Vissi D’Arte at 55 Laguna

The original Woods Hall facade. Mosaic by Maxine Albro.
The original Woods Hall facade. Mosaic by Maxine Albro.

My apartment is part of a six acre complex of new housing that replaced the UCSF Extension.  Since the 1906 earthquake these two city blocks have been used solely by educational institutions. The original tenant was the San Francisco State Normal School. Normal doesn’t begin to describe today’s occupants.

When the Normal School became the State Teacher’s College, ambitious construction resulted in a hodgepodge of buildings. In the 1930’s, architects Bernard Maybeck and later, George B. McDougall, unified everything with the simplified Spanish Colonial Revival style for which the campus would be known over the next eight decades.

The last two buildings of that era were mine, Richardson Hall, and the one on the northwest corner directly opposite, Woods Hall. They added a moderne element to the Spanish style and are the only two buildings to survive excavation for the new complex.

The Sacred Palm. Why it's sacred and where it's at I'm not sure. Supposedly it was saved from the courtyard to be replanted.
The Sacred Palm. Why it’s sacred and where it’s at I’m not sure. Supposedly it was saved from the courtyard to be replanted.

Work on Woods Hall is just finishing up. Inside there is a WPA mural entitled “A Dissertation on Alchemy” by Reuben Kadish. It is not yet open to the public. And the arched formal entry on the Haight and Buchanan side was once a mosaic by Maxine Albro, a protégé of Diego Rivera.

The mosaic is said to interpret California life but all I see in the photos are wild animals and jungle. Still it’s an interesting piece and was made from marble left over from the 1915 Pan American World’s Fair. The facade was removed during the 1953-1955 remodel and replaced with stucco.

Richardson Hall was used for many years as the Kindergarten Training Building. To memorialize its mission, Hebe Daum Stackpole created a Children’s Mural. Stackpole also worked on the murals at Coit Tower.

The kindergarten work deteriorated badly over the years and was destroyed in the recent renovation. Reproductions of some of the mural’s figures are now hanging in the lobby.

Destroy the Children: this Stackpole mural was deemed too far gone to save.
Destroy the Children: this Stackpole mural was deemed too far gone to save.

Originally the newly habitable Richardson and Woods Halls were intended for senior gays and lesbians. In the eternity it took to get construction off the ground, however, it came to pass that you couldn’t discriminate based on sexuality. Either way.

My building seems to be predominantly gay though it is a mix. And the gays, the most organized of all the special interest populations, have already put out a newsletter highlighting sponsored activities in the public meeting rooms. Mostly discussions groups.

I’ve never been a fan of such groups. They tend to be dominated by oratorical bullies who are in love with their own voices. And who prey upon captive audiences to share that love.

One of my friends who’s aware of my group aversion was browsing the newsletter. He goaded me with suggestions: “Maybe you should join the gay writers group? How about queer spirituality? Crossdressing? ”

Sufficiently irritated I asked, “do they have a group for victims of elder abuse?”

“They do,” he replied in an authoritative tone, “but you are not allowed to attend.”

3 thoughts on “Vissi D’Arte at 55 Laguna

  1. I’m hoping you will be giving personalized tours of the new place. Turns out you are quite the historian.Happy Holidaysxx, leigh

    1. Just look for the nerdy guy in half glasses, Birkenstocks, and an umbrella in the air yelling at a horde of Japanese tourists for taking too many pictures and not paying attention.

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