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 old friend (and local rock star) James “Kimba” Anderson has been very busy since I first ran into him as he joyously spread his Kimba-ness all around San Francisco over 20 years ago. Kimba has always been involved in some kind of performing high-jinx; his projects always have a sense of wonder and an element of the surreal. Right now, this very minute Kimba is building a unique, scary children’s Horror movie: Tip Toe Past the Witch. It looks like it will be pretty amazing and will, no doubt scare the crap out of me while merely amusing my young son. Kimba needs some help financing the project, you can check out his trailer and pitch on his kickstarter page.
His band Candyass , with East Bay Ray of the Dead Kennedys on guitar, was a club staple in the late ‘90s:
& my fave Sharkbait was one of the truly astonishing San Francisco ensembles. Kimba and bandmates Chris Taylor, Mr. Clean, Greg Slugocki and others created a unique, audience participation element for their one of a kind performances. Kind of a metal/noise/glam/industrial hybrid, Sharkbait would drag audience members up onto their stage set and, after outfitting them in welding chaps, gauntlets and full helmets, would hand them a sledge hammer and put them into chain link cages where the virtually frothing at the mouth fans turned performers would frantically smash the crap out of a seemingly endless pile of televisions…Priceless.
Sharkbait played Lollapalooza 92
and they were by far the loudest, burningest, most participatory and fabulously excessive thing at Burning Man 94. (an event I can find no record of ANYWHERE – Kimba, Chris Taylor, Clean?)
Kimba’s a father now-a-days and kind of settled down, (much to the chagrin of rocker chicks around the Bay) so, naturally he has directed much of his prodigious energy toward children’s projects. Kimba’s Cave is kind of a cross between PeeWee’s Play House, Jules Vernes Journey to the Center of the Earth, Equus and The Muppets. Well, it scared me, but my seven year old laughed all the way through and doesn’t SEEM to be traumatized..
So if you have kids, check out Tip ToePast the Witch. You’ll need to watch with your kids so they can comfort you when YOU are traumatized by Kimba’s oddly wholesome yet undeniably perverse imagination…….The Witch is played by Rumi Missabu who was an original Cockette and who still has IT and wants to give it to you and your kids!
Tip Toe Past the Witch Kid’s gotta have it!! You can help “educate” the next generation by helping Kimba out and contributing here: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/tiptoepastthewitch/tip-toe-past-the-witch-web-series?ref=recently_launched