Western Neighborhoods Project is dedicated to the history of San Francisco's Richmond, Sunset, OMI and West of Twin Peaks districts.   read more ...
 

Outside Lands Podcast Episode 494: John Lindsey & the Great Highway Gallery

Nicole sits down with John Lindsey to talk about his life in art and food and the closing of his Great Highway Gallery.
by Nicole Meldahl - Mar 4, 2023

Outside Lands Podcast Episode 494: John Lindsey & the Great Highway Gallery Outside Lands Podcast Episode 494: John Lindsey & the Great Highway Gallery

(above) Cliff House, Jul 18, 1960

Totem pole and statue in front of Cliff House. Statue of Nio Sama once stood in the Japanese Tea Garden and later sold to the Whitneys for display at the Cliff House. Ship Model Exhibit, Pronto Pups hot dog stand at rtight.


Podcast Transcription

494: Great Highway Gallery

Nicole: [00:00:00] It's Outside Lands San Francisco, podcast of Western Neighborhoods Project. Your weekly dose of friendly neighborhood history.

Okay. Hello Outside Landers. I'm Nicole Meldahl and it's great to be with you again this week. Now, if you are an avid listener of our podcast, then you already know our dear friend John Lindsey for so many reasons. He's the registered father of the Cliff House collection, and we couldn't have pulled off The Museum at The Cliff without him. But he's so much more than that and we're gonna get into all of that right now. So please welcome back to the podcast, a Mr. Lindsey.

John: Thank you very much, Nicole. Happy to be here.

Nicole: Yes. Thank you for letting me drag you into yet another podcast. We both have our cats by our side. We're freezing.

John: Wow.

Nicole: The [00:01:00] typical San Francisco night. And John's now pulling his cat to the table. That's good. We're all here? Yeah. Front and center. John, what's your cat's name?

John: This is BG. Originally Batman Jr. And then BG.

Nicole: Well, my cat, neither of our cats, are very interested in each other on Zoom. Which I can't blame them. But anyway, we digress. So John, we will get into your gallery and the, and the fact that your gallery is, is shifting form, shall we say. But right now we're gonna do an exercise in living history, right? John, you've been such an incredible part of the Sunset District for years, and I wanna know more about you, the man behind the myth. So, let's get into it. Are you ready?

John: I'm ready.

Nicole: All right, John, what are your origins? Who are your parents? I know you're a grumpy [00:02:00] Greek fisherman at heart, but were your parents Greek fishermen?

John: Not really. Mom was somewhat of a perfectionist. Dad was a very hardworking lad. But they, they met at the Virginia Military Institute, where my dad was going and my mom was working in the concession, kind of community store, like little diner-esque kind of a thing they had inside the military institute. And my dad actually, interestingly enough, brought a stray cat in to the shop and that was his kind of foray to get to know my mother.

Nicole: Your dad’s love language is stray cats. I love that. So, your mom was like, yeah, I love the stray cat, let's go on a date.

John: Yeah, it was a little bit different back then, but yeah, some, something like that. And then they, you know, they, he asked her to marry her and I mean he, whatever. And.

Nicole: Yeah, we got it.

John: [00:03:00] You got the idea. And then, so Dad worked for Alice Chalmers. He was an engineer, an electrical engineer by education. And then, he ended up working for the Veterans Administration as an engineer and worked his way all the way up to being like the head of the Western District, whatever. He was the administrator at that point.

Nicole: Yep.

John: And we moved around all over the country. Virginia, Colorado, Utah, and then I came out here to go to cooking school.

Nicole: What was the favorite place that you lived in growing up?

John: Wow. Maybe Utah, because it was high school and college and the skiing was so good. And I started working in restaurants at that time and that, that maybe was my formative years.

Nicole: I could see you…

John: Colorado was nice. I like the west.

Nicole: Yeah. I could see as a ski bunny for sure. Yeah?

John: Oh yeah.

Nicole: Do you still ski?

John: Not so much. I, that's how I kind of got, fell in love with the beach was that I couldn't really afford to [00:04:00] ski when I got here. People were like, let's go skiing. I was going to cooking school and they were like, let's go skiing. I'm like, oh, that sounds great. And they're like, all right, we're going up for the weekend. We gotta get a cabin. We gotta buy all the booze and then we gotta get the lift tickets. It'll be like two, three hundred bucks, you know? And I'm like, yeah, I'm used to like $5 Wednesday skiing in at, you know, in Salt Lake, which is not the case anymore. But yeah, so a little, little different. So, my friend at cooking school, Dennis, he's like, I'm a surfer. And he lived at the beach and I hung out with him and then I'm like, oh, I gotta pick this up. All I gotta do is buy a Boogie board for $125, a wetsuit for $125, spins for $25, and somehow make it to the beach. And I'm in. So…

Nicole: I'm sorry. Boogie boards are $125?

John: That was back in 1987 or ‘88, somewhere in there. Now they're like two, 300 bucks, 400. You can get a $400 body board. Materials have, you know, materials are expensive.

Nicole: I mean, okay, I [00:05:00] guess that makes sense. I grew up boogie boarding in Southern California and I'm pretty sure all my boogie boards came from Costco.

John: Well, you can still get like a little $40, $30 stamped out thing.

Nicole: Yeah.

John: I happen to have my boards made for me to my specifications.

Nicole: Oh, there it is. Yeah.

John: Yeah.

Nicole: Yeah, such a fancy man.

John: Yeah.

Nicole: Okay, so you come out here, what year did you get to San Francisco?

John: It's somewhere, like ‘87, I think, ’88. Maybe, somewhere in there.

Nicole: Yeah. That's the year my boyfriend was born. Nice.

John: Yeah. Ouch. All right, so went to the culinary academy. That's what brought me out here. I, I was living in the USF dorms, which actually I live about two blocks away from now, and have done so for the last 30 years. So, it's kind of interesting. I've just kind of always have been in this neighborhood while I've been in San Francisco. But yeah, I went to cooking school and then I got out and I worked all over town. Places like Hayes Street Grill, which is where I met my wife, Kristen.

Nicole: Nice.

John: I worked [00:06:00] at Zuni Café, now on the salad station, making those lovely Caesar salads all the time. And some other little funky places. Worked for Chalone wineries.

Nicole: I don't know what that is, but great.

John: They're a wonderful winery. Chalone owns, oh gosh, Chalone, which is in the, right near, outside of Soledad in the Pinnacles range.

Nicole: Yeah.

John: They also own a couple other wineries and they're really lovely wines.

INicole: It sounds like you keep saying shalom, which I don't think that, no,

John: Chalone. C-H-A-L-O-N-E. But yes, it does sound like that.

Nicole: So, what made you go into cooking? Like why did you decide food was your future?

John: So, I have two older brothers. My mom had some very good stable things that she would make. I loved watching TV, as people in my generation did, and I liked watching Julia Child and the Galloping Gourmet and the Cajun Chef and all these cooking shows. I also had two older brothers, so we fought over all food on the table. [00:07:00] Became, every dinner became a battle. So, if I cooked, then I could maybe control my destiny a little bit more than they could.

Nicole: It's true. I don't cook and I consistently feel not in control of my destiny. So…

John: And then in high school, I got a job cooking at Pasta Molino's in Salt Lake City, making, you know, little funky little pasta restaurant. And, you know, the immediate gratification of working in a restaurant is alluring and all the drama and all those things, just watch the bear. And that's pretty much what like every restaurant.

Nicole: I worked in a restaurant in high school too. My boyfriend also worked there as a busboy and I was a hostess. And everything you hear about restaurants is true. It's just a bunch of nonsense. Like the owner's son doing blow and like stealing wine from the back and all of us getting paid under the table, like what great times.

John: Yes, they are good times. I've worked in many establishments, some as you mentioned and, and other ones that were [00:08:00] really just unbelievably beautiful experiences too. So…

Nicole: Yeah.

John: You know, it's like there restaurants are like people. There's all sorts of different types of manifestations.

Nicole: It's true. I only worked for the weird types, but it taught me a lot at a very young age. Okay, so you, you're working in restaurants, you meet Kristen, who is amazing. This is your opportunity to tell everyone how, how amazing Kristen is if she's coming back.

John: My dear wife Kristen teaches at Lowell High School. AP Econ, AP Psych. And she happened, her mother was the maitre d’ at Hayes Street Grill and then Kristen came home from, after graduating from Santa Cruz, and started working in the Hayes Street Grill and also at the, the pizzeria behind, which was Piccolo's at the time. You can still find their product in finer grocery stores around the Bay Area. But so, she wouldn't go out with me because she didn't date people she worked with.

Nicole: Smart girl.

John: Yeah. And so, then I got a job at the Art Institute, and then she [00:09:00] couldn't, you know, I was like, hey, I don't work here anymore, so you have to go on a date with me now.

Nicole: She was like, oh fine, but just one date.

John: Yeah. pretty much.

Nicole: I pulled that nonsense with Harvey too and that didn't work out.

John: I wore a ridiculous outfit too. I'm surprised it went any farther past that, so...

Nicole: So, were you wearing your Crocs or was that before the Crocs?

John: I was not wearing Crocs and if I was, I might be in sport mode.

Nicole: Fair enough. Fair enough. Alright. So, you've got Kristen, you've got two totally awesome kids. And I mean that legitimately. Like I don't like a lot of kids, but your kids are really, really super cool.

John: Well, thank you. I love them dearly. I don't know how they ended up so good, but…

Nicole: Oh, come on. Jasper's like a tiny John Lindsey. And Molly's got that same sass. She's got the Lindsey facial expressions to let you know.

John: Yeah.

Nicole: That she's not about your business.

John: Yeah. [00:10:00] Very cool.

Nicole: And they both like, they both helped out with The Museum at The Cliff. So, like good on them for pitching in.

John: And, and Kristen as well too.

Nicole: She, yes, absolutely. It was a Lindsey family joint. Like, I am forever indebted to you and your family for jumping in.

John: Oh, we are a little Greek. So, you know, that's, that's how we roll.

Nicole: And also, everyone should know that John brought me soup and, homemade soup, during some of our long hours at the museum, and it's basically the best thing that I've ever eaten. But we'll get into soup a little bit later. So, okay, you're, you're, you're, you lift, you left restaurants and you decided to go to SFAI. Why? Why'd you go to SFAI?

John: Well, there's this gentleman, Pete Stanwood, who I had worked with at Hayes Street Grill. And he, he had, he had somehow fallen into the position of being the manager of the cafe at the Art Institute. So, and they originally offered, I think, [00:11:00] Flicka the concession and Flicka, Flicka is Owens Pier 23, and I think she was kinda like, eh, I'm not gonna do it. She's also a wonderful artist that I've shown in the gallery. And so, it ended up in Pete's lap and then Pete was like, hey, you want to come manage the nighttime shift? And he's like, it's a union job. You get paid a little bit of money and good benefits. So, it was cool. And you get, you know, you get free art classes while you’re there..

Nicole: Awesome. So, what classes did you take while you were there?

John: Took a little printmaking.

Nicole: Nice.

John: Took a little new media with Jack Fulton. He was a, kind of a legendary Bay Area artist. Photography. Drawing with Sam Tracalian, old school painter. But yeah. Not a ton, but, you know, new media. I was also really good with the computers, so they had just built a new media lab. And so, I hung out there quite a bit.

Nicole: And did you have, did you, were you into art beforehand? Was it just a fluke that ended up on the campus?

John: I was a fluke that I ended up on the campus. I won't lie. [00:12:00]

Nicole: Thank God you did John.

John: Yeah.

Nicole: So, you're there, you're at SFAI for what years? Like what's the time period?

John: Oh gosh. I was there for two stints, one in the early ‘90s and one kind of in the mid to later ‘90s.

Nicole: And these are pretty epic years for SFAI. Like a lot of the, the, the folks who came out of that time period are doing really cool stuff in the art world now.

