WNP69 - Timothy Pflueger
Woody: [00:00:00] It's Outside Lands San Francisco, the podcast of the Western Neighborhoods Project. I'm Woody LaBounty.
David: I'm David Gallagher.
David: Yes, Woody?
Woody: We have a guest here today.
David: Boy, do we!
Woody: No, not a boy. Say it again, try again.
David: Yes, we have a guest. Her name is Therese Poletti. She's a woman!
Woody: Yes. Therese, thank you so much for appearing with us today.
Therese: I am very happy to be here.
Woody: Therese, I know you from, I read technology articles online, and I know you are a great writer. I read all about Apple and Google and all these things. But we're not going to talk about any of that today, right?
David: Are we going to get into some union issues with this guest?
Woody: No. No, but she writes, she writes online.
Therese: I'm in a union.
Woody: Oh, that's a union job? Oh, well anyway, we're not going to talk about that today.
David: See, I told you.
Woody: We're going to talk totally about something else. We're going to talk about history. In fact, we're going to talk [00:01:00] about a very famous architect, in fact, maybe one of the best architects ever to practice in San Francisco.
David: Frank Lloyd Wright?
Therese: I would concur.
Woody: Who, who are we going to talk about today, Therese?
Therese: Timothy Pflueger.
Woody and David: [simultaneously] Timothy Pflueger.
Woody: Now Therese has written a wonderful book called Art Deco San Francisco, and that's the title, but really, it's all about Timothy Pflueger, right?
Woody: Who was Timothy Pflueger?
Therese: Pflueger was a San Francisco native. He's kind of unusual because he was born and bred here. Grew up in the Mission on Guerrero Street, lived there his whole life. And he did not go to college. But he became one of the city's most premier architects during his period of the ‘20s is when he really started to thrive until his death in 1946.
Woody: ’46, he died pretty young, right?
Therese: Yes. Age 54.
Woody: But for that short period of time, there is incredible buildings in the Bay Area that I think everybody is aware of, or maybe they aren't. David, what buildings would you think of? [00:02:00]
David: Well, the Paramount Theater comes to mind in Oakland.
Woody: Ahh, amazing.
David: Downtown Oakland. The telephone building on New Montgomery.
Woody: Yeah, what's that officially called?
Therese: They've re-dubbed it 140 New Montgomery.
Woody: But it was like Pacific Telephone and Telegraph, or something?
Therese: It was originally called the Pacific Telephone and Telegraph, Western Division Headquarters. Was its name.
David: The telephone building!
Therese: Official name.
Woody: Sexy, sexy.
David: Come on!
Woody: I always think of that building as, like it was, the most prominent building South of Market. It was like the big Gothic looking skyscraper South of Market. Now it's all kind of being hemmed in by other big buildings, right?
David: And 450 Sutter he did.
Woody: Oh yeah! That's like the medical-dental building, right?
David: 450 Suffer, as Herb Caen would call it.
Therese: Yes, exactly.
Woody: And can you describe the outside of that building? Or maybe…
David: It's kind of Mayan or, influenced or?
David: Yeah. And it's all hammered metal and it looks like…
Therese: And then it has terracotta on the exteriors sort of very, a lot of bas- reliefs [00:03:00] with the Mayan theme.
Woody: And a lot of metallic, sort of…
Therese: On the interior.
Woody: Yeah, on the inside. It's like, it's all, that's when you talk about Art Deco, I mean Timothy Pflueger being sort of a master of this, you really get these Art Deco feeling in a lot of his places.
Woody: But the other one that we think of is the Castro Theater, right?
Therese and David: [simultaneously] Yes.
Woody: And that, that's not Art Deco.
Therese: It's not Art Deco, no.
Woody: Yeah. So, he could kind of do a little…
Therese: Well, that was his very, one of his very early works. Before he started really adopting this kind of Deco Moderne style.
Woody: And, and that's what we call it, that's what he's kind of famous for?
Therese: And he started getting more modern in his later years, more going toward modernism. But the Castro is sort of, I call it, “Theater Eclectic Hodgepodge.”
Woody: Theater Eclectic Hodgepodge?
Woody: What would be, it's a, it's a soup of different styles?
