Fog City Musings

When the muse finds a way to captivate my imagination, I write!

Samuel’s Clock

856 Market Street

San Francisco

I shudder to think how many times I’ve walked down Market Street and hurried by this clock without really seeing it! It makes me wonder what else I might be missing along the way – too distracted to notice a beautiful treasure in my own city! And yes, I do see the irony of me missing the Samuels Clock all because I scurried too fast along Market Street trying to “beat the clock!”

Well, one glorious April day, this clock finally had enough of my inattention and said, “Hey, look at me, OK!” When the gold and stunning blue edifice came into my view, I felt as if I’d been transported into another city. Of course, I stopped and took pictures. The entirety of the clock is beautiful and intricate – with a rectangular base featuring two little windows on either side, which show the inner workings of the timepiece. I was mesmerized ~ and soon traipsing off to do a little research.

It turns out, the clock was designed by Albert S. Samuels of Karlsburg Austria, who grew up in San Francisco and attended school right down the street from where the clock now stands. As a young man, Samuels worked as an apprentice to a watchmaker and soon became a jeweler and watchmaker in his own right, opening a business on Market Street very near this location.

By the time the 1906 earthquake hit, Albert Samuels was already an established businessman. He and his business obviously survived the quake, and Samuels himself probably helped to rebuild from the rubble of the city. In the process, Samuels designed a clock and commissioned the building of it to Joseph Mayer, an engineer and clockmaker in Seattle. The Art Deco-meets-Autstrian-craftsmanship clock was installed in front of A. S. Samuels & Co. in 1915, the same year of the Pan Pacific Exposition, which was a world-renown celebration of the city having completely recovered from the devastation of the earthquake and fire.

Therefore, a lot of pride went into this gem of a clock. Many Mayer street-clocks exist all across America, but it has been noted that the Samuels clock is one of the most beautiful. On a bronze plaque you can read the dedication to the public of San Francisco. The clock was given landmark status in December of 1975, {SF landmark #77}, and the entire work of art is insured by Lloyds of London.

One More Tidbit: Novelist, Dashiell Hammett worked for Samuels a short time as copywriter for the store and used pictures of the clock in his ads. Also, the clock played a small role in at least one of Hammett’s stories. So, with a mystery writer connection to add to its fascination, this is definitely my kind of clock!

Portrait of the Palace

In the early days of rowdy brothels and boisterous sailors, San Francisco was perceived near and far as little more than an unruly western town. Today, that stigma still holds pretty true, in some quarters, but one event in history promoted San Francisco from being merely a windy, foggy, somewhat unsavory depot to a veritable pleasure palace.

Out of a handful of major cities across the U.S., San Francisco was chosen to host the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, a celebration of industrial achievement in the completion of the Panama Canal. Perhaps it was purely a matter of location and a little luck, but the powers-that-be got to work! Eleven palaces were built as part of this world-renowned extravaganza and celebration.

Bejeweled and illuminated exhibits – with some structures towering over 400 feet high – elaborate gardens, Roman statues, Greek archways, sumptuous food, non-stop entertainment –including air-shows and car races – were all set up solely for the Exposition event. Much of the spectacle took place in and around the Marina District. A good map will show you these spectacular structures filled with lights sparkling from the Marina District out toward the water – appearing as so many starbursts on the billowing bay.

The celebration was three-fold in nature and lasted for about nine months: It was on the order of a Worlds Fair to honor the Pacific Ocean and, yes, the completion of the Panama Canal, but for many, it became a heart-felt gala in tribute to the complete resurrection of San Francisco after the destruction of the 1906 earthquake and fire. With the exuberance of the Art Deco movement, all eleven palaces were built in Beaux Arts style with a Roman ruin theme. Each palace represented a unique industry, such as, manufacturing and production, science and medicine, aviation, farming and gardening, architecture, and fine arts.