John: Well, you've got the Mission School, which is like the Alicia McCarthy, Barry McGee, Ruby Neri. All like amazing artists that shown big galleries that show internationally. Chris Johansen. Yeah. So, there was this whole kind of movement going on that was identified by Natasha Boas, a curator at the time, and still a curator, amazing person. So, that was a whole big deal. Then you also had Kehinde Wiley there, who did the Obama portraits, you know? Yeah, just, just kind of an amazing time period. A lot of really good curators, a lot of really amazing artists. Many [00:13:00] more than I just said. That kind of came out of that time period for sure.

Nicole: And all of them depended on you for their morning coffee and their snacks?

John: Oh, gosh. I, there were, I, there was a team of people. I, I was good at foam, but yeah, no, we, we, yeah. During the year, I was, I was not necessarily the coffee person. I was at nighttime. So, people would come in and want their beans and rices and their baked potatoes.

Nicole: Yeah.

John: And some sort of sustenance at, at the end of the day. And then during the summer we would cook, I would work daytime and we would feed all the administrative and the teachers and the summer school people.

Nicole: And from where, where did you go after SFAI when you left? Like where'd you go the first time and then, then the second time.

John: So, what happened was, is that I, I hurt my back. Well, there, there was like, in between, I worked at some restaurants and then I came back and then, but I was working a catering event and I tore one of my discs open. And so, that kind of like [00:14:00] killed the cooking career for a while. Actually, it kind of killed it forever. Not forever, but now I'm, I'm better, but so, I went into, hard into the computer aspects of things. I worked for a funny company called Polygon Industries who had, they were using xenon bulbs to try to strip paint. So some sort of light source to explode paint off of surfaces. That kind of like went nowhere. And then, now we're going into the first dot com boom and kind of towards the end of it. And where you could throw up a resume, it didn't really matter, and they would hire you. And I got hired by Ecast Industry, Ecast, Inc. And they made digital juke boxes.

Nicole: Yes.

John: And gaming machines. And I started out as a graphic designer for them, and then I ended up being the creative director for them. And then, before the, I made it through kind of like the first part of the.com bust, but then I, then I got whacked. Yeah. And I went out on my own.

Nicole: Nice. And you still [00:15:00] run that business today, right? Like you still, it's kind of a side hustle to your gallery?

John: You know, the, the, the graphic design creative stuff creative design has, has slowly kind of gone away as the gallery became, took up more and more of my time.

Nicole: Yeah.

John: I still have a few clients that I work with. That might change. We'll talk about that in the, in a little later on. But, but yeah. So, so basically the gallery just kept taking up more time, more time, more time. And, and, you know, and was doing growing and doing better.

Nicole: Yeah. So, let's get into the gallery now. Like when, when were you like, I think I should open my own gallery?

John: So basically, I, I was, I was, you know, with the, with the design consultancy, I had like a place in the Fairmont. Up on the top floor, there's this advertiser who has, who, who rented all these offices on the top floor. And so, like, I rented a cubicle in there for a while. And then my [00:16:00] buddies were like, hey, you can come to our house in the Outer Sunset and, and, you know, we'll rent you the, the garage. So, I, I took up work in the garage and then I moved my way up to the kitchen dining room, which had a view of the ocean, which was awesome. You could just be like, oh, it's, the surf's churning on. Let's go. And then I took over the downstairs in-law at the end, and then right as that all kind of ended, that's when I moved into my space on 43rd and Lawton.

Nicole: I can't believe you gave up a house view from the Fairmont to rent a garage in the Sunset.

John: It was downtown. It was like, there wasn't really a view. It was just like a little cubicle. You know what I mean? It was like…

Nicole: John: Yeah.

John: It was nice. It was cool. I liked being downtown. I, I, I really enjoyed being downtown, but, but, you know, like being at the beach and five minutes away from the surf was a little more alluring.

Nicole: It's true. I mean, you don't have to convince me. I, I definitely understand the [00:17:00] pull.

John: Yeah. You never go east of Divisidero Street, Nicole.

Nicole: You know, I'm going to Schroeder's tomorrow.

John: Oh, hang.

Nicole: I’ll travel a lot of places for food and, and cocktails.

John: What? What I, I'm sorry. I have to turn the table real quick, because Schroder’s is awesome. I mean, like, what are we, what are we gonna, how are we attacking Schroder’s tomorrow? I'll like pork shank. I don't know. That could be like, maybe too much. I'm not sure, but…

Nicole: I don't know. I am gonna have to rein myself in, cause John and I have bonded over the fact that we have to be careful about what we eat and neither one of us pay attention to that. But that's another podcast. I don't know. I've been strategizing. I, I definitely need to have some, now we’re way off topic, but I definitely need to have one of the big giant pretzels that are as big as your face.

John: That sounds fabulous. All right. That's, that's good for me. Thank you.

Nicole: And a boot of beer.

John: Oh yeah.

Nicole: But, but anyways, to get back to your gallery so you're out in the Sunset renting space. How do we get to 43rd and [00:18:00] Lawton?

John: So, we get to 43rd and Lawton because I'm kind of tired of being in the house and they're actually gonna sell the house or whatever. And, and so, I'm kind of done there. I, I go down and 43rd and Lawton, you have May’s Bodega and Western Union Store. And next to that is the spot that I'm gonna try to rent. Next to that is Alex Martin's surfboarding repair shop. And, and next to that is the Corner Cup. It started as like this woman, Kaila, who was, excuse me, Irish. And she started, and then she sold it to Patrick and then Patrick's, by the time I was trying to move in there, Patrick had like given up on it and had his cousin or his, this woman who was running it for a while. And it was just this like nice little sad coffee shop on the corner that, you know, was cute. And, and, and so, I asked Alice, I go, hey, is it all right if I move in next to you? What do you think? You [00:19:00] know? And so, he's like, sure at the time. Rent is cheap.

Nicole: Yeah.

John: You know, he's like, just take it. And I, and I did. And that, that's how I, that's how I moved in there.

Nicole: And what year was that?

John: Oh gosh. 11 years ago. Sorry, we're 2023. So, we're look talking like, what is that? 2012, 2013? Here, hold on. Hold please.

Nicole: That I, I have, so the older you get, and listeners who are 30 and older will understand this, like the older you get, time is a weird thing. Like you always just think, oh yeah, like 2010 was five years ago. And it's not. It's a really long time ago and so much has changed even though it feels like yesterday.