Woody: Essentially, right?
Therese: Yeah, it has that Spanish…
Woody: You don't agree, David?
David: I do. I do.
Therese: Spanish, Mexican cathedral exterior and Roman amphitheater interior [00:04:00] with other neoclassic elements.
Woody: Whew! That is a hodgepodge.
David: Yeah, yeah.
Woody: But I mean, if people talk about the great buildings of San Francisco or the great places, like if you want to go see a classic San Francisco building, they're usually, it's usually a Timothy Pflueger building.
Woody: I mean, I can't think of any others that really match it.
David: I love the, I love the telephone building with the big eagles on it. That's just remarkable. I mean, I don't know.
Therese: Now it's lit again, which is really, really awesome. It’s…
David: It's finally got some…
Therese: A beautiful green, greenish lights.
David: But something funny that I know about the eagles, is that they are not the original eagles. Is that right?
Therese: Correct. They are now fiberglass.
David: Yeah. They were replaced after the 1989 earthquake.
Woody: And these are giant, right? I mean.
Therese: They're thirteen feet high.
Woody: Thirteen feet tall, these eagles.
David: And there’s, like, ten of them or something? Or?
David: Eight of them around…
Therese: There's two on each side.
Woody: David, let the expert, she knows how many there are. I mean you’re coming up with these wrong answers.
David: I'm asking, [00:05:00] I'm asking. Do you hear the upward inflection in my voice?
Woody: Yes, very good, very good. The thing also about Pflueger that I always think, and this must be Art Deco, is, it's not just, like you think of Frank Lloyd Wright, or some of these architects who you would think of as famous architects. It's all about the, sort of, form of the building, like the crazy sort of cantilever things, stuff like that. But with Pflueger, it's the incorporation of art. I mean, that's what I always think, I think of him partnering with artists for murals or exterior things. I mean, is that something that was his idea or was he following the tradition of other architects? The City College building is a good example.
Woody: We can start getting to the West side of San Francisco. City College of San Francisco is one of Pflueger's works, right?
Therese: Yes. The main science building, administration building I think it was originally called. Now it's today the science building. Yeah, that is a good example, yeah. No, he, I think early, in architecture early on, people always did work with artists, but he was really a master [00:06:00] at it. And the science building has beautiful mosaic murals on each side of the building. Frederick Law Olmsted's grandson did the interior mural at City College.
David: We know…
Therese: It's in the vestibule.
David: Yeah, we know that name from Golden Gate Park and Central Park in New York, right?
Woody: And the Olmsted brothers had a big effect on St. Francis Wood, if you remember, figuring out the landscaping design.
Therese: The landscaping there, yeah.
Woody: Yeah, Olmstead is a big name in that. So going back to Pflueger, we're going to get to the West side of San Francisco. He did some big buildings out here, including a lot of schools that people would've gone to, movie theaters. We talked about City College, what other places in the West side of San Francisco would've been Pflueger done?
Therese: Roosevelt Middle School, George Washington High School, which I recently just saw the 1960 movie…
David: Experiment in Terror.
Therese: Experiment in Terror. And George Washington [00:07:00] has great, great shots in that movie.
Therese: That was very fun. Also, he did the El Rey Theater, and Lincoln High School, and he worked on, as a very young, young draftsman, he worked on Jefferson.
Woody: On 19th and Irving.
Therese: Right. And that one, I think, has been greatly changed but he worked on that as a very young draftsman.
David: Yeah so, now the El Rey Theater, so that's on Ocean Avenue, right near Ingleside Terraces, right?
Woody: Right where…
David: Now the Voice of Pentecost Church.
Woody: Right where Victoria hits. And that's an interesting building in itself. They painted a big cross on the tower, but originally it wasn't so much like that, right? It had a lot more, at least…
Woody: Or you know, maybe not so much on the outside, but it seemed like there was a lot more color involved. I mean, I saw one of your, in your book, this sort of wash, a watercolor of the lighting plan they had for it. And in…
Therese: And the neon, the neon was key. It had a beautiful big neon and it had a, [00:08:00] at the top it had a, like, almost a strobe light. But it was like a beacon, that was also used to, for airplanes so that they would know that it was, a tower was there.
