This is the second post in a series where I’ll be visiting all four Diego Rivera frescos located in the Bay area. The first fresco I visited is located maybe a mile or so from my apartment, and as a long time fan of Rivera’s work, I was very excited to discover it right around the corner!
The Allegory of California wasn’t much further afield either… It’s only a few blocks from my office in the Financial District, but it involved a little more planning to see — since the fresco spans a staircase between the 10th and 11th floors of the exclusive City Club of San Francisco. Some mentions of the fresco say that it’s open to the public during certain hours, but if you want to be sure to see it, you probably shouldn’t just walk in unannounced.
Take the Free Guided Tour!
Sign up for the guided tour hosted by San Francisco CityGuides, which has to be one of the coolest things I’ve done in the city so far! And, it’s free. Of course, donations are appreciated. When it comes to art, I’m always happy to enjoy (and reward) the expertise of a knowledgeable guide. Knowing more about the story and the context always ends up helping me appreciate the experience so much more. Much like travel.
Rivera in His Own Words on ‘The Allegory of California’
The Allegory of California was actually the first of Rivera’s frescos to be painted in San Francisco. The City Club of San Francisco was originally part of the Pacific Coast Stock Exchange building (now an Equinox gym!). In his autobiography, Rivera called the building Pflueger’s Stock Exchange. Timothy Pfleuger was a well known architect in the Bay area during the first half of the 20th century, who designed the building and was partly responsible for bringing Rivera to the US.
“The wall I was to cover flanked an interior staircase connecting the two stories of the Exchange’s Luncheon Club. It was thirty feet high. In the central portion of the mural, I painted a colossal figure of a woman representing California. The almost classically beautiful tennis champion Helen Willis Moody served as my model. In portraying her, I made no attempt to formalize her features, but left them recognizably hers. Soon a cry was heard: California was an abstraction and should not be an identifiable likeness of anybody. To this I replied that California was known abroad mainly because of Helen Willis Moody; that she seemed to represent California better than anyone I knew — she was intelligent, young, energetic, and beautiful; and that, finally, if I thought her the best model, I had the right to use her. While the protest spent itself, I painted around her figure the rich and varied resources of the state; on her left, the lush agriculture, it workers, and heroes; on her right, industry, its buildings and machines, and representative working men and women. As a symbol of the future I showed a young California boy facing the sky with a model airplane in his hands.” (107) – Diego Rivera from My Art, My Life: An Autobiography
Rivera’s account denies any concessions on his part to make the figure look less like the legendary tennis star, but our guide indicated that he did make some changes due to the “protests.”
A Few More Photos From The City Club of San Francisco
It’s a beautiful venue, and I couldn’t resist taking a bunch of pictures. Here are just a few…
In order: 1) Pacific Coast Stock Exchange building (now an Equinox gym!), 2) stone work and entrance at 155 Sansome, 3) the glamorous art deco lobby, 4) downstairs dining room, 5) Rick Evans, tour guide, explaining the detail on bronze elevator doors, 6) poker tables, 7) staircase leading to the fresco, 8) beautiful art deco bar in upstairs dining room, 9) amazing lunchtime view.
How to See the Fresco
The City Club of San Francisco is located at 155 Sansome, 10th floor, San Francisco, CA 94104 (click for directions). Before showing up, visit the SF CityGuides listing and sign up for this tour, Diego Rivera Mural at the Stock Exchange Tower. It’s well worth planning ahead a little.
When you visit that page, you may see the following message: “There are no Diego Rivera Mural at the Stock Exchange Tower (RESERVATIONS ONLY) tours scheduled during the next 10 days. Please check back in a few days.” So instead of having to remember to check back every few days, I suggest you set up an alert to email you when the web page is modified. I used ChangeDetection.com, and it worked like a charm!
On the Remaining Two Frescos
There will be more to come, but they are both located on nearby college campuses, which are closed for Christmas! Still Life and Blossoming Almond Trees is located on UC Berkeley’s campus in the entrance to Stern, a girls dorm, and Pan American Unity is located at City College of San Francisco (closed until late January).
In the meantime… Do you think California as personified by Rivera’s fresco actually resembles Helen Willis Moody, eight time winner of Wimbledon?
The Rest of Rivera’s Murals in San Francisco
If you enjoyed this post, below are the other three murals by Rivera in San Francisco: