Stay in San Francisco – really…..

There may be a solution for some of us. The amazing P Segal has a plan that might actually work. A plan that would encourage well heeled business types to invest in keeping some (not necessarily web-based) creative types in our fair City. Sounds crazy I know, but hear me out.

GGB 1988

Don’t jump yet, there may be hope!        photo J Law 1986

Many people I know are already in Oakland or have moved back East and taken over small towns or established themselves in compelling corners of decaying East Coast, South West/East, or Midwest Cities. Places they can afford. Places they can live in and work and create without every goddamn dime they make going to more and more exorbitant rents for closets in poorly retro-ed apartments with eight roommates or greasy cold floor spaces in ramshackle garages. How many would stay here if they could simply afford the rent with enough $ left over to continue creating?

I don’t hate the 100k salary ‘puter kids for coming here and falling for our City. If I were 25 and making that kind of dough, working in a field I enjoy, for a company that doubles as my Mom and lover, I’d probably do the same thing they do – work 90 hours a week, while snuggly ensconced in the warm folds of Googledom, take a comfy luxury bus ride home to one of the most beautiful cities in the world, arrive around 8PM, meet friends for dinner, drop a C-note apiece at one of the fabulous new restaurants in my fabulous hip neighborhood, bed down around 1AM, then take the comfy bus back to Mt. View in the AM to do it all over again. Then I would save up for my company sanctioned week long vacation/team building exercise at Burning Man©™ every year. That’s a pretty killer lifestyle for a young person in the corporate world we now live in; hard to blame them for not really realizing how difficult it is for a painter (art and/or commercial), old school writer or journalist, welder, arborist/landscaper, non big $ earner to continue to live in this special place. The kids might not even realize that these skint bohemians helped make San Francisco the super cool place that attracted them here in the first place.

Well, P. Segal has a dream. Like so many dreams – it seems….. dreamlike. How can it work? Will investors buy buildings for poor and poor(ish) artists to live in? Why would any one with $ do that? They just might want to consider the scheme that P Segal and the heavy-hitters she has recruited to sit on the board of her CA State non-profit 501 c3 organization have devised. It’s pretty tasty.

artparty-webinvite-1The plan is simple. Encourage investors to buy a residential or mixed use building already occupied by artist/craftsmen or a building to be converted to artist/mixed use/live work. The non-profit would provide a comfy tax incentive for the buyer, while facilitating artists to live and work in the building for way below market rents. Investors who buy buildings get the tax benefit of nonprofit donations and they still own the buildings and can sell them for a profit (possibly to the tenants) when the 10 years of allowable write-offs end, making a profit on the sale. More traditional nonprofit housing works for general housing needs, but the Art Houses will be residential AND commercial in order to provide a place for the residents to build and develop their art: actual live/work space. This plan could also enable artists to dial back dependency on the “conventional art world” that is dominated by a few established critics and their gallery owning friends or traditional galleries that take a huge percentage of sales. Common areas in the Art Houses will doubtlessly be utilized as collective galleries, maybe even generating some income for artists. For the investors, well they’re doing a good thing with their dough AND buying some good will in our less than huggy San Francisco affordable housing crises. Artists, worker bees and regular Frisco eccentrics, many of whom made SF the interesting place that investors, tech owners and tech workers are profiting from, get to stay and continue working in this amazing place. Win-win.

The first step is a fundraiser for the non-profit that takes place Thursday April 23rd (see flyer above) at 7PM above the Castro. For $25 you can hang with artists, patrons and SF characters in a very sweet location with one of the best views in SF. For $100 you will be able to choose from a pile of original art made by local endangered artists. See Paypal info below and on the flyer above or pay at the door. Please come and ask Ms. P and her non-profit board members just how this plan will work and if YOU can get involved as an investor or as an artist /creative qualifying for inclusion in the SF Art House pool of SF survivors.

(paypal at

SF’s Prince of Junk and his Vanished Domain.


