Painting the pandemic void, one storefront at a time

One of the most sobering moments for me at the beginning of the pandemic was walking by Le Central on Bush and seeing the bistro window covered with plywood. Once the popular lunch spot for Willie Brown (who’d play dice with his pals at the table by the window), the bistro’s board-up was the first time I really sensed the fear and emptiness that would soon permeate downtown.

As plywood boards sprung up all over every neighborhood, though, a couple of San Franciscans created a project that truly made lemonade out of all the lemons that 2020 has thrown at us. Within weeks, pedestrians started seeing beautiful murals on plywood boards that covered closed shops and restaurants, starting in Hayes Valley and extending all over town. The project is called Paint the Void, which matches mural artists with shuttered storefronts. Since April, Paint the Void has matched artists who beautified over 84 shops and restaurants, making walking around in San Francisco a joy again.

In today’s podcast episode, we invite Lisa Vortman, the Co-Founder, Director of Photography, Media and Storytelling of Paint the Void, to share the story of the first mural she photographed for the project. All the photos in this post are also from Lisa and Paint the Void.

Listen to her story:

The beautiful flower mural in Lisa’s story is by Nora Bruhn (@konorebi on Instagram), which covered Chez Maman in Hayes Valley. The restaurant has since re-opened for outdoor dining, but you can scroll down to see photos of the mural and Brunh working on-site this spring.

Seeing these murals on my daily walks has been one of those things that makes me say, “This is why I live here.” You can even make a day of it—follow this map to more murals via the Paint the Void website, where you can also contribute to the nonprofit’s excellent work.

If you know someone who’s doing something great to help San Franciscans get through this terrible year, we want to know! Our submissions inbox is always open: email us at muni.diaries.sf@gmail.com or tag us @munidiaries on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

The Buena Vista gets beautified with art from Muni Diaries alum

The Buena Vista is bringing their famed Irish coffees to Beach Street with its new outdoor dining space, featuring painting by local artists Deirdre Weinberg and Kurt Schwartzmann.

Both artists have been working on the panels at the cafe’s outdoor dining space since late July. Schwartzmann’s “love trees” paintings came from his current project, The Space Between Us Is Love. He says: “While we must maintain our distance from each other during this crisis, know that the distance that separates us is an expression of love that keeps us safe.”

Muni Diaries podcast listeners might recognize Schwartzmann from his story last year at Muni Diaries Live. At our live show, he shared the story of how he conquered his struggle with drug addiction and found his way as an artist. While he was unhoused, Muni became a refuge for Schwartzmann, who has lost sight in one eye due to complications from AIDS.

We’re looking forward to returning to The Buena Vista and watching the bartender line up glass after glass of Irish coffee at the bar. Meanwhile, enjoy the spiked coffee in their outdoor space, surrounded by paintings by two artists who truly embody the San Francisco spirit.

SF Neon historians in search of an iconic sign

You’ve walked past them and under them a thousand times, seen them from afar and used them as landmarks. But do you really know the history behind San Francisco’s neon signs? We invite two neon historians to this episode of San Francisco Diaries podcast to tell us all about one very memorable neon sign that they are still hunting for.

Al Barna and Randall Ann Homan are the creators of San Francisco Neon, an organization of historians, educators, and advocates for the vintage neon signs you see all over our city. They are also the authors of the book, San Francisco Neon: Survivors and Lost Icons

Listen to their story:

San Francisco Neon has evening virtual presentations about the history behind historic neon signs in the Tenderloin and Chinatown, and an online version of their festival, Neon Speaks, is in September. You can find out more at SFNeon.org

If you’re looking for more stories from San Francisco’s history buffs, be sure you check out this episode about the Transamerica Pyramid’s bohemian past.

We are dedicated to bringing you more stories about our city as told by everyday San Franciscans. If you have a story to share, or know someone with a story you think everyone should know, email us at muni.diaries.sf@gmail.com.

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San Francisco Diaries: how one Bernal shop survived the city’s ups and downs

“I was open late one mid-December night when a guy walked in, and right away, I knew he was going to rob my business.”

