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Interpretive Plan for Preserving Cultural Heritage:
Vesuvio is a living, working bar with a firm grasp of its own identity. Though Vesuvio wants to remain as a place reminiscent of the past, it also wants to be an active participant in its present, and productively carry on into the future. Vesuvio’s identity has always been as a space that welcomes people from all walks of life and where individuality is respected inside the bar even if the rest of society outside disagrees. This manifesto, if you will, has been central to its historical significance as an iconic North Beach bar, and for its continued success as an invaluable San Francisco institution.
We believe that the management and interpretation at Vesuvio should be as dynamic and as engaging as the bar itself. The overarching goals of the management plan therefore are to articulate and maintain the understanding that Vesuvio is a place for all generations and social groups, foster a strong identity in the citizens of North Beach to their cultural heritage, and mobilize the residents to play an active role in the heritage management of the bar. To achieve our overall goals we aim to design projects that strive to:
- Maintain the integrity and spirit of the bar and convey these qualities to the public through varieties of interpretation.
- Keep a connection between the past and the present to demonstrate the impact that each can have on the other.
- Encourage the continuity and modification of human experience, utilizing new technology to articulate the story and identity of Vesuvio.
- Emphasize the importance of art in the history and life of Vesuvio and use new media to connect to local and non-local artistic communities.
- Garner economic benefits for the bar by attracting a larger pool of customers.
“Vesuvio has never been just a bar. It’s true that booze sales pay the bills but the place is also an art gallery, a museum, a living room for those of us in cramped apartments, a community meeting place, a support group headquarters, a literary Mecca, a mandatory stop on a tourist’s agenda, and a place to try and get laid.” – Robert Celli
Vesuvio is a bilevel saloon that seats 120 people and is located at 255 Columbus Avenue, on the corner of Jack Kerouac Alley in North Beach, San Francisco. Vesuvio’s statuesque building, which originally was a one-story structure that dates back to 1913, is known as the Cavalli Building, former site of the A. Cavalli & Co. bookstore. Architect Italo Zanolini, who was responsible for several other architectural gems in the area, designed it using plaster on pressed tin in the Italian Renaissance Revival style.
This iconic area is as equally known for its seedy rebellious past – strip clubs, longshoremen, ex-GIs, artists – as it is for its sophisticated architecture, espresso cafes, and Italian ancestry. The second owner of Vesuvio, Henri Lenoir, opened its doors as a saloon in 1948. Vesuvio Café was previously a restaurant that had gone out of business. Since buying the building initially left Lenoir short on funds, he never changed the name; changing the name would have required spending more money on replacement signage, exterior decor, etcetera; hence the “Café” part of Vesuvio’s name today.
A painter himself, Lenoir wanted to establish a place that would support his circle of friends who had an interest in the visual arts and were “Bohemian” in attitude. They surrounded themselves with other artists, listened to the Jazz musicians who played regularly in the neighborhood, sat in on readings by the “alternative-style” writers who were drawn to the area by City Lights Books next door, and ate eclectic, international food at all of the cheap restaurants nearby. These restaurants were run by recent immigrants to the United States who literally fed this band of “miscreants’” desire to try out new and “exotic” things that were considered strange to the majority of American society at the time.
Today, Vesuvio still upholds this counterculture tradition even if the world around it is moving forward and the population profile of the area reorganizes. The bar is an actively used space in a popular, trendy urban area in a world-renowned, cosmopolitan city. The area is densely populated and local officials expect residential tenancy to increase in the future. The demographics of North Beach have changed drastically over time and those shifts may indirectly affect Vesuvio. What was once low-rent housing for artists and young people has shifted to over-priced apartments for wealthy business people, or rent-controlled apartments for elderly residents. Amid this odd combination of upheaval and stagnation, Vesuvio has tried to keep its original mantra of accepting those who were under-represented or unwelcome in “regular” bars while making some adjustments to cater to the new, more gentrified clientele.
Significance of Vesuvio:
The management policy holds that all final decisions concerning the culture heritage management of Vesuvio ultimately lie with the management staff of Vesuvio. Our role as culture heritage consultants is to make educated and well-researched suggestions and proposals to present to Vesuvio’s staff. Our management plan will be created in dialogue with Vesuvio’s staff and stakeholders to create ideas that represent multivocal solutions. The plan will also reflect the overarching goal of the project, which is to convey and maintain Vesuvio’s identity and history.
These values are of course highly subjective and are left open to interpretation. They can also change as Vesuvio sees fit. These values were designed with a holistic and anthropological approach drawing heavily from culture heritage academic theory, specifically from Mason, R. 2002. Assessing Values in Conservation Planning: Methodological Issues and Choices and In Assessing the Values of Cultural Heritage, edited by M. De la Torre, pp. 5-30. Getty Conservation Institute, Los Angeles.
