Haight-Ashbury mural celebrates birthplace of ’60s counterculture
Wells Fargo’s newest mural and art display in a San Francisco branch features Jim Marshall photography and other imagery celebrating The Haight’s role as the birthplace of the counterculture movement.
With its rows of boutiques, coffee shops, restaurants, colorful Victorian houses, and other mom and pop businesses, San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district is the kind of tight-knit and diverse community where people — and legacies — linger.
A new outdoor mural and indoor art gallery-style display at Wells Fargo’s 1726 Haight Street branch tells the story of the famous street’s role in the birthplace of the counterculture movement in the 1960s.
“The Haight is a huge part of San Francisco culture, and what happened here in the 1960s affected the entire world,” said Michael Musleh, a Wells Fargo customer who has operated four coffee shops and a restaurant on Haight Street for 38 years and helps organize the annual Haight Street Fair. “While many other parts of the city have been torn down and rebuilt, Haight Street has remained Haight Street for its entirety.”
The mural, one of more than 2,400 installed nationwide as part of Wells Fargo’s Community Mural Program, celebrates such Haight Street hallmarks as The Straight Theater — renovated by local artists and a popular venue for music, poetry readings, plays, and other art forms from 1966 to 1969 — and liquid light shows, art cars, rock concerts, peace symbols, and more.
“Art belongs on the street so everyone can see it,” said Musleh. “Art shouldn’t just live in a museum or a history book.”
Telling a community’s story
The Haight Street mural, designed by Hana Cerkez, features images from the San Francisco Public Library, the California Historical Society, the Museum of Performance + Design, the Library of Congress, and the acclaimed photographer Jim Marshall. There is also an art collection displayed inside the branch featuring never-before-framed and displayed photos of Janis Joplin and other musicians taken by Marshall.
“With our mural and artwork display, we tried to portray that moment when The Haight transformed from a local neighborhood to a worldwide phenomenon,” said Melanie Tobin, lead researcher for the Community Mural Program. “Jim Marshall was part of the fabric of the neighborhood, and he documented it in extraordinary detail. His images are so iconic and include some of the most important cultural and social events of the era.”
Maria Theresa M. Eva, a personal banker at the Haight Street branch, and her manager, Juan Carlos Briones, are excited about the mural and art display, and about the branch’s new entryway. The unusual, curved wall just to the right of the entrance now features Jim Marshall’s photo and bio against a floor-to-ceiling graphic of a psychedelic light show. Designed by Anne Marie Lapitan, it serves as a focal point for the branch.
“I’m very excited and happy Jim Marshall’s pictures are at our location,” Briones said. “The Haight, as Haight-Ashbury is called by those who make it home, has a lot of significance not just here in San Francisco, but nationally, and beyond.
“Because of what happened here and the vibe of this community and what it has to offer, we continue to be a regular stop for tourists, too, and know many more will come by now to see these unique photographs, and the new mural outside, and the story they tell.”
Photographs by Jim Marshall
Ensuring a legacy lives on
As part of the June 7 dedication of the exterior mural and interior wall art collection, Wells Fargo donated $7,500 for Jim Marshall Fellowships in Photography. These fellowships fund visual reporting and research for up to eight Center for Photography students at the University of California, Berkeley, Graduate School of Journalism each year.
“Jim did not have children and always said his photos were his children,” said Amelia Davis, Marshall’s personal assistant for the last 13 years of his life and head of Jim Marshall Photography LLC, which owns all the photos on display.
“When many people like Jim die, their legacy is lost, and I did not want that to happen. His work is too important,” she said. “A lot of people just know him from his music, and his archive is so much more than that.”
Davis said Marshall considered himself a visual storyteller who believed deeply in equality, respected his photo subjects as people, and photographed their humanity.
“Looking back to the ‘60s and the Haight-Ashbury hippies, the younger generation today is similarly finding a voice and speaking out,” she said. “I hope by looking at Jim’s photos, they see that you can make a difference. You can have a voice.”
And now, Davis said, anyone can see the pictures by walking into the Wells Fargo branch on Haight Street, the street’s only bank.
“The photographs and mural at Wells Fargo are images not in a museum, but ones you can go into a branch for free and see,” she said. “One of the reasons I’m excited about the collaboration with Wells Fargo and the Community Mural Program is to make Jim’s work accessible to the public.”
‘The digitization of imagery’
The Haight Street mural is the 654th in California and the 2,450th overall since the Community Mural Program began in 1998. It is also the first in the program to offer a digitized mural key that explains each image. Scanning the QR code on the key with a smartphone or other mobile device launches a narrated video tour of the mural.
“Twenty years ago, we wanted to connect with the community the same way we do today,” said Beth Currie, head of the Community Mural Program. “But back then, we had no idea that the technology of producing images in a large format would evolve so quickly and become something that could be done relatively inexpensively. We also didn’t know how the digitization of imagery would open up access to so many more collections and resources to tell these stories.”
“We had this idea to create a mural program, with researchers who connected with the local communities on each project,” said Currie, “and they collaborated with in-house mural designers to produce the murals. Over and over, people tell us they see themselves and their communities in these art pieces, and appreciate that those legacies are being honored.
“That’s what it’s all about.”