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My San Francisco Day

The Fairmont Hotel

Earlier this week I had an unexpected day all to myself in San Francisco.  It was a treat to have no specific plan or destination in mind, but of course I had to start out by visiting Esther Bruton's murals in the Cirque Lounge at the Fairmont Hotel 

Cirque Lounge

I stopped at the concierge desk to drop off a copy of Sisters in Art and had the pleasure of meeting Thomas Wolfe, "America's First Concierge" and historian at the Fairmont.  Wolfe started working at the hotel in 1974, and we had a great discussion about Esther Bruton.  We both have our fingers crossed that the Cirque Lounge will open to the public again as it did during the 2019-2020 holiday season (pre-Covid).

After the Fairmont, I stopped by the Cable Car Museum, which is just a few blocks away. At the center of the museum you can look down over the roaring engines and huge spinning wheels that run the four cable car lines in San Francisco. Fascinating!

Cable Car Museum

Next I was off on a steep climb to visit Coit Tower, which -- amazingly -- I have never seen in person before! Unfortunately, because I had not arranged for a group tour, I was unable to go to the second floor and view Lucien Labaudt's Powell Street murals that run along the staircase. Labaudt was friends with the Brutons and depicted them in one of his murals.

Lucien Labaudt's Powell Street

Esther, Margaret, and Helen Bruton (l. to r.) are the three women to the right with the dog (of course!). Their friend Maxine Albro and her husband Parker Hall are the couple on the left.
Photograph courtesy ARG Conservation Services

Fortunately, I was able to view murals by some of the Brutons' friends and colleagues, including Ralph Stackpole, Victor Arnautoff, and Maxine Albro.  These murals underwent conservation work as recently as 2018, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that they are in excellent condition.

Maxine Albro's California mural, Coit Tower

My final stop for the day was the Pacific Stock Exchange at 301 Pine Street, another San Francisco location with connections to the Bruton sisters.  In 1929, their friend Timothy Pflueger was hired to renovate the building, and he selected another Bruton friend -- Ralph Stackpole --  to oversee the construction of murals and statuary.  Stackpole sculpted the outstanding art deco/social realism statues in front of the building (now a health club), which I absolutely love.  

Agriculture by Ralph Stackpole

Industry by Ralph Stackpole

In a letter that I quote in Sisters in Art, Esther Bruton describes a December 1929 visit with Stackpole in San Francisco:

"It was great to see Ralph in such high spirits and looking so well. He is happy in this new Stock Exchange job and he shows it.  It is the biggest job he has had yet... he has enough to keep him busy and happy for some time... The largest part, two fourteen-foot figures for the front that are to be cut in black granite, are not even yet begun.  He is working on the clay models."

Stackpole was good friends with Diego Rivera and convinced him to paint a mural inside the Pacific Stock Exchange; this was the first time Rivera painted a mural in the United States. The work, Allegory of California, is located on a stairwell between the 10th and 11th floors, which is now part of the City Club of San Francisco. I tried to get up to see it, but alas, I was informed that the mural was unavailable for viewing.

Diego Rivera's Allegory of California

I didn't get to see the Rivera mural, but overall the day was a great success.  It was a treat to immerse myself in 1930s-era San Francisco and revisit some of the fascinating places connected to the Brutons and their circle.


  1. What a great article and photos! Glad you had a great day.

    1. Thank you! Sometimes the best days are when you just make it up as you go along!

    2. Thank you for sharing your insight into a fun day in the City and ideas for others visiting.


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