Mason (2002) describes historical value as “the capacity of a site to convey, embody, or stimulate a relation or reaction to the past” and states that is can come in various forms, such as the age of the site or from its association with people or events (11). Vesuvio embodies this definition on all accounts. The physical landscape of the bar, with its walls covered in art from the early days of Lenoir’s tenure to today, and its antique lighting and furniture, transports the visitor simultaneously to the past and into different narratives of the present. The bar’s history is literally written on the walls; relics of the Beat movement hang on the walls along with photographs of patrons and works from local artists. This history also gives Vesuvio aesthetic value, for the bright colors and tangible imagery, along with the heirloom furnishings, create a sensory experience that is unique to Vesuvio and distinctly San Franciscan (Mason, 2002:11; Peters, 1998:199).
Mason (2002) defines cultural value as tools to build cultural affiliation in the present (11). Historically, Vesuvio has been an integral part of the counterculture movement, both because of its early clientele of exotic dancers, sailors, and the like, and because of its association with City Light’s Bookstore, a cradle of the Beat Generation (personal communication with E. Pallo, 2011). Today, Vesuvio is still a center of counterculture, for it welcomes all types of people and continues to be a place that fosters political debate and artistic expression. For example, the bar identifies itself as a consistent place for alternative culture: “[Vesuvio] remains an historical monument to jazz, poetry, art and the good life of the Beat Generation. Vesuvio attracts a diverse clientele: artists, chess players, cab drivers, seamen and business people, European visitors, off-duty exotic dancers and bon vivants from all walks of life” (http://www.vesuvio.com/index2.html). The diversity of counterculture characters that Vesuvio celebrates also constitutes two other values that Mason gives credence to: political value, best demonstrated by the Beats and their cultural and civil protests; and craft, or work-related value, expressed both in the celebration of artists and poets, as well as the art and science skills (mixology) of the bartenders (2002:11-12).
Mason (2002) defines social values as a site’s ability to enable and facilitate social connections and networks and its role or association with a particular community or neighborhood (12). On a very general level, Vesuvio is a neighborhood bar where people come to meet other people, chat with the bartenders, or to seek solitude in a familiar place. Vesuvio can be equated to the village pub found in much of Europe – a center of social gathering, a designated social space for both locals and non-locals. As mentioned above, Vesuvio is also intimately tied to the city of San Francisco and indeed serves as a microcosm of the city.
There is a multiplicity of stakeholders who sometimes have contradicting objectives at Vesuvio, though the majority of their overarching goals are similar enough that most friction is prevented. The owners desire success for Vesuvio so that their business and primary source of income can continue. The bartenders, cocktail waitresses, maintenance man, and night cleaning crew all have a large stake in Vesuvio as well. The beer, wine and soda vendors are also stakeholders since they get paid indirectly by Vesuvio’s clients and thus support Vesuvio and its core of patrons. Other important stakeholders include the local residents of the North Beach and Chinatown neighborhoods surrounding the bar. All of the artists, musicians, football (soccer) fans, and recipients of the fundraisers are also stakeholders. Patrons who frequent the bar regularly have a stake in Vesuvio. Tourists are also stakeholders as there are many visitor activities in the area such as exotic-dancing clubs, venues for live jazz and other music performances, poetry readings, art shows, coffee shops, and other working-class bars that keep old-time traditions alive. Other stakeholders are people involved with the tourism trade and historical preservation societies.
Interpretation and Multivocality:
Our management and interpretation work together to achieve the same goals and are based on multivocality at all stages of the management process and interpretive projects (see Management Aims and Objectives and Management Policy sections for more information). Vesuvio is unique in that it has an acute awareness of its tangible and intangible heritage values as well as a distinctive sense of self. These features are the most important things to preserve and convey to the public. We equate the term preservation within the context of our management plan to continuity rather than to the archaeological understanding of the term. The goal of the preservation plan is to help Vesuvio to better articulate their own narrative with as few changes to the existing bar as possible, for Vesuvio is a living entity and should be maintained as such.
Visitor Experience and Access
The fact that Vesuvio is an active bar poses interesting challenges for interpretation and thus by extension, visitor experience and access. A bar is a fluid and socially essential entity where people come and go as both insiders and outsiders of the bar’s scene. It is an extremely diverse landscape of stakeholders who range from regulars, to distributors to tourists, all of whose interests come together around alcohol and entertainment, though pursued and achieved in different ways.
The transient nature of its patronage, mixed with its presence as a valid social meeting place, has created an ethos that has facilitated the intertwined identity and function of Vesuvio. We thus seek to help Vesuvio articulate its identity and history to visitors through subtle interpretation. Subtle interpretation is defined here to mean interpretative tools or events that do not disrupt the normal flow and atmosphere of the bar and enhance the understanding of Vesuvio’s story.