Woody: It's definitely a landmark of that valley.
Woody: I mean, if you're anywhere around there, you see it.
Therese: You can still see it.
Woody: Yeah. You still, it pops out at you, but can you imagine having a beacon kind of spinning around on the top there?
Woody: And the interior, a lot of it's gone, but the interior, some of it's still there, right?
Therese: The auditorium is still there. And some of the ceiling has a very small bit of the steel, like, the filigree ceiling that is in the Paramount. That was, I think, Pflueger was kind of still experimenting. But he had just done the Paramount at that point, because he did the Paramount, and the Alameda, and the El Rey pretty much all at the same time.
Therese: And the El Rey was last, so I don't know if he actually had, like, some filigree left over, or he just, you know, because there's, like…
Woody: In the back of the truck?
Therese: Yeah, there's, like, a little patch of it.
Therese: At the top, but it's not covering the entire ceiling like in the [00:09:00] Paramount it's a big fixture.
Therese: And then there used to be a beautiful mural. I saw one photo of the mural, that used to grace one of the office walls or from up high you can see it.
Woody: And was it, was it horses or?
Therese: It's all kind of transportation modes.
Woody: Neat. And then we talked about Roosevelt over here. And that's funny, we called it, “Roos-e-velt” instead of, “Rose-a-velt” in the Richmond District, as kids. And I was told, maybe we were just uneducated, but I was told that it was because it was named for Theodore Roosevelt who pronounced it that way, instead of Franklin Roosevelt.
Woody: Isn't that a crazy story? But that's what we always said in the Richmond District.
Therese: That’s interesting.
Woody: We always called it Roosevelt.
David: That's funny.
Therese: That is interesting.
Woody: But it's over here on Arguello, just South, just North…
David: Of Clement.
Therese: Just a few blocks away.
David: Between Clement and Geary.
Woody: Right. And it's a striking building too, because you think of these school buildings in San Francisco, very, usually they're Spanish Colonial with a lot of stucco. But this is, what? I mean, it's all brick for one thing on the [00:10:00] exterior there.
Therese: Right. It's, I'm, it looks very German Expressionist, or Dutch with the brick. It has these amazing columns and these, kind of, spiky tops.
David: Yeah, it looks kind of like a fortress.
Therese: It's kind of prison-like.
Woody: Yeah, or an armory or something.
Therese: Yes. Yeah, exactly. But it does have this kind of cool ornamentation with the brick, it has this nice design. And then the gym has these amazing windows and this leaded glass.
Woody: And it, it's kind of copper or, I don’t know if it's copper, but it's kind of got a green patina.
Therese: Yes. I think it's turned. Yes. Yes, I think it's copper.
David: Did he work in brick very much?
Therese: Not too often, no.
Therese: No, this was kind of an unusual, yes, this was an unusual material for him. And Woody, would you like to tell us about why he worked in brick?
Woody: I would.
Therese: Because this is not in my book.
David: We set that up for you, Woody, now knock it out.
Woody: I found this article in the San Francisco Examiner, December 16th, 1927, and you're like, “Oh, Timothy [00:11:00] Pflueger, what a master. The architect with this incredible imagination using the world palette of architecture to create this stuff.” Well, the bricklayers construction industry, I think they called themselves the clay products construction industry, were pushing to have some school building made out of brick. Because they were mad that there were all these contracts for new school buildings and the brick guys were getting left out. So, there was a lot of pressure to have a building that had brick. And I think…
David: Their memories were very short in 1920-, what did you say?
Woody: It didn't…
David: Just twenty short years.
Therese: After the 1906 quake.
Woody: Yeah. Well, it hasn't fallen down yet, you know?
Therese: And it has a, it has a very high tower, which is an unusual feature of that building. Which is kind of a, that tower, I believe in past, in later, restorations, they wanted to get rid of it.
Woody: Well, yeah, it looks a little…
Therese: I saw some documentation in the school records that they weren't too pleased having that tower.
David: What's, what's up [00:12:00] in that tower anyway?
Woody: Well, we always heard a ghost.