John: All right. We'll, hopefully, we're, we're probably going in like…

Nicole: John’s just scrolling…

John: About 2013, 2012, 2013. [00:20:00]

Nicole: Okay.

John: Somewhere in there.

Nicole: Yep. And when you decided to open that gallery, like what, what was your thought process? Did you have a fully framed vision of what the gallery would be?

John: Basically, it was my studio.

Nicole: Yeah.

John: It was just my studio. And then like, I'm like, wow, I, I got a lot of space in here, but it's my studio and this is cool. And then like a guy, a lawyer guy in the neighborhood's like, hey, I wanna rent out and have your studio and have one of my assistants, this be their office. And I'm like, that's the last thing I want in the world is anybody in my space. You know, because then I'm gonna think about sharing the space more than I am about the space.

Nicole: Yeah.

John: And then, I, I, I was like, I need some lighting in here. So basically, I kind of gutted the place, got rid of the low ceiling and the fluorescent lighting. I installed nice flooring, built a loft to store things. So, I made it very nice in there. And, and then, and then I was like, well, I need [00:21:00] some lighting. And I saw this ad in Craigslist and it was just this kind of stock image of Juno lighting, track lighting, and, and, and it's like this guy in Santa Cruz. He's like $500 bunch of track lighting, cans, includes lights, you gotta take it down, . So, I get, I get down there and it's this huge, like studio warehouse space with like these beautiful prints. And they're like, oh, $1,200 prints. Like, like just inkjet prints, but they're beautiful. And, and, and it's this guy Franz Lanting. And so, Franz, if you look him up, he's got how many followers? Let's, let's just take a look at how many followers Franz Laing has. Franz…

Nicole: It's true. John, your biggest mistake as a gallery owner is that you don't have like a very European name,

John: So, Franz has 900,000 followers plus. Franz is a, [00:22:00] he's a National Geographic photographer. And so, basically in Santa Cruz, he was digitizing all of his negatives, putting them into fire storage. And going all digital. So, he didn't need this huge space that he had anymore.

Nicole: Yeah.

John: And so, he sold me this track lighting. So, I installed the track lighting. I go, gosh, this should be a gallery now. So, so, and I know all these artists and I am like, this would be a good way to, good thing to do. You know, give, give people a place to show artwork. Have my studio and I got track lighting now, so it's a no-brainer.

Nicole: Yeah. And what, when did it start to be called the Great Highway Gallery? Like how did you get to there?

John: So, Sylvan Morgan, a friend of mine and Alex Schaffer Czech, we were all in a room talking about this thing and, and we decided that, you know, the Great Highway was probably a really good name for it. You know, it started out as that we were gonna like be a community kind, you know, like they, these guys were gonna, [00:23:00] like, they're, they're both very, Sylvan’s a very good photographer and Alex is a very wonderful painter. And they've been a part of the gallery since day one. But, you know, like once I rented the place and took it over, you know, like it was on me to, to do this thing. But those guys were inspirational in, in picking the name and nobody else had taken the name. So, people have tried, but I have a trademark. So, they try all they want, but they can't use my name.

Nicole: Huzzah! And so, I mean, so tell folks I know, if you listen to our earlier podcast listeners, this might be repetitive. But what is the ethos of your gallery? You have a really tight mission statement, which I've always really appreciated.

John: So basically, I, as much as I love surfing, as much as I hang out the beach and I talk surf with everybody, I really didn't want, I, I didn't really, I was like, [00:24:00] you know, I'm tired of talking about surfing. So, so basically, I, I wanted to talk about the coast and my experience there, and basically where water meets land. Which is the beach, the coast, whatever you want to call it. And, and that can be, fall on either side. That can fall on the way they meld together. That can involve the community, the culture, the history. All those things, but really what we're talking about is like where you have this solid land mass and water butting up against it. It's, it's a dividing line, right? Like, yeah, there's no gray area. Maybe a little bit, maybe like 30 feet, 10 feet, I don't know. But like really, you know, it's like land ends, water begins.

Nicole: There's always gray area. John.

John: Fine.

Nicole: No, but you're right. Like, like border areas, right? It's what you're talking about. Like border lands are so full of everything, right? It's where things meet. It's just, it's, [00:25:00] it's the starting point for so much.

John: And there’s a lot of conversation around all of that. So…

Nicole: Yeah, for sure. So that's genius. One thing, if because you'll never say this about yourself, cause you're the most humble man of all time, John has great ideas, like, like he's lousy with great ideas. It's amazing. And I now always call John when I need to like, bounce something off him. Or I need, I need some inspiration.

John: Well, thank you Nicole.

Nicole: You're welcome.

John: My father-in-law told me there was actually a person in San Francisco who was known to be like a know-it-all. I'm not, I'm not really a know-it-all, but like someone you would go to that would, you know, like be the sage of advice and somehow that fellow monetized it. I just have not figured that one out yet, though.

Nicole: Gosh, one day we'll figure out how to, how to crack that nut John. But it's true, like you, you've, you, you run a gallery that has this incredible mission and you support so many people and artists and, and it's become much more than a [00:26:00] gallery, which now that it's not going to be at that location anymore, I think people are really take taking pause to think about what an absence that will be. Businesses come and go all the time. It's always sad to see things change. But some things really hurt. So, it's true. So many people, when words started to spread that your, your gallery was in danger, right? They contacted us to be like, what do we do? How do we save the Great Highway Gallery? What can we do to help John? Which, and I was like, I've heard that stuff before.

John: You know, I was just talking to another fellow who has stepped up and, and done something wonderful. And, and I was like, well, how are you serving a certain community? Like, well, you know, it, they're, they're just gonna like, wanna be a part of this because it's really important and they're going to want to support it. And, and you know what? They will. But in, in a meaningful way, you know, that that's always the hard, hard thing to, to, [00:27:00] to accomplish. So, the gallery, the ask.

Nicole: John: So what…

John: Sorry, wait, let's pause. Sorry.

Nicole: It's okay.

John: Start again.

