Beach Chalet: WPA Frescos, Undersea Stairs
San Francisco, California
The Beach Chalet restaurant provides a sweeping view across a sandy beach to the Pacific Ocean. But we're spending our time in its downstairs entrance gallery, which serves as the visitors' center for Golden Gate Park. Sort of a mini-museum, with displays, descriptive plaques, and a scale model of Golden Gate Park. The walls are covered with 1930s WPA fresco murals painted by Lucien Labaudt of frollicking San Franciscans. In the depths of the Great Depression, it was somewhat less depressing to look at paintings of swimmers at the beach, old men doling out candy to little girls, and rich people riding horses. Labaudt also did scenes here depicting productive workers at the piers, in Chinatown, and elsewhere in the city.
The two-story building opened as the Beach Chalet in 1925, served as changing building for beachgoers, and was run-down and shuttered by 1940. It then became the local VFW club and bar until it closed in 1980. After an extensive renovation and restoration it reopened in 1997, featuring two restaurants and the visitors center.
The stairs up to the second floor restaurant are also a product of the WPA art frenzy -- carved magnolia wood depictions of undersea life. "Sea Creatures" by Michael von Meyer features octopi, fish, a mermaid, merman, and a deep sea diver. And don't miss the first floor bathrooms -- a tile mosaic Indian fires an arrow in the direction of the toilets.