Woody: My nephew, who went to Roosevelt, they, they still talk about, he just has…
Therese: Has, did he ever go up there?
Woody: I don't think he ever did. There's, there's definitely a lot of talk of ghosts. But I will say, ghosts aside, that there are murals inside the lobby.
Woody: They're beautiful. I mean, this is when they’d build a school, it was, it was more than a school building. It was more than the utility of it, but they actually tried to have art and history. Well, when we'll talk about George Washington, we'll get more to that, I think. But again, we're talking about Timothy Pflueger, they say you have to build a school of brick, but he doesn't just throw a bunch of brick up, right? He comes up with this really interesting design.
Therese: Yeah. Exactly.
Woody: So, George Washington, what do you got to say about that, David?
David: It's up on the hill there. It's a high school. It has remarkable murals that I've been told about. I have never seen them.
David: I've never been inside there. I've never been inside Washington, George Washington High School before.
Woody: Have you seen the football field, at least?
David: I have seen it from the [00:13:00] street.
Woody: Because the thing that Washington's got, is it's got the, the setting right?
Woody: You're up on this old quarry site on the hill, Geary and 30th Avenue. And it looks out over the Golden Gate, the football field, I mean, it's, like, got to be the most picturesque place to play football, high school football.
Woody: In the world! But, but again, we're talking about Timothy Pflueger. The building is pretty, I mean, he's got some limitations, right, about what he can do with the?
Therese: With the, the budget, the site.
Woody: Depression, right? We're during the Depression.
Therese: Yes, yes and which had WPA funding, so they were definitely limited on their funding. So yeah, it's very streamlined Moderne. This is a typical ‘30s building where you're not getting so much ornament, it's much more sparse.
Woody: But there is, I mean, the football…
Therese: He, he did manage to put in the, and he hired, yeah, he hired, originally, it was Bene Bufano to do that athletic frieze on the field.
Woody: Yeah. It's like some Greek.
Woody: It looks like a Greek temple, [00:14:00] right, or something.
David: Oh, yeah. That's, that's something that I could see from the street, Woody.
Woody: Okay, good. And then…
David: And so can you, listener.
Woody: You can, yeah, you can go see it, it's available. Now, the murals themselves, can we describe them, even though David's never seen them himself? Or do we know who did them? Wasn't it Arnautoff?
Therese: Arnautoff, Victor Arnautoff. Yeah, I was going to say Ray Frisz, but it's, yeah, Arnautoff. Yeah, it's the story of George Washington's life. And then there's another wall that was added later and, and I think those are, like, an African-American experience because they felt like they, you know, they really needed to add some diversity. Because the George Washington murals also sort of, you know, glorified slavery and there, there's some issues with the take on the life of George Washington in that era. Oh, 1968 is when the other mural arrived.
Woody: That sounds like a good time to put a different cultural take at the…
Woody: High school because…
Therese: Exactly the perfect time.
Woody: Yeah, and the murals are still there.
Woody: And they're [00:15:00] still, they're still pretty beautiful.
David: How do we get in to see them? For a person who has never seen them.
Woody: You should have a child, and enroll, get that kid into Washington. Which is very difficult, by the way.
David: Those days are gone, Woody, for me.
Therese: Or you could try on a weekend and see if the doors are open. That's what I did.
Woody: Did you get in?
David: George Washington High School, open on the weekends people.
Woody: The statute of limitations is probably done with that.
Therese: They were doing construction.
Woody: Okay. Because I don't think it's that easy to get in, but you know we’ve…
Therese: We lucked out.
Woody: We've been talking about having some kind of tour. If we can arrange it with the school district. We'll see.
Therese: That would be cool.
Woody: So, the other big school that we're talking about, that a lot of people on the West side went to, is Lincoln High School. Which was the last high school, public high school, that was really built out here on the West side. Opens in like 1940, ‘41, something like that. And Pflueger is involved with that, but here we're talking about, really, the budget has been curtailed, right? There's not, there's not even the amount of decoration and [00:16:00] art that's in Washington, Lincoln doesn't even get that.
Therese: Right, there's no murals inside that I've ever seen for Lincoln.
