The Mothers Building

Photography by Richard Rothman
Event detail

The Mothers Building was built in 1925 by architect George Kelham for philanthropists Herbert and Mortimer Fleishacker. Starting in 1933, WPA artists Helen Forbes and Dorothy W. Pucinelli painted four murals inside the building, depicting the story of Noah and the Ark; this theme of renewal struck a hopeful chord during the Great Depression. During the same period, the two mosaics on the outside of the building were completed by sisters Helen, Margaret and Ester Bruton. This is the only building in San Francisco where the WPA art work was created by women artists in charge. The Mothers Building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.

Since 2002, the building has been closed to the public due to deteriorating conditions. Like Coit Tower and the Beach Chalet, the Mothers Building was not built to house or protect murals for posterity.

Community activist Richard Rothman has been working for years to restore the building and its significant WPA artwork, raising public awareness through his photographs. His images document the murals in their current state, some in good shape and others deteriorating.

The San Francisco Recreation and Park Department conducted an assessment of the building in 2016 and work started in August 2018 to begin some of the needed repairs. So far, the Mothers Building Project has received $102,000 from the Historical Preservation Fund Committee for the conditions assessment and another $400,000 from Supervisor Tang for work on the building.

Hopefully this building will be fully restored in the near future and open to all. This exhibit gives a rare look at murals that are not currently available to the public.

Related program: Richard Rothman will give tours of the exhibit and answer any questions about the Mothers Building restoration on Saturday, January 12 and Saturday, February 9, from 1-3pm.

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