The Pacific Gas & Electric Power Co hired architect Willis Polk (1867-1924) to expand and redesign its damaged plant. Polk chose a classical revival style, associated with the City Beautiful Movement which focused on public buildings and urban infrastructure. The building’s commanding presence was intended to inspire the community’s confidence and to suggest the comfort and prosperity that PG&E could bring to California. The Polk structure was completed by 1909 and remained as a working utilities substation until 1968.
Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco
In 1995 the Jewish Museum was invited by the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency to develop the long-abandoned Jessie Street Pacific Gas & Electric Power Substation building. Only one requirement was made explicit: to actively showcase Willis Polk’s beautiful brick façade.
Of all the architects around, why did the Jewish Museum Board in San Francisco select Polish-born, American-trained, Berlin-based architect Daniel Libeskind (born 1946)? I am assuming it was because of his work on the Felix Nussbaum Museum in Osnabrück in Lower Saxony Germany, near Hanover. The new Museum was built as an extension to Osnabrück’s Cultural History Museum and was dedicated to Felix Nussbaum, the Jewish artist who was born in Osnabrück in 1904 and exterminated in Auschwitz in 1944. The building was completed in mid 1998 and at that stage was Daniel Libeskind’s ONLY completed museum. The San Francisco board particularly liked Libeskind’s Osnabrück museum because the new components were linked, via a bridge, to the old museum.
Felix Nussbaum Museum in Osnabrück
Nowhere was this two-way conversation seen better than in the Jewish Museum’s exhibition called The Beat Generation: photographs of Allen Ginsburg (1926–1997). The original Beat Generation writers, eg Jack Kerouac, William S Burroughs, Lucien Carr, Herbert Huncke, Peter Orlovsky and other young men, met in New York but by the mid-1950s, the key members were all living in San Francisco. One famous San Francisco moment occurred when Ginsburg's epic poem Howl was first read in October 1955 at the Six Gallery.
The Beat Generation: the photographs of Allen Ginsburg
at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco
Ending in Sept 2013.
Ending in Sept 2013.
For a review of Libeskind's Jewish Museum in Berlin, but not his museum in San Francisco, read "Building Stories" in The Jerusalem Report, 29th July 2013. The take-home message of this review is that Libeskind treated architecture as a kind of narrative, particularly museum architecture.