Woody: So, everything seems to be in the entryway. That seems to be what we've got. And, but it's still, it's pretty striking.
Therese: And it's a very large school as well.
Woody: Yeah, it's giant.
Woody: But no, Lincoln. Lincoln doesn't have as much of a presence as Washington. Washington had the murals inside, he has his frieze over the doorway.
Therese: Right. Yeah, and he has a little sculpture of him, of George Washington and it's also a reference to his house in Mount Vernon. The way the, the building is, like, got a portico in the front and it's kind of on a hill.
Woody: Yeah, it's got those big columns like Mount Vernon.
Therese: Yes, exactly. But yeah, this doesn't seem to have any references, really, to Abraham Lincoln.
Woody: Poor Lincoln High School. And David, you like some of Pflueger's, some of the houses he's done, right?
David: Yeah, he did a few residences, right? A couple up in, what do we call it?
Woody: Sherwood Forest.
David: Sherwood Forest. That's kind of on the backside of Mount Davidson.
Woody: Yeah. It's kind of between Miraloma Park and St. Francis [00:17:00] Wood up on the hill there.
David: Yeah. Lansdale Avenue.
Woody: And what did you think of those houses? I mean, the pictures we saw are, the historical pictures are, a lot more striking.
David: In, in your book, there's this great picture of the two, of two houses that he built. Of definitely different sizes, just kind of cut out of the forest, they're the only thing on the street, there's nothing around them. There's trees below and above them. And one of them is, kind of, I think you described it as a streamlined Moderne with the…
Therese: Yes, it was very streamline.
David: It's sort of, it's, I, I think it looks, in this hillside setting, kind of like one of those Anasazi little houses built up there, little boxes with slit windows and everything. I mean, it's not exactly streamline Moderne, but…
Woody: Well, I just know that they have, and what is that called, when you have like a woman who acts like a pillar? I mean the, the sculpture of a woman who…
David: Like a caryatid or something.
Woody: Yeah, that's the word I was looking for.
David: Thank you Woody.
David: I have a degree in English.
Woody: Do [00:18:00] you?
Therese: Yes, this streamline Moderne house has this really cool sculpture. Almost, it almost looks like what would be at the end of a ship. Don't you think?
Therese: And it kind of looks like something…
David: Like a figurehead.
Therese Yes. It looks like something Ralph Stackpole would've done but no one has, we've never found who the artist was. But yeah, it's like this woman figure with these, kind of, rough-hewn, it looks like it's done in granite. She kind of reminds me of Pacifica, the statue that Stackpole did for the Golden Gate International Exposition and, and the statue outside the stock exchange.
Woody: She reminds me of Princess Leia from Star Wars because she's got little curls on the side.
Therese: You're not the, you're not the first person to say that.
Woody: And I'm sure Ralph Stackpole was probably thinking that way.
David: Yeah. The unfortunate part about this house is that it's been modified that it, it's not quite as cool looking now as it was when he built it. But the figure’s still there, right?
Woody: I think it is.
David: Yeah. [00:19:00]
Therese: Yes, the sculpture is still there. This was originally owned by doctors. And both of these homes were doctor’s and they both had worked in 450 Sutter.
Woody: Oh, okay.
Therese: And I think they maybe made the connection with Pflueger that way or via his brother Otto, who was a surgeon.
Woody: So, let's talk about Pflueger. So, we talked about him, he died pretty young. What did he die of?
Therese: He had a heart attack. Age 54. He was in the Olympic Club doing his daily swim. I don't really know if he really swam every day, but he tried to. He was a big smoker. I mean, everyone in that era was a smoker and a drinker and he was a little bit overweight. He was kind of stocky. Workaholic.
Woody: Right. Well, it seems like he did a lot.
Therese: He did a lot. He, he, did a lot and who knows how much more he would've done if he had lived on.
Therese: But he did a lot in his short time on this earth.
David: [00:20:00] We didn't even talk about his influence at the GGIE on Treasure Island, 1939, right?
Woody: Did he have an influence there, Therese?