Nicole: Yep. Maybe let's, before we get to what's going on right now at the gallery, maybe let's take a look back through time. You can tell us some of your favorite artists you've worked with, some of your favorite shows. Like when you're thinking about your past here at 43rd and Lawton, what are the things that make you happiest and proud?

John: Well, the things that make me happiest and proud is that I have offered opportunities to as many artists as I physically and mentally could. And, and so, you know, I kind of understand the, the gentrifying factor of a gallery and what it does to a neighborhood. And, and, you know, [00:28:00] what I tried to do was to respect that. And, and in that give opportunities to as many people as I could. And that's really what, what I, I tried to do. And I, and I think I hold onto that and I go, you know, like in 2019, I had over 20 exhibitions.

Nicole: Wild.

John: You know? Yeah. So, I mean, like, and, and that was always, you know, so people who know the gallery there, there's a window in that I have installations that are sometimes non-commercial, sometimes commercial, quasi commercial, whatever. But they're, oh, they're accessible 24 hours a day. They speak to the neighborhood 24 hours a day. I, I listen to the kids come by and ask their parents like, what does that mean? So, so, you know, before that I had the whole room and I wasn't showing anything over 20 a day, be 20 a year. I mean, because I didn't have the window and the back wall, which I could [00:29:00] float in between each other. It was just one room. So, I had to make like between eight and 12 choices a year. And that became very difficult to, you know, like exclusionary, right?

Nicole: Yeah.

John: Like, like you know, who am I to pick 12 shows? Who am I to, you know, pick a person or a group of people? And that, that's something that I often struggled with.

Nicole: Yeah.

John: So, when I built the window, then I could, I, I put up a hundred artists in the back room. I left a space to have a featured artist that could have an exhibition. So, it was just this rumpus room of artwork. Something that you would come in and you would love something. And also, just as importantly, something that you might not like or be, or hate. And we could talk about that, right? You know, like, ugh, that's horrible or that's amazing and I love it. And, and that's, that's kind of the [00:30:00] environment that I tried to create.

Nicole: And you totally did. Like, I mean, the one thing that I loved about your gallery immediately before I even knew you, is you walked in and it was okay that you were in there. It didn't feel uncomfortable. You know, I don't come from like a, a, a contemporary fine art background. I'm just a history lady. And like you, you were very nice. He said, hello, welcome. Let me know if you have any questions. There was art I understood and I could even maybe buy if I saved up for a month. I was very poor in a college student. Or just not a college. But like it, yeah, it really did feel all inclusive. It felt very democratic. People wandered in and out. It wasn't an exclusionary space at all, and I didn't know anything about your gallery or the mission statement behind it or who you were. You could feel that walking in and that's so important. But that's also kind of the problem, right? Like people just felt comfortable walking in and leaving and being like, great space.

John: That's a free museum. You know, like I'm, I'm on the front lines, so, so you. [00:31:00] I have a gallerist friend who's like, chow. It's so much easier to sell a $5,000 painting than a $500 painting. And then I'm like, you know, that sounds really fabulous, but, but, you know, that's just not where I am. I'm in, I'm in the trenches, I'm on the frontline. I'm showing emerging artists. I'm showing artists mid-career, late career. I'm showing artists that are in between representation. I'm allowed to show some artists that are actually in representation, but maybe they only get a show every two to three years.

Nicole: Yeah.

John: So, in between those two to three years, maybe they can do a little something at the gallery. So, you know, it's, it's very it, it, I tried to bring as many people as I could in, I have like a, I have a little, I have a little Cassie in there right now, which is some young person that's about 10 years old, and she drew something and I just, I put it up on the wall and then I make them sign it with their, with their thing. So, you know, like even still Nicole, to this day, there's like a beam at the front [00:32:00] door and people are like, oh, this is a gallery. I can't cross the beam.

Nicole: Yeah.

John: I can't, I can't step in there. I can't do it. I can't, I, I just, it's just too intimidating. And so, I always tried to break that down as much as possible. Tried to make it a community space, tried to make it as inviting and non-pretentious as possible. And, and, you know, I think people in, responded to that, enjoyed that. And there were a lot of, there was a lot of conversation.

Nicole: Yeah. And that's why we get along. Cause I, we do, I do that with history, right? That's how we envision WNP. It's like, it's not, it's not an academic space. It's not an exclusionary space. Like come in, have a drink. Like, let's talk about stuff, things that you like about San Francisco, things that you don't like about San Francisco and how we all kind of create it together. It's, yeah, we were definitely two peas at a pod in all the best and worst ways, John.

John: It's not easy what we do, and I could [00:33:00] go on about that, but that's not really, everything's hard.

Nicole: Everything's hard. And when it's, when it's a community space, like you have to be all things to all people, which is an honor. And it's also like, it's pretty exhausting sometimes, but it's totally worth it. And one of the things I've always respected about you, John, is like. to your own detriment, you, you don't say no very often. Like whoever walks through your door, whatever, like, mo please sir, some more porridge. Like that's my best Ben Wood impression.

John: Stone soup. Stone soup.

Nicole: Yeah, exactly right. You're like, all right, come in here. Like, I'm gonna teach you. Like, you always make time for people. And that is so incredibly rare in general, but like, in the art world, in, in, in a, in a non-profit or for-profit landscape where everyone's kind of just trying to pile off each other to like get to the finish line first, you're just always there. And I think that's for me, what's [00:34:00] so sad about the fact that I can't roll down Lawton and wander in and have you hand me a warm beer anymore.

John: Interesting. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. No, that's not gonna happen anymore.

Nicole: I know. Well, I'll just have to go to your house and ask for a warm beer. Sorry…

John: We're just the back of my car. I dunno. Like down at Kelly’s.

Nicole: Well, okay. So, is there anything else that you're thinking about with, like, any artist or specific, like, things shows that you did that you're like, man, this one was really good, or, I want, I want everyone to know about this artist that I worked with.

John: Yeah, I, I, I knew you were gonna ask me this question and…

Nicole: Yeah.

John: And like, last time someone asked me this question, I'm not gonna explain it, but it got me into a lot of hot water.

Nicole: Okay.