Ace neon sign. Made from junk neon of course. photo: Scott Beale

Bike Rodeo in the Junkyard. photo: Scott Beale

Los Banos plays Ace. photo: Scott Beale

Ace Auto Dismantlers was one of THOSE places. You could walk through the barbwired chain link gate on a desolate and dire looking stretch of  McKinnon St. in SF’s dodgy Bayview right into the midst of precarious piles of junk cars, appliances, scrap metal and the like; the cast off detritus of a spoiled society – not the kind of place that most any banker, bureaucrat or corporate lawyer could EVER conceive of anything of value ever transpiring. That’s how we fooled them for so long…..twenty-five years to be exact. Ace proprietor Billy the Junkman was assisted by a pataphysically gifted crew of rounders, scroungers, hackers (the old school kind using sawzalls, fork lifts and cutting torches), slackers, grease monkeys and philosophers: Pervert, Jarico, Rat Girl, Mongoloid, Number 3, Numbers 2 & 1 too, Bee Keeper, Sue, Einstein, Julian the MD from China and  more.


Billy Kennedy is from an old school Irish Catholic Frisco junkyard and moving company family. Rough, tough & mean, the Kennedy clan owned several junkyards in the Bayview. The sons each had their own yard. Billy’s was the only one on leased land and, after 25 years the lease was not renewed.


Long time tenant and frequent performers at Ace. SF’s Cyclecide Rodeo. Chief rodeo clown Jarico Reese was also one of Aces long time junkyard employees – torch cutting cars up, smashing metal and pushing piles of junk around in a sisyphian work setting. photo: Scott Beale

During those 25 years, William Kennedy became one of the most unique and generous patrons of the low arts in town. Starting with the mad genius welders and machine builders of Survival Research Labs in the 80’s and continuing on through artists and makers of all stripes, Ace Auto and Billy the Junkman provided material for a thousand projects for pennies, sometimes for free, to poverty stricken Cacophony, Burning Man or punk rock artists.


All types of events were staged at the yard, the bands and makers usually keeping the $$ (as long as they keep Billy and crew stocked up with cheap beer). Concurrent with Billy’s growing awareness of the odd artists starting to flock to his junkyard for materials and inspiration, was a transformation in the Junkman himself. Billy, always the black sheep in an old school and sometimes callous neighborhood culture, blossomed as a person and as he says: “found his people.” This process included colorful finger nail polish, tiger print summer blouses and blood red pumps. Needless to say, his family didn’t necessarily get the new Billy. Fortunately, he could give as good as he got duking it out with his tough guy brothers.


photo: Scott Beale

Ace is gone now, one of the early casualties of the ever increasing property values and short sided greed combined with poor city planning that has incessantly driven artists out of this once artist and weirdo friendly town.

Yasi Mak, artist and builder (Flaming Lotus Girls) has been working on a feature documentary about Ace for several years now. She has a amassed a lot of priceless video of audacious and precarious performances, daily work scenarios, crazed encounters, candid interviews and embarrassing interludes, all taking place at this place – a place that is hard to imagine now. A place the likes of which you will never see in San Francisco again.

She has a kickstarter to help fund the movie:


The Junkman takes a break. photo: Scott Beale

It is so important to save, archive and display works that memorialize places like Ace and people like Billy Kennedy. They are the unsung heroes of our culture. In the case of Ace, it was one of the very first places where blue collar, hard ass working folks with attitude and young impressionable artists (and some older cynical ones too!) came together to blow things up and make noise, giving early grounding for what would become the Maker Movement and the best of the Burning Man builders ethos. Those who come later often get the lion’s share of credit, but great things often start with a hand full of regular folks just deciding to work together to F*** S*** UP and have fun!++

There are two other events taking place that will support Yasi’s film and explain a little more about it’s importance to the genesis of populist art that has exploded out of the Bay Area over the last 20 years.

Yasi Mak, Karen Cusalito (American Steel Studios) and I will be speaking about the film and kickstarter as well as Karen’s salvaged Bay Bridge steel for art project at East Bay Mini-Maker Faire on Sunday the 19th at Noon

And on Thursday the 23rd, Yasi will show a very rough cut of the segments of the film shot thus far at The SwearHouse 1660 Jerrold Ave., SF


San Francisco’s classic Doggie Diner Heads and Junk. photo by Scott Beale


The Power Tool Drag Races. photo by Scott Beale

Please spread the word and come to both or either event if you can.

cheers – JL