways. You can contact us about anything you heard in this podcast or to give us recommendations, podcasts@outsidelands.org. Super, super easy kind of email or you can take advantage of our social media presence on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. You can post a podcast comment there when we post about the podcast. Or just hit us up at random, on random posts. We love that too.

And after listening to podcast number 490 on [00:49:00] Boudin Bakery, our friend Kevin shared this memory. He said, and I quote, “en route home from the old S.I. at Stanyan and Turk, searching for a seat on a bus, me mate, and I walked north away from the crowds. The 5 McAllister passed the 31 Balboa to the good old 38 Geary. Thence to 10th, we'd buy a roll at Boudin. Too young to step into Tippys’s and walk up to Clement to ensure a seat traveling south to the N Judah.”  End quote. And he went on. He said, “I was in Tippy’s as a wee lad with mom waiting for a bus. The owner was a family friend, so I'd get a ginger ale and a glass of cherries.” Thank you for the memory, Kevin, as well as the new drink suggestion, which I will try out, cause I am trying to drink a little bit less when I'm out.

And Kevin also suggested we should do a podcast on the McAvoy O'Hara Evergreen Mortuary, which is across on Geary, and I couldn't agree more. That's one of the buildings I always drive by and [00:50:00] I'm like, man, I bet there's some history there. So again, email us, podcasts@outsidelands.org, . with suggestions or questions about today's podcast with Richard Rothman.

And now I'm gonna roll through the benefits of membership and donating. Folks, you know when you clickety, clickety, clack that big orange button at the top of any page on our website, outsidelands.org or OpenSFHistory.org. When you become a member, you get the quarterly membership magazine, discounts on events and other exclusive perks. But, you know, really your membership supports all the good work we do and we did just send on a survey, and overwhelmingly, people say that they support us because of the feel-good satisfaction of supporting local history. This kind of work, your funding, it goes towards OpenSFHistory, which is a treasure trove of historical photos of San Francisco. The Cliff House collection, it's care and [00:51:00] exhibition, which is super expensive. And this podcast because you get to listen to people like Richard talk about their stories, and you get history in the process. So please become a member today. Every little bit does count for a teeny tiny community history organization like us, and we do appreciate all of the support that you do give us.

And now, we're rolling into announcements. So, mark your calendars, friends. March 11th, there will be an epic party at the Great Highway Gallery, 43rd and Lawton. We told you last week that our dear friend, John Lindsey, is being forced to close the Great Highway Gallery after his landlord refused to negotiate a 50% increase in his lease. Now civilian Nicole has a lot of opinions about how the city can do more to support amazing spaces like his, but that's not what this podcast is about. And that's not kind of the advocacy I do as executive director Nicole. [00:52:00] And this is a history podcast, so get ready for a forthcoming episode with John as we document this living history, right? A critical business going under and transitioning to the next chapter. In the meantime, many people have been asking us what they can do for John. So here it is from the man himself. He wants you to go buy art from the gallery. And if you're interested in sharing your memories about how the Great Highway Gallery has impacted your life, you can email podcasts@outsidelands.org and we can pass it along, or you can just email John directly, info@thegreathighway.com.

Speaking of, of exhibitions in, in a, in a gallery, we're working on our first exhibitions of the year. Lindsey Hanson is putting the final touches on our big window display to celebrate the 120th anniversary of the Dutch Windmill. And we've got events. Our public programs start officially begin [00:53:00] next month. And tickets are already selling fast for the patented John Martini experience. He's doing history walks in March and April and you'll get to toodle around with John and myself and other WNPers through the Presidio Main Post and the Music Concourse in Golden Gate Park and Mountain Lake. Tickets are $10 for WNP members and $20 for non-members. So, check out the WNP Eventbrite page and be sure to sign up for our monthly email at outsidelands.org.

And speaking of emails, we need you to complete our audience survey. And I know you don't wanna do one more thing and it's always exhausting opening your email and seeing all these like emails, asking to do things. But I swear this will only take a few minutes of your time and it really helps us to know who you are, what you like, and what we can improve so we can continue to do bigger and [00:54:00] better things together. And to sweeten the pot, everyone who completes the survey will have a chance to receive one free year of membership. If you're already a member, that means we tack on an additional year to it. And if you're not a member, you get to become part of the family for free for a whole year. And maybe I should stop saying it like that, cause it kind of makes us sound like the mafia and we're way too nice to be in the mafia.

So, preview for next week. Our friends at Barbagelata Realty asked us to research their West Portal office. And you know what? There's some really cool history there and we're gonna tell you all about it. So, until next time, I'm Nicole Meldahl. And this has been another episode of Outside Lands San Francisco. Thanks for being with us friends.

Ian: Outside Lands San Francisco is recorded by Ian Hadley. Content creation and media production at ihadley.com.

Nicole: To learn more about the Western Neighborhoods Project and more on San Francisco history, go to Outsidelands.org. You can also find us on social media at Facebook, which is outsidelands with an S, at Twitter, which is outsidelandz with a Z, and on Instagram, which is outsidelandz, also with a Z. And check out our historic San Francisco images website at OpenSFHistory.org.

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