John: And I will say that that, you know, over the 11 years that I've been exhibiting, that I have worked with some amazing people. I am [00:35:00] really fortunate in that, just really works with some amazing artists. And I, and I appreciate their trust that they put in me, their vulnerability. Being able to be a part of their process.

Nicole: Yeah.

John: Was maybe the most rewarding aspect of the whole thing. Selling artwork is really difficult and, and I love writing artist checks. I maybe just wasn't the best art dealer in the entire world. But I really dug the space that I created for them where they could come in and really kind of do whatever they wanted to do. And that was really important and really satisfying and being with all those people. So, you know, I'm not gonna name anybody. You know, there's a couple out there that I absolutely won't name that, you know, were somewhat difficult. But really honestly, it was a couple people in 10 years, which I'm gonna say is amazing.

Nicole: Yeah. Well, and the reason why I asked that question, so, for our listeners, John was getting a little bit of press, perhaps around the closing of the gallery after he announced it. [00:36:00] And, you know, of course they all wanted to hear about, you know, why, why he, the, you know, the, the rent dispute, any, any things of that. And John told me, you know, I really just wanna talk to these people about some of the artists that I got to work with. Like, I don't wanna talk about this nonsense anymore. I'm done with it. Moving on. Next, next phase.

John: Right.

Nicole: I really would love to be able to talk about some of the things I got to do here.

John: Well, and, and again, you know, I got to work with like hundreds of amazing artists. I mean…

Nicole: Yeah.

John: I, I can't tell you how, what that was like. I mean, it just, it was amazing to watch that. You know, to be able to sit there and watch someone work, you know, for like three days in the window and film them and talk with them and get to know them and watch how they worked. It just, I mean, that's… You know, one of the ideas for the gallery was that you could, there'd be a QR code next to every single piece of artwork.

Nicole: Yeah.

John: And you could hit [00:37:00] that QR code and you would see the artist. You would see them making the piece of artwork.

Nicole: Ooh.

John: You know what I mean? Like, wouldn't that be cool? Like if you could just like, can be completely immersed in that. And that was the experience that I had day after day after day after day, so very lucky.

Nicole: People think about this kind of world as being an elite world, and it can be, right? But I think it's just a rare world. Like someone is willing to go all in and work at a gallery, like you worked by yourself. There was no marketing team behind you. You sometimes had an intern or some help. And I know I saw Molly in the gallery a few times, John's daughter. But like…

John: Very good bartender.

Nicole: Yeah. Right? But, for the most part, like John's just slogging. He's just there every day, every night, like making it happen. And that experience is just so unique. Like there's not a lot of other jobs that can compare to what you've gotten to do for 11 years.

John: I'm [00:38:00] so fortunate.

Nicole: Yeah. I think that every day with WNP as well.

John: Yeah.

Nicole: At least the days that I'm not exhausted, But, but yeah. So, okay. Let's get, let's get down to it, right? Very briefly, without throwing shade, the gallery is closing. Can you tell us why that is, John?

John: So, my lease was up. You know, or nine years, I've ran the gallery. Or, or the nine, for the nine years that I was actually selling artwork, you know, doing graphic design printing on the machine, I was able to eek out a profit. I'm not gonna call it a living. But, but it was, but it was, you know, I was profitable. And then last year was a very down year. And, and so, you know, unfortunately I never made enough to be like, oh, I can absorb a down year.

Nicole: Yeah.

John: My lease was up. Probably should have tried to negotiate that lease a long, long, long time ago, maybe during COVID, whatever. [00:39:00] And, and so my thought was because of my restaurant background and the fact that Seven Stills next door, the, the tap room was closed since August-ish. I wanted to take that over and, and that would help subsidize the gallery. And I would keep the gallery and I would take over the tap room, because the gallery would have amazing nights and that would help the, the tap room.

Nicole: Yep.

John: But it always wasn't necessarily the reverse of that. So, unfortunately, you know, they, they came back at me and wanted to raise my rent by 50%. Which was kind of high to me. I came back and, you know, at they halfway mark-ish and, and, and they came back kind of halfway again, but then they wanted to have, you know, 7.5% increases every year. Commercial real estate is usually three to 4%.

Nicole: Yeah.

John: I said, hey, I'll take that, those numbers, those starting numbers, but at 4% a year. And they said, no, that's our best [00:40:00] offer. So, at a certain point, I, I had to have a line in the sand.

Nicole: Yeah.

John: And, and, you know, I would love to be able to say that I have all this money and I could just do whatever and take it, and it, it'll be a huge success because I think it would be. But at the same time, I, I just really can't kind of, I'm trying not to let self, self, foolish pride get in the way. But, you know, I, I have to have a, a kinda line in the sand.

Nicole: No, for sure. And it's, you know, this is, this is a story we hear a lot, right? And it's so easy to be like, oh, San Francisco's terrible, cause of this and that. I, that's not what this is about, right? It's about capitalism. It's about someone trying to make profit off their property, right? And you trying to stay within your own profit margin as well. I think for me, what bums me out, is that, there's a property owner in San Francisco who didn't look at John and his gallery and doesn't think this is amazing what he's doing. How can I support [00:41:00] this? Still make a profit, but support this. That, that's the sad part for me is that.

John: Well, you know, unfortunately it's a, it's in a trust and it's managed by a property managed firm. So, they're not really making a lot of money off of it. I mean, I, I, I, as much as I, I, you know, I could be really disgruntled about this and I, and I am to some degree. But at the same time, you know, I knew this was gonna happen.

Nicole: Yeah.

John: This is what happens. A gallery comes into a neighborhood, You know, real estate agents will, will say, hey, look, you know, there's a gallery, there's a coffee shop, there's this, there's that. You know, what a great neighborhood, you know. This is, this is what happens. And I, and I know my role in that, you know, like I, I can't be really, really, really crazily upset about this, because I'm a party to this.

Nicole: Yeah, right.

John: And, and selling artwork is a party to this. I happen to think that artwork is really important. And, and this is something that happens time and time again. You know, not just in San Francisco, but, but all over the country.

