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.

When Chase arrived in San Francisco in 1964 he was very much a “struggling artist”. He was visiting Elizabeth Harris, a choreographer he had met in the Limon company, (where they had both toured Europe) and had, years later, become a good friend. That first week at a dinner party given by Harris, he was introduced to her intimate friend, composer Pauline Oliveros, and a young sculptor, Ruth Asawa and her husband. Oliveros found him a studio on the Embarcadero, which he first shared with Anthony Martin, a video artist, and painter James Weeks. Pauline also found him a job ––working as a janitor at the San Francisco Tape Music Center (the hotbed of new electronic music). He existed on $15 a week for this first 7 months. By then he had found a gallery, and had his first show of paintings. Martin left for New York, and Weeks for Los Angeles. The rent for the entire block long studio was $200 a month and Chase devoted his time to painting.

136 Embarcadero, this 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. By 1968 Chase was sharing his studio with a group of six friends. Each person had their own space, but the spaces were divided only by curtains, or in some cases, by balconies and stairs in others. The group shopped together, and dined together in the common living areas.

The front 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 acquaintances 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 meager 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 theater 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.