Though a relatively new city, San Francisco has quite a history. And from the Presidio to the Condor Club to the seawall at Taverna Aventine, we love celebrating it.
But the most haunting (and often most impressionable) reminders are the stories of our demolished landmarks that exist only in memory, like the Yahoo sign and the Sutro Baths. Or, in local artist Dan McHale's case, the old Hamm's brewery with its enormous, three-dimensional sign -- a dazzling site of McHale's childhood that slipped into his imagination when it was closed in 1972.
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"Nothing has spoken to me quite like the Hamm's building," said McHale to The Huffington Post. "It's a combination of several factors: I remember it, it was spectacular, it's gone and I hadn't heard about it much."
In "36 Views of Hamm's Brewery" (a collection of 36 paintings and nod to "The 36 Views of Mt. Fuji") McHale captured scenes of the ancient neon sign. Later, McHale added to the collection, and created a three-story mural at the Bryant Street Sports Basement -- the neighboring building to the old brewery. Inside the old brewery are several of McHale's paintings on display.
In a recent series in The San Francisco Chronicle, Peter Hartlaub profiled McHale and explored the history of the old Hamm's building. Hartlaub described the iconic sign:
The Hamm’s Brewery sign, with its 13-foot-tall 3D neon chalice — the glass filled and emptied with rings of light! — was a surprise reader favorite. When built in 1954, near the freeway at 1550 Bryant St., it was the largest commercial sign on the West Coast. It appeared briefly in “Dirty Harry,” and was written about by everyone from Herb Caen to Charles McCabe.
The brewery opened at 1550 Bryant Street in 1954 and closed in 1972. In the '80s, the beer vats were reportedly rented out to punk rock bands until the building was renovated. But with McHale's vast (and growing) collection, the brewery has been immortalized.
"It's hard to imagine doing just one," McHale told HuffPost. "A painting likes to be kept company. And, when you see a lot of them in one room, like I did when I exhibited all of the paintings in the Hamm's building, it was nice to see the dynamic interplay between the pictures."
The collection beautifully displays the moods of San Francisco: a gray sky and stretch of freeway, a bright day at the old Seals Stadium, a cold night sky and a twinkling skyline -- all with the glowing Hamm's sign illuminating the background.
So which landmark is next for McHale?
"I've been visiting sites in Oakland that I'd like to paint," he said. "The former rock quarry full of water, next to St. Mary's Cemetery where my father is buried. The Grand Lake Theater where I saw the movie Grand Prix when I was a kid. The nondescript entrance to the George Gund theater, former home of the Pacific Film Archive. Who knows if they'll resonate with anyone but me."
Check out some of Dan McHale's paintings of the historic Hamm's beer building in the slideshow below:
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