Nicole: [00:42:00] Yeah. It's true. And it's easy to mistake. I'm like, I, I was like, no, your gallery can't close. I say that, you know, I know all the community importance and all that kind of stuff, but it all comes down to me personally. I'm like, no, I wanna wander down the street. I wanna walk into your gallery and see your amazing dog Jazzy, and you behind the counter, like it comes down to that, right? Everything's selfish.

John: Well, maybe a new gallery would come in or a new tap room or whatever. I mean, somebody will pick up those spaces and do whatever in there. I mean that, and that's, that's fine.

Nicole: I’m loyal. I already dislike it.

John: Yeah. No, no, no, no. I…

Nicole: I don't mean that.

John: I know. It just won't mean…

Nicole: I don’t mean that. Well, okay, so the gallery space on 43rd and Lawton is closing, but you are not, you're not packing it in, it's not like you're retiring John. So, no.

John: No, unfortunately I'll be working till I die.

Nicole: Same.

John: Kristen will have a pension. She'll be able to retire soon here, hopefully. But, but no. Basically I've [00:43:00] got, I, I, you know, it's, it's not just one single vision where I'm going next, but I'm, I'm looking for studio space. I would like that to be on the west side. I, that really has a percent in itself right now. The place that artists are going right now is downtown.

Nicole: Yeah.

John: That's, that's where there's a lot of opportunity and cheap rent and things like that. So, as an artist, that's might, might be where I'm going. I'm, I, you know, again, studio space so that I can work on my work. Continue to print. Maybe do a little design work. I don't know. But, you know, continue my practice. That's kind of important. There's a couple other opportunities out there that we'll see if they come to fruition. If, if it was a gallery, it would have to just be such the right spot. I just, I just don't, I, I might need to take a pause from that.

Nicole: Yeah.

John: But I'm definitely looking for like public curatorial work as well. I would love to continue to bring artists voices to people, tell stories, [00:44:00] create conversations. I, I am committed to that. I love that. And then, I'm also looking for restaurants. I, unfortunately, I think there's gonna be a lot of restaurant closures. I mean…

Nicole: Yeah.

John: From an economical standpoint, you know, you had everybody getting, you know, the, the PPP money really saved the gallery for a couple years. And then last year was a down year for everybody.

Nicole: Yeah.

John: Because that money ran out and then business still wasn't back.

Nicole: Yeah.

John: And, and so people are hurting and that's why you see all these business closures. That's why you see empty storefronts.

Nicole: Yep.

John: You know, so there's, but there's opportunity out there. I, I see a lot of really amazing galleries opening up right now, and it's because there's cheaper spaces available for them to open up into. And that's also why it's so annoying that my landlord is choosing to raise my rent instead of like, you know, like, I'm willing to pay a higher price, but like, you know, yeah.

Nicole: It's just so unnecessary, but…

John: It's annoying.

Nicole: Moving on from that.

John: Yeah.

Nicole: So, and John, God [00:45:00] bless you, very single cockamamie idea I throw at you, you're like, yeah, let's do it. John's helping us with our website and so much behind the scenes. Like we just, I mean, you're just amazing. So, if you ever wanna open a gallery in my garage, it's yours. I'm just gonna charge you rent and soup, Actually, that would make Chelsea's day.

John: Yeah.

Nicole: If she just got constant, a soup delivered to the office.

John: So, and you know what, and so what Nicole is mentioning is that the concept for the tap room next to the gallery, so the whole reason by forgetting the tap room next to the gallery was to subsidize the gallery to some degree. And it was gonna be a soup concept. Four soups, two sandwiches, a salad, 10 stools, a big to-go window. Yeah.

Nicole: I don't know what I'm more upset about. The gallery that I've known and loved. Or the soup.

John: Soup. Yeah. Yeah.

Nicole: So, I've never got some. Well, [00:46:00] John, I think on that note, I think it's a good time to segue into our Barbara Walters section, unless you have one more thing you wanna talk about, about the gallery before we move on.

John: I'm just gonna say, been like an honor to work with all those artists. It's been an honor to meet all those people. It's been so satisfying to watch little kids ask very awkward questions of their parents over and over again. And I can't tell you how amusing that is and how much fun I had watching that all go down. And, you know, I, I might be not having a physical location in the Sunset, but I'll still be at the beach. I'll still have a website. We will have very cool prints and things like that, that we'll be selling on the website. And, you know, life goes on.

Nicole: This is not the end. It's just a new beginning.

John: Exactly. Ready for a reset.

Nicole: Yeah, absolutely. Be kind. Rewind.

John: Yeah.

Nicole: God, don't email me and tell me you don't understand that reference listeners, cause that will destroy my soul. Okay. So, moving on to [00:47:00] our hard-hitting question and answer section that we've lovingly named for Barbara Walters. Okay, John, you were submitted these in advance, so I know you're ready for them. Let's do this.

John: All right.

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

John: Oh gosh. The lamb shanks at Tommy's Joint.

Nicole: Oh, that's such a good, I've never been there. I have to go.

John: What?

Nicole: I know it's, it's a complete F up. I know. We're gonna have to go. We're gonna have to go and then not eat anything for three days.

John: Yeah.

Nicole: Okay. Number two, what is your favorite place in San Francisco? The one place you return to again and again?

John: Ocean Beach.

Nicole: Yeah. That's a no-brainer. Number three, what is the one thing out of towners shouldn't miss? And by that, I mean where do you take people when they visit?

John: Golden Gate Bridge.

Nicole: Nice. Number four. What's one San Francisco thing you would bring back if you could? [00:48:00]

John: Clown Alley.

Nicole: What is Clown Alley?

John: Hamburgers on, in North Beach on Columbus Ave.

Nicole: Oh man. That's a good one. Okay, number five is usually where we ask people why they think history is important, but I'm gonna ask you why art is important.

John: Art is important because it allows us to visually experience people's feelings.

Nicole: That’s a good one. I like that one. All right. Thank you so much for joining us, John. We're gonna muscle through some listener mail things. You're welcome to hang out or you can skedaddle, your choice.

John: I'm outta here. I love y'all.

Nicole: Love you too.

John: Take care, Nicole. Thank you.

