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.
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.
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: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/385694025/ace-in-the-hole-death-of-a-junkyard?ref=nav_search
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
Please spread the word and come to both or either event if you can.
cheers – JL
My comrades, associates and dear friends have launched a kickstarter campaign to fund a fabulous dream project in the mysterious and vibrant land of Detroit. Curious objects, totemic figurines, elaborately and lovingly produced tableaus, strange icons and bizarre tchotchekas: these are the things that have been collected from the furthest corners of the world and will appoint and adorn Detroit’s Seafoam Palace.
The avatar for this project, Julia Solis is one of the early pioneers of the world of Urban Exploration. Her book New York Underground is a primary text for explorers. She was a friend of and inspiration for Ninjalicious the fellow that grounded and popularized UE with the zine Infiltration and book Access all Areas. Julia’s NYC based exploration and event group Dark Passage founded in 1999 holds a near mythic status and has inspired adventurers around the world.
Julia’s many projects over the years have radiated an essence of purity and authenticity that is rare to find. Her singular aesthetic is deep, dark and beautiful. She attracts collaborators of high caliber.
To peruse the histories of folks involved in SeaFoam is to open many doors to rare, exotic and obsessive worlds.
Filmmaker and educator Bryan Papciak has documented surreal yet very real worlds in his uniquely disturbing style. Bryan continues to warp impressionable young minds as a prof at RISD. Bryan’s work as an animator and creator of images is pretty disturbing. He LOOKS normal, but watch out when delving into the worlds he creates in his feverish imagination. Watch his oddly mesmerizing video below!
Photographer, fearless explorer and web designer Tom Kirsch has captured some of the most haunting images ever. A small sampling of his work can be found here. His work has been featured on PBS’s American Experience, in Digital Photographer Magazine and other publications. Tom likes to fish – a lot – his nautical sensibilities have and will continue to influence Seafoam.
Madagascar Institute founder and international art Star Chris Hackett helps out in Detroit in between stints blowing things up, sometimes on teeveeand instructing the kids on how they can “do this at home!” for Popular Science Magazine. Hackett is deeply dedicated to making the world a more interesting (and dangerous) place. Madagascar has turned out hundreds of maladjusted young artists (with some actual real world skills) after Chris turned chose to open the place in 1999.
Globetrotting film professional Christos Pathiakis explores ruins for fun between exotic location shoots. Before teaming up with others as the internet began to connect explorers Christos spent thousands of hours roaming through much of the NYC subway system in the 90’s disguised as an MTA worker.
When not hammering away on Seafoam, swashbuckling pyrotecnician Kim Couchet installs and ignites the largest fireworks displays in the world.
Social engineer Shel Kimmen has dedicated her life to the revitalization of her beloved City of Detroit. Shel’s counsel has been invaluable for the Seafoam crew.
Italian explorer and aesthete Alessandro Toffoli adds a compelling European flavor to the Detroit mix. Alessandro compares Detroit favorably with Rome (for the eventual importance of it’s fast disappearing colossal abandoned edifices). Alessandro has published both fiction and nonfiction, and is now an ongoing researcher at Casa della Memoria, the official oral history society in Rome. He is also a co-founder of Arcadia, a Roman art and restoration laboratory that specializes in antiques and objects of curiosity.
Paul Parkhill is the Executive Director of Spaceworks, Between 1999 and 2012, Paul served as the Director of Planning and Development at the Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center. Paul worked as a housing developer for Common Ground Community. In 1997 Paul co-founded Place in History, and in 2004 he co-founded Furnace Press with Julia Solis and Ars Subterranea.
Installation and performance artist Monica Canilao creates exquisite, dream inspired worlds from the detritus sloughed off from the mundane world around her. Her involvement in Seafoam has introduced the project to a younger risk-taking group of collaborators. That’s a nice way to say “watch out for these crazy kids!”
Other key personnel and associates include artist/performer Vness Wolfchild a musician and interactive ritual healing performance artist. Her work explores the complexity of the physical, spiritual and emotional body existing within urban industry and architecture. soundcloud.com/vnesswolfchild
Designer Dorothy Trojanowski whose work includes the lovely lay-out for Julia Solis’ recent book Stages of Decay.
metal sculptor Colin McIntyre, Inspired by creatures from the oceans and all plant life, Colin creates sculptures using hot metal forging and fabrication. His work is featured as a permanent public art piece at the Austin Nature & Science Center.
Detroit homesteader Ryan Carmichael is a functional artist and was one of the lead fabricators on Gon Kirin. In recent years he has specialized in architectural installations around Detroit.
Maggie Sisco lives in Detroit and works in public relations for a small firm in the metro area. Her expertise is in media and content strategy.
Seafoam Palace is made up of artists, writers, photographers, filmmakers, sociologists, engineers, historians, travelers, explorers, and a few varieties of alchemists. Some have been collaborating on projects for over twenty years, some are brand new – drawn together by a love of the absurd, the profound, and the curious.