136 EMBARCADERO   1964 - 1975

 

The 60’s and 70’s were a period of great ferment and event in San Francisco.  The social movements which became symbolic of the decade ---the summer of love and the hippie invasion, the anti-war movement, the gay movement, the women’s movement, etc ---had influential roots in San Francisco. 136 Embarcadero, the artist's first studio,  became a refection of lifestyles prevalent during this unusual period of history.

This warehouse dated from the pre-earthquake days. Early photographs show the Emerson Drug Company flourishing with horse and carriage. Bromer-Selzer was created by Emerson in the early part of the century. Chase moved into the space in late 1964, sharing it with two other artists. By 1968 Chase had inherited the block long space (for the astonishing rent of $200 a month) and was sharing it with a group of six friends. Each person had their own space, but the spaces were divided only by curtains in some cases, or by balconies and stairs in others. The group shopped together, and dined together in the common living areas.

The Embarcadero windows faced the water, where a number of piers were in various stages of demolition. One large ferryboat was anchored there, a casualty of a fire, and two young couples had renovated parts, and made them livable. This ferryboat became the rehearsal area for visiting bands.

Life in the warehouse centered around a number of rituals particular to the late sixties. The number of dinner guests fluctuated daily, as nomads, friends, new aquaintances would be invited. Dinner would be cooked for between 8 to 17 guests, nightly, depending on the flow of people.

Formal dinners were given when special guests arrived, and would find the household in costumes bought when MGM Studios disbanded its costume collection. Food stamps helped support these gestures of generosity and extravagance, since most of the members of the house had meagre incomes. A special event held in the warehouse for hundreds of guests, was a 15 hour concert of music by Pauline Oliveros, accompanied by films and theater performances. When Donald Eastman, a designer, and Winston Tong, a puppeteer, moved into the warehouse—(Eastman was working as an apprentice with Chase on his theater projects)—often puppet shows, shadow dramas, and improvised poetry readings took place at dinner.

Christmas Breakfast would be celebrated the Sunday before Christmas, with a costumed, black and white pot luck for a hundred guests. The dishes were often as colorful as the guests (a particularly colorful recipe was a platter brought by the Cockettes, a renowned drag group of the time, which included eclairs made in the shape of penises (to great acclaim). One Christmas guests were entertained by a young mime Bill Irwin. In 1970 Chase celebrated these parties with a documentary film, THE CHRISTMAS BREAKFAST OVERTURE.

Other memorable events of the period included a Fourth of July picnic, held in the warehouse because of rain. 50 guests dined on improvised picnic tables covered with sod, under soaring limbs of tree branches and a floor covered with real grass. Recordings of birds and nature sounds played.