Nicole: All right, and we have a full podcast to go almost. So, let's get into some [00:49:00] listener mail. So, first of all, I think you all know by now how you get in touch with us. You send us an email to podcast@outsidelannds.org. Or you can take advantage of our social media presence on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. You can just comment away or send us DMs, whatever feels right to you. That's outsidelandz with a Z on almost all of those platforms.

So, did anybody send us mail? Yes. Yes, they did. I'm happy to report that we've heard from our dear Professor Em and she said, L and I quote, “let me thank you and congratulate you on the Student Strike series reflecting the history of the ‘60s student movement at SFSU. I was a member of SDS who marched on Washington in the summer of 1966 with my fellow students from SUNY Binghamton. My political orientation morphed by [00:50:00] 1969 when people like the Weatherman came into being and I switched to farming communes and people stores, especially the co-op movement of especially free enterprise. I was a participant, though, not specifically a founder of the Hayes Street Co-op circa 1970,” which is now long gone, to connect back to Hayes Street and John Lindsey. But also, to our dear friend, David Friedlander, who, of course, was part of this commune movement as well. So, she goes on to praise Dave, David Friedlander's well-considered comments on the history of our mutual alma mater, SFSU, and she also spoke of her favorite music of the era, which I agreed with all of her choices. She has great taste in music. Em's emails are always the best and personally give me courage to do this work. I have to tell you, it's not easy running a nonprofit as a woman under 40. Cause people send a lot of weird stuff sometimes. But folks like [00:51:00] Em who do enjoy the longer format podcasts really do make it all worth it. So, thank you to Em and everyone who takes the time to share their lives with us and give us feedback. You are a hundred percent why we do this.

And while we're talking about things we're grateful for, maybe I can talk about the benefits of membership and donating. So, I love all of our members, even if I don't get to chat with them, or even if they don't share their personal stories with me on the regular, like Professor Em. But there's so many benefits to becoming members, and I'd like to share that with all of you right now if you wouldn't mind. So, if you clickity, clickity, clack the big orange button at the top of any of our pages on our websites, outsidelands.org or OpenSFHistory.org, if you give us more than $50 a year, that automatically makes you become a member as long as you [00:52:00] consent to it after we reach out and ask you if that's okay if you're a member. And when you do that, get to the quarterly membership magazine, discounts on events and other exclusive perks. And also, your membership supports, you know, all the good work that we do. Like this podcast, which we make available for free. We've got OpenSFHistory as a treasure trove of historical photos online that we make available to you for free as well. The Cliff House collection, also we make that available to you for free. But none of this stuff is free to make and create and produce and all of that. So, your membership helps us do all of these things, even the smallest donation of about $5. That goes a long way for a tiny organization our size, and we appreciate all the support that you all give us. So become a member of the WNP family today.

And now that we're done with that, it's time for announcements. So [00:53:00] John, if he had stayed with us, could tell you that March 11th, that's a Saturday, get yourself to the Sunset District because he's going out in style. He’s having an epic party final day for the gallery to be open and you won't wanna miss this. So come down, party, drink his warm beer. Buy some art, because that's how you can support John Lindsey as he enters the next phase of the Great Highway Gallery's life.

And you know what else is happening on March 11th? Our very first John Martini history walk of the year will be walking the Main Post of the City of San Francisco, which encompasses more history than any other site within the GGNRA. You'll learn about the Ohlone people, Spanish colonists, the 1906 earthquake and fire refugees, Buffalo Soldiers, Japanese internment, and a dizzying variety of military architecture. It starts at 10:00 AM and it really is an easy stroll, so you'll have plenty of energy to party at the Great Highway Gallery afterwards. [00:54:00] And we only have about 10 tickets left at the time of recording. So, grab your ticket today. That's $10 for members, and we absorb your Eventbrite fees, and $20 for non-members.

Now on Thursday, March 16th, we're doing something a little bit different. We're joining with the Global Museum at San Francisco State for a program called Community History, But Make It Global. It will explore the power, purpose, and process of community involvement in the work of our respective organizations. This happens at the Global Museum, which I bet a lot of you have never even been to before. And we'll have really amazing artifacts on display that aren't usually accessible to the public, as well as S.F. State students and faculty who will be in attendance explaining the program and giving you kind of a peak behind the curtains. Now that one is also $10 for WNP members and $20 for everybody else. But if you are a San [00:55:00] Francisco State student or a faculty member, you get in for free. So, email us podcast@outsidelands.org to get the secret code and it's a doozy. So, let us know today if we can get you in the door for free. The proceeds from this event will go to both of our organizations equally, cause we're equally involved in the work.

So other things to look forward to. We have our windmill exhibition in the front windows of the WNP clubhouse on Balboa coming soon. It's going to print at the, at the Great Highway Gallery as we speak-ish. And also, we're doing Trivia Night with Fort Point Beer Company at the Little Shamrock. That'll be later in in March. We don't have a date for that yet, but it's gonna be fun. Sunset District history, and I will be your host for that evening. So, remember, follow WNP on Eventbrite and join our monthly email list on outsidelands.org to be the first to know when a new event is live. Because tickets do sell [00:56:00] fast.

Okay, now we have a preview before next week. We deep dive into Golden Gate Park's chain of natural lakes and the mysterious murderous birds that love them. So, you don't wanna miss that. Until next time, I'm Nicole Meldahl and this has been another episode of Outside Lands San Francisco. Thank you for being with us, my dear John Lindsey, and you too history friends. We’ll see you on the flip side.

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.

More Podcasts
  • Podcast # 127: Henry Doelger

    Home builder and character who had a great impact on San Francisco's Sunset District. (Outside Lands San Francisco Podcast Jun 20, 2015)
  • Podcast # 437: AP Giannini Middle School

    AP Giannini Middle School was one of many SF schools built in the 1950s to educate the growing baby boomer generation. Originally part of the Sunset Community Center, the school was named after a well known financier and San Francisco icon. This week, sharpen your #2 pencils as Nicole and Michael take you back to school. (Outside Lands San Francisco Podcast Aug 27, 2021)
All Podcasts...

The Outside Lands San Francisco podcast is also available as a subscription via iTunes and by RSS feed.

Save SF History