Therefore the visitor will receive no formal tour when coming into Vesuvio; they can get that experience virtually on the re-designed website. Instead, they will be encouraged to simply engage in the drinking, artistic, musical, and literary activities of the bar that are incorporated into our interpretive projects (see Implementation section for more details).
Vesuvio is a public space that is on a busy, major street in a heavily populated neighborhood. Parking is a challenge but public bus transportation is widely accessible. The bar is also handicap accessible to the level possible for such a building and business. Janet Clyde says that handrails were added to the stairwells leading up to the women’s restrooms and down to the men’s facilities to comply with ADA regulation.
For an interactive GigaPan image of the cocktail above, click on this link and scroll through the snapshots under the image. Once the snapshot is selected, more contextual information will appear to the bottom, right of the image.
Vesuvio does not stand one either side of the tourism line for while it supports certain kinds of tourism, the bar is more strongly committed to its local patrons. Vesuvio does participate in some of the tourist folklore, even serving a drink called “The Jack Kerouac,” but while they appreciate the patronage and want to welcome new clients, Vesuvio wants to be a place of peace where locals can be left undisturbed.
There are many connections to tourism in the area. For example, visitors who come to participate in local events may also be interested in Vesuvio. Some of these points of interest include local (from North Beach as well as San Francisco) art, music and literature festivals; local culture promotional happenings; visitors to the San Francisco Art Institute (in North Beach); neighborhood art galleries and music venues; The Beat Museum; City Lights Books; and other famous watering holes like The Saloon, Specs, Tosca Cafe, and Café Trieste.
Vesuvio has garnered accolades and recommendations from around the world. It has received write-ups in printed and online travel guides like Lonely Planet, Frommer’s and Fodor’s; in local, national and international newspapers and magazines; and on interactive tourist sites such as Yelp and Citysearch. Vesuvio is a popular stop on the agendas of many walking tours and in general is a vital part of the San Francisco experience for vacationers from all walks of life. There are also Happy Hour specials advertised above the bar, on the Internet, and on a sidewalk sandwich board outside the bar. Ultimately, word-of-mouth advertising is one of Vesuvio’s best tools for tourism.
Vesuvio holds a variety of in-house events that encourage cultural awareness. Some of these include poetry and literature readings of both contemporary and past writers, live World Cup match screenings with pancake breakfast specials, “educational” materials like “Leo’s Short Guide to Good Bar Behavior,” and painting, illustration and other art media displays in the bar.
To keep Vesuvio (relatively) up-to-date, the owners ask for employee, patron, and other stakeholder input in addition to the usage of non-aggressive marketing
for bigger events. Vesuvio also sponsors all-ages events with a strong emphasis on the immediate community. For instance, the event that owner-manager Janet Clyde is proudest of is Jazz in the Alley, which takes place in Jack Kerouac Alley and was inspired by local artist Elizabeth Ashcroft. Two other functions in the Alley are the mixed-media gathering Art in the Alley, and A Fair To Remember that features twenty-plus local designers, artists, collectors, and scavengers and happens once a month from April to October. Here is a little film about the latter event:
Vesuvio is in the heart of North Beach San Francisco and remains an integral part of the neighborhood. North Beach is adjacent to Chinatown and Fisherman’s Wharf, two sections of the city with their own distinct identities. A large part of the management plan deals with maintaining and expanding Vesuvio’s close tie with the North Beach community (see the Interpretation section and Implementation section for more details) and specific interpretative projects linking the bar to its surrounding neighborhoods.
Plans of Action for Vesuvio:
We have many ideas to further integrate Vesuvio into the San Francisco community. We also want to welcome and increase the diverse populations of locals and tourists from around the world that interact with Vesuvio both in person and virtually. Our ideas include the promotion of safety measures; preservation precautions; the pursuit of different heritage and historical statuses; a greater use of technology for advertisement, economic and artistic prosperity; and the “digital preservation” of the bar. We hope that these ideas introduce unacquainted residents of San Francisco and the world to Vesuvio, connect them to the bar’s history and future projects, maintain established community events, and inspire more to come.
In the short term, or the next five years, our aims for Vesuvio are to engage the local and tourist public, utilize technology for both publicity as well as documentation, and ensure safety at the bar.
This means that Vesuvio should continue current events they host such as “Art in The Alley,” “Jazz in the Alley,” and “A Fair to Remember” and their ongoing art shows, which reach out to the broader San Francisco community. Our team proposes to introduce a new event, a “Caption Contest,” that encourages the community to interact with the artwork at Vesuvio on an ongoing basis.