Eden Stein, the owner of Secession Art and Design, has seen the ups and downs of San Francisco in over a decade. Her shop is an art gallery and boutique that represents over 60 artists. In this podcast episode, Eden shares how she kept her shop afloat and what happened that one December evening.

Eden recorded this story in her home during sheltering in place, so you might hear the cooing of her new baby in the episode here. She says that she is transitioning from in-store to online sales these days. In the past, 80 percent of her sales came from people shopping at the store in person, and it’s been a major change to transition to an online-only business.  You can find Secession’s online catalogue as well as their GoFundMe campaign at SecessionSF.com.

Listen to Eden’s story:

San Francisco is still a city teeming with thousands stories. We’re not letting up on documenting the ins and outs of living here, starting with life on public transit and expanding into the life off the bus lines. If you believe that these real-life tales can help us care for our city, we would love your support on our Patreon page. Your support will help us keep the lights on until we can bring you these stories on stage live.

San Francisco Diaries: Discovering The Secret Alley

“I hear the door swing open, I take off my headphones, and all of a sudden I hear, ‘This is why I love San Francisco!’ ‘OMG, this makes me so happy!’ It never gets old, and it sends shivers up my spine.”

Who actually hears things like this about their office (home or regular)? It’s par for the course when you work at The Secret Alley, which Thrillist once described (accurately) as ” a private artist workshop-cum-performance space-cum-office park-cum-clubhouse o’ fun built inside of a second-floor walk-up in the Mission.”

We’re ever so glad to take a break from pandemic stories to listen to how this special place came to be. In today’s podcast episode, we learn about how The Secret Alley made a space in a nondescript building into such a unique community hotspot.

Secret Alley cofounder Noel Von Joo shared his tale on stage at Muni Diaries Live in 2019. Listen to his story here:

It might be a while before we can return to this wonderful space, where our friends at BFF.fm and Roll Over Easy also broadcast their shows. But we are going back to our roots, collecting and publishing stories for the ol’ internets about the people and places that make our city what it is today. If you have a story to share, please email us at muni.diaries.sf@gmail.com. And it would absolutely make our entire day if you review us on Apple Podcasts and shared this podcast with your friends.

Three mood-improving Muni storytellers to help you shelter in place

In these shelter-in-place times, don’t you almost kind of almost miss the gallows humor of our commute? We’ve got a fix for that.

Follow three Muni Diaries Live alums whose stories and music will temporarily transport you back to the old normal. As many of our storytellers and favorite venues are severely impacted by COVID-19, we’ve also included how you can support them during these tough times.

So first, put on your earbuds for Rachel Lark, the singer/songwriter who says her music is “weird, disruptive to the patriarchy, and sexually explicit.” Sign us up! The music videos are NSFW gems: Warm, Bloody, and Tender (featuring current Muni Haiku champ Wonder Dave!), and my personal favorite, It’s Hard to be a Feminist and Still Want Dick (featuring Muni Diaries alum Kate Willet).

How to support: Rachel has a Patreon! You can find her on Bandcamp or Spotify.

San Francisco-raised Nato Green is a comedian, union organizer, dad, and, per The East Bay Express, a “political spark plug.” On our San Francisco Diaries podcast series, he shared a tale of how high school students figured out how to be an ally before the word became a regular part of our vernacular.

Listen to Nato’s stories: Nato Green on San Francisco Diaries podcast. You can also follow him on @natogreen.

How to support: Buy his comedy albums: The Nato Green Party and The Whiteness Album.

And lastly, let us take you back to 2011 when Muni Diaries Live was at its first home at the Make-Out Room. Storyteller and poet Joyce Lee shared the story of taking Muni with her mom, who gave the kids on the bus an earful.

Listen to Joyce’s stories: Joyce Lee at Muni Diaries Live. Also check out her story called Mad Love from Tourettes Without Regrets (highly recommend!)

How to support: Joyce has a new book of poetry called Dancing in the Presence of Men: a book of Love & Lovers, and you can get the book on Amazon here.

And, we are still collecting your stories daily about our lovely city. Our inbox is always open for you at muni.diaries.sf@gmail.com.

Photo by Right Angle Images.

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