I admit it. When I heard we were going to have lunch at the Beach Chalet on the western end of Golden Gate Park, I thought to myself, “Oh, great….Fast food from a beach concessionaire….I won’t be able to find anything good or healthy.” I was taking a tour of San Francisco with Harvey L. Smith, President of the National New Deal Preservation Association and Project Advisor for The Living New Deal, and he had announced that we were stopping there to view the murals, tile work and wood-carvings added to the building as a WPA project from 1936 to 1937.
Harvey’s tour was absolutely incredible! Feverishly taking notes, I was re-learning all sorts of history that I once knew from grade school. [It is funny how sometimes things you learned in school have so much more meaning once you have some life experience and context to pair it with along the way.] I was also picking up all sorts of new details as it related to the programs and projects in the Bay Area. There are so many wonderful and beautiful buildings, artwork, parks, and more scattered across the United States that owe their very being to the New Deal initiatives. In fact, if you follow this link at The Living New Deal, you can enter your location and find what projects are in your area. It’s a great resource and, if you are so inclined, you can also donate to their cause. I entered my location and found some amazing carvings done by the famed black artist, Sargent Johnson, just a couple of miles from my house that I never knew were there. That will have to be a special trip for another day!
By the time we arrived at the Beach Chalet, we had seen some incredible works at the Rincon Annex, the old mint, the Sunshine school and more…but we were hungry. Half the group dashed upstairs to the Beach Chalet Brewery & Restaurant where you can dine with a view of the Pacific Ocean. The rest of us went downstairs to the Park Chalet Garden Restaurant where you dine with a view of Golden Gate Park. I can’t speak for what I might have enjoyed upstairs, but I believe I chose wisely. I ordered their craft Coffee Stout with the Roasted Beet Salad. The menu described it as roasted beets with arugula, tangerine segments, ricotta salata and pomegranate gastrique. It made no mention that it would be three different varieties of beets so when it arrived I was very pleasantly surprised. There were more beets than there was arugula, and it was as tasty as it was beautiful! My, had I been wrong about what the beach concessionaire was going to have to offer!
Well sated and refreshed, I made my way back upstairs to take in the artwork that we had come to see. Magnificent is an understatement!
With detailed murals by Lucien Labaudt that show life around San Francisco on all four sides of the lobby and up the stairwell, the interior is just incredible. Labaudt supervised the project and had assistants who included tile setters and wood workers so those details did not get overlooked either. A nautical hand rail that includes two carved octopi as the newel posts lead up to the second floor.
One of these days when I have more time to spend, I will need to go back to take it all in. Next time, though, I will be making a point of going there at lunchtime. The food and brews were great.
By the way, if you are interested in having your own Harvey Smith tour experience, he occasionally leads talks and walking tours for the Berkeley Historical Society. Check out their schedule. If you can happen to be in Berkeley on the right date and time, you, too, can experience the pleasure of taking a tour with Harvey Smith. It’s well worth it…even if you won’t stop for lunch and some fine examples of WPA art at the incredible San Francisco Beach Chalet! 😉