For a time, home to a circle of artists

Fifty years ago a reader of the national news media might think North Beach was San Francisco’s only artistic bohemia. But even during the heyday of the beat poets, upper Fillmore offered not only upscale living but fertile ground for art and literature.

The artist Wallace Berman’s first apartment in San Francisco was at 2315 Jackson, between Webster and Fillmore. In those years the poets John Wieners and Philip Lamantia lived within a few blocks of Fillmore and Jackson, as did artists Bruce and Jean Conner.

A four-unit apartment building at 2322 Fillmore, between Clay and Washington, was an art-and-poetry scene in itself, its residents including Michael and Joanna McClure and such well-known painters as James Weeks, Sonia Gechtoff, Joan Brown, Wally Hedrick and Jay DeFeo.

The Batman Gallery, so named because its founder affected black clothing and looked not wholly unlike the comic book hero, was at 2222 Fillmore, between Sacramento and Clay. The King Ubu Gallery and its successor, the Six Gallery, among the most important avant-garde art showcases in the city, were at 3119 Fillmore, between Filbert and Pixley. Allen Ginsberg’s reading of “Howl” at the Six Gallery in 1955 was a turning point in the history of American culture.

Hedrick and DeFeo were the last artists to leave 2322 Fillmore: in 1964 their rent went up from $65 to $300 a month. A furniture store now occupies the space where Ginsberg read “Howl,” and the space occupied by the Batman Gallery is now a Starbucks.

But for a few years, when the neighborhood offered low-rent islands amid the general affluence, Fillmore was home to some of America’s most innovative writers and artists.

— Jerome Tarshis

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2 Responses

  1. Thanks so much for your info, Jerome. I did just see the SF Chron piece on 1.22.10 briefly mentioning “Allen Ginsberg reciting his controversial poem in public for the first time in 1955 at the Six Gallery, a small art gallery on Fillmore Street.” I was curious and glad to know more. Thanks to you.

  2. Thanks from me as well. I just love finding out who and what were where – and you covered all the bases!

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