Therese: Well, he was on the architect, The Committee of Architects, who are six architects, I believe, and he was one of them. And he did, actually, the most modern building of, one of the most modern buildings, he and William Wurster. And Pflueger did the federal building, so, which housed all the WPA exhibits, even as the WPA was near collapse, and it housed the Federal Theater Project. So that was his contribution, as well as bringing Diego Rivera to the Fair in 1940 to do the big mural. And it was part of a big Art in Action. You know, people coming to the Fair could go watch artists at work.
Woody: And I guess that it makes total sense for him to be there because the GGIE on Treasure Island, had a very, sort of, Pan-American feel, to the whole thing. Like it felt very Western [00:21:00] hemisphere, right?
Woody: And the traditions and the cultures of Western hemisphere. And so, he, a lot of his work, has that feeling, like David said earlier, that Mayan sort of look. Mayan mixed with modern.
Therese: Yeah. And, and also reaching out to Asia, this kind of mix of all the, yeah, Western hemisphere.
Woody: Very futuristic feeling guy to me.
David: Very funny, I mean now that we've mentioned that, I read something, in your book, about that Pflueger had never really been, had never been to Europe. I mean, he, he pretty much had not even left the United States or left the Western United States, so…
Therese: Until he went, until he worked for I. Magnin.
David: Yeah, very late.
David: In his career.
Therese: Very late in his life, he went to Paris and Italy with Grover Magnin.
Therese: On the Queen Mary.
David: But in the period that we're talking, the period that we're talking, he really hadn't had that sort of influence, I guess.
Woody: Yeah. It's kind of amazing.
Woody: So, you think of these architects, they get classically trained in Paris and they come back here,
Woody: And they do all this Beaux-Arts and all this stuff. But here's a guy who was born in San Francisco, raised in the public [00:22:00] schools, I think.
Therese: Yes, yes.
Woody: Pretty much trained without this classical education, doing this amazing stuff.
Therese: Right and that's partially thanks to the architecture club, the San Francisco Architectural Club, which had architects come and speak and give classes. It was, like, for guys who could not afford to go to Berkeley or who didn't have that wherewithal to get into the Beaux-Arts, The École des Beaux-Arts in Paris.
Woody: Neat! Okay, so what's next for you, Theresa? Are we going to have that Timothy Pflueger mystery series you've been tempting me with all these years? I've, I've, I've, opened the door, now she's going to have to do it.
Therese: I know. I’m on chapter four. And, so my, my visitor, my out-of-town visitor’s actually read three chapters of it.
Woody: Ah, and what does he think?
Therese’s Visitor: Early reviews are good.
Woody: Early reviews are good, he says. Ah, I'm looking forward to it. So, a little fictionalized mystery using Timothy Pflueger.
Therese: Where he's a character.
Woody: Thank you for coming.
Therese: Thank you for having me. It was fun.
Woody: Therese Poletti.
David: It was great.
Woody: And what I recommend, if people can [00:23:00] get it, to get the Art Deco San Francisco book. It's a beautiful book.
Therese: Thank you.
Woody: The art, the photography you had.
Therese: Published by Princeton Architectural Press.
Woody: Princeton Architectural Press.
Woody: The photography is great. The history…
Therese: By Tom Paiva.
Woody: He did a great job.
Therese: An excellent photographer.
Woody: Great job. So, we're really, kind of, just in love with this book. We think it's great.
Therese: Thank you.
Woody: And thank you so much for taking the time to come out here and chat with us.
Therese: It was fun!
Woody: Well, David.
David: Yes, Woody?
Woody: I think everybody should, not only read Therese's book, but also become a member of the Western Neighborhoods Project.
David: Boy howdy, I agree with you.
Woody: How would they do that?
David: Well, they can go to our website.
Woody: Try to sound sincere.
David: They can go to our website.
Woody: That's better.
David: It's, I'll, I'll give you really clear instructions. Go to our website and click the link at the top of the page that says, “Become a Member.” Then fill in all of your information.
Woody: I said sincere, not condescending.
Woody: You're sounding like, you…
Woody: You have the English degree, right? [00:24:00]
David: It wasn't public speaking, Woody.
Woody: All right, I'll see you next week.
David: All right, Woody.
Woody: Learn more about the Western Neighborhoods Project and more about San Francisco history at outsidelands.org.