Some of our more engaging ideas involve the implementation of technology and social media. One way to use these tools is with an advertisement and networking campaign that integrates the bar’s re-designed website and Facebook page into a more widely accessible, user-friendly format. Published updates would be for Vesuvio’s hosted art exhibitions in order to increase exposure of the showings; reach out to interested artists and patrons, spread the word about other Vesuvio happenings like World Cup screenings, fundraisers, and all-age, community events; give some contextual information about the bar’s history; and provide a place where patrons can interact with and comment on their favorite aspects of this long-time hangout. We suggest these events be photographed both for documentation purposes and as reference to enrich other new media as it becomes available.
Another ongoing project is the development of a new-and-improved website as the current one is out of date. This interactive space will also demonstrate another technological endeavor, the GigaPan documentation project that came about in collaboration with Professor Michael Ashley’s Spring 2011 Digital Documentation and Representation of Cultural Heritage class at the University of California at Berkeley. The GigaPan software captures high-definition, panoramic photographs that can be made available online as well as embedded into other media formats. The main benefit of this technology is that it allows the viewer to zoom in extremely close on specific elements of the scene, which reveal images usually hidden in a standard digital photograph. This feature is particularly valuable to us as anthropologists because we would like to use this technology on Vesuvio’s re-designed website to document the bar’s tangible heritage such as its artwork and specialty drinks, in addition to providing other intangible, anecdotal information such as stories behind the origins of a drink or the history behind a work of art. Shots were taken of the mural on Vesuvio’s exterior wall in Jack Kerouac Alley, the view inside looking down over the bar from the balcony, and the entire bar area on the main floor (see image and link below). For other examples of the projects Ashley and his group produced, see their image gallery on the GigaPan website. To view some behind-the-scenes photos of how the class made this magic happen, go to their Flickr account that documents all of their hard work.
We also recommend increased planning and safety measures be designed and taught to the staff in the event that there should be an emergency. Specifically, crucial tools such as an earthquake-preparedness kit is highly advisable.
It is also suggested that Vesuvio continue in its pursuit to be environmentally friendly. Currently, all glass, cardboard, paper, and plastic bags are recycled, energy-efficient lighting is utilized where possible, low-flow toilets have been installed, and “Eco Friendly Cocktails” are offered that include organic wine, vodka and sake.
Medium and Long Term
For our Medium-Range Plan (to happen over the next 5-10 years) we suggest that Vesuvio apply to become a San Francisco Local Landmark by working to implement the requirements of the the San Francisco Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board that ultimately would decide their case. Two features that are in Vesuvio’s favor are its connections to crucial figures of the Beat Movement, and its unique lighting fixture – the last gas-lit chandelier in the city – that ultimately could be the deciding factors in this campaign. Once landmark status is established, Vesuvio would then be designated an official Historic Structure, so it is recommended that Vesuvio investigate TPS Tax incentives for preservation that it would then be eligible for in order to maintain the integrity of the building.
We hope that this time period past traditions of the bar are also revived, such as “The Bartender’s Bike Race,” which in days past was a popular event on which even the local paper looked forward to reporting.
In the long term, we hope to find ways that Vesuvio can expand the public’s exposure to its art showings by incorporating a larger, more diverse quantity of work that requires a larger amount of space than Vesuvio can currently offer. After years of building a base of art enthusiasts through the social networking and other online projects we recommend, we propose a collaborative project with Cookhouse, Vesuvio’s upstairs neighbors. Cookhouse is both a location for dinner parties and a unique catering service that occupies the top-floor loft space of the building. Vesuvio could host art openings in the bar downstairs while simultaneously using the loft as a “spill-over” room for the opening’s guests as well as extra space in which to display pieces that do not fit in the bar itself. The art could then be left in the loft to be viewable during upcoming Cookhouse events. This would expand the potential sales market for the artist and add an interesting aesthetic to the room for the guests of the catered event.
There are also hopes for a Vesuvio Museum, where the documented artwork from the Bancroft Library as well as sample art pieces could be hosted.
Finally, we suggest that the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) transportation system, which is the main public transport for most of the Bay Area, be expanded into the North Beach neighborhood as it does not currently function in that part of the city. Personal vehicles and Muni (San Francisco Municipal Railway) buses are presently the only ways (other than by walking) to get to the area. Buses are widely accessible and several stop on the same block as Vesuvio, but they often require several transfers from other bus routes. It would be easier for most people (both visitors and locals) if the BART system that originates downtown, could provide a direct link to North Beach. The city’s famous cable cars do intersect parts of the neighborhood and are another option for transportation, but the routes do not pass by Vesuvio directly and require some neighborhood navigation that might intimidate a tourist unfamiliar San Francisco streets. Parking is restrictive at best for those who wish to drive into North Beach and only street parking is available near the bar with little prospects for any more space to be allotted for parking lots or garages as the densely populated area lacks the space needed for such projects. We therefore prefer to focus on public transit, which would also be the more environmentally friendly direction to take.
Interview in February, 2011 about the cultural heritage of the bar. Part 1.