The Palace of Fine Arts, which from its beginning was devoted to the living artists of the time, primarily the Impressionists, captured the hearts of so many people that a Palace Preservation League was established to keep the Palace of Fine Arts from being demolished as all of the other Exposition structures would be, for everything was built to be only temporary. Lead by Phoebe Apperson Hearst, a Philanthropist and suffragist who also happened to be William Randolf Hearst’s mother, the league succeeded in rescuing the romantic rotunda and colonnades with their intricate murals and friezes, as well as the enormous Exhibition Hall.

Long after the dismantling of the Pan-Pacific Expo, art shows continued to flow through the Palace of Fine Arts Exhibition Hall regularly with loans from galleries, museums and private collectors. For a brief moment in time, San Franciscans enjoyed a beautifully preserved, architectural wonder complete with a satisfying collection of fine art. In 1929, the Great Depression hit – so ending the exchange and presentation of art at the Palace, and until the 1960s, the Pavilion Hall went through many changes. The Hall is as big as an airline hangar, though curved, and so was transformed into, first, lighted tennis courts, probably to bring in revenue after the Crash. During World War II, it became a more utilitarian outpost for the military, storing such things as jeeps, cargo and other armament. After the war, it fell completely to the means and uses of the Park Presidio military and the city.

The Palace itself remained standing as a reminder of that glorious celebration of a more prosperous era; however, the structures and ornate friezes had not weathered the elements well, over time. And so, in 1965, the Palace and colonnades were completely replicated and rebuilt there on the original site along with further landscaping around a man-made lagoon. Within the same decade, the Exploratorium, an enthralling, interactive museum, was installed inside the Exhibition Hall, and in 1970 the Palace of Fine Arts Theater was built into one end of the Pavilion.

Today, the Palace and its flourishing, serene terrain are a major attraction for local San Franciscans and tourists. The dome, colonnades, friezes, the weeping women and surrounding grounds have been well kept over the years with a major revamp completed in 2009 under the guidance of then Mayor, Gavin Newsom. In 2013, the Exploratorium Interactive Museum was moved, from its original home of nearly fifty years, out of the Pavilion Hall down to Pier 15 into a brand new, first-rate 21st Century venue overlooking the San Francisco Bay.

As of 2013, The Academy of Art University, (which was founded in 1929 in San Francisco), has had new jurisdiction over the Pavilion, beginning with a showing of student art. Following, was a car show featuring a shining fleet of classic cars. I was a little taken aback by this installation, partly because I’d been going to the Exploratorium at the Palace since I was a kid, and yet, the car show is fitting, in some ways, as the intricate craftsmanship of these vintage cars pays homage to the design and ingenuity of a great heritage in our culture. The show also serves as a retrospective of that same ingenuity and spirit that staged the great Pan-Pacific Expo.

In any case, the long-standing theme of art and its catalyst, creative fervor, continues in San Francisco, and the Palace remains a symbol and a souvenir of a city’s collective energy and its appreciation of beauty and art.

The students at the University who are involved in the Auto-Museum are enrolled in the University’s School of Industrial Design.

The show is continuous with no definite end-date. Proceeds from donations at the door go to a charity fund for victims of the Oklahoma tornadoes.

Admission is free.

{The Palace of Fine Arts is a designated historic landmark, #88.}

Palace Underneath The Dome

Palace Underneath The Dome

Colonnade of Weeping Women

Colonnade of Weeping Women

palace blossoms

Art Deco Doors at Side Entrance of the Pavilion Hall

Art Deco Doors at Side Entrance of the Pavilion Hall

Lagoon & Fountain

Lagoon & Fountain

palace grass and fountain

Swans, Ducks, Geese, Herons, Egrets and Turtles Live Here.

Swans, Ducks, Geese, Herons, Egrets and Turtles Live Here.

The Palace in July

The Palace in July

An Italian Laza at the Auto-Museum

An Italian Laza at the Auto-Museum

A '56 Chevy at the Auto-Museum

A ’56 Chevy at the Auto-Museum

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