On the top, fourth floor of the Veterans' Building, where half of the old Museum of Modern Art used to reside, there is a beautiful central room with a skylight.
This worked well when showing off art in filtered but natural light but it's a disaster for the current occupant, which is the San Francisco Legal Library.
It's supposed to be a "temporary" location for them, after the 1989 earthquake and the City Hall retrofitting, but they have all given up hope on ever getting out of here.
The main problem is that the skylight really heats up the room, which seems to have no air conditioning, and it's not very good for all those volumes of law books. Oh well, the people working at the front desk were cheerful and charming, and they're offering "Free Legal Help."
Not so cheerful and charming is the neighbor down the hall, the San Francisco Performing Arts Library and Museum.
There's a small exhibition room with a librarian in charge and a "NO PHOTOGRAPHY" sign prominently posted, and there is usually absolutely nothing of interest on its walls or in its exhibit cases.
There is also a large room where "researchers" can separate the treasures from the dross. Outside the large room is a hallway where the public exhibitions mostly take place.
The presentation tends to be rather haphazard, and this special Irving Berlin exhibit was no exception.
Later in the fall, the 42nd Street Moon theatre group is putting on a concert version of "Miss Liberty," pictured above, at the Eureka Theatre. Click here to check out the production and to buy tickets.
If you are actually interested in the Irving Berlin story, your chances of finding any coherent information are much better on the web than at this exhibition, including the museum's own well-designed web site, which you can get to by clicking here.
The most interesting site I found about Irving Berlin was on a nonprofit Washington state group's website called "Parlor Songs." Click here to get there.
I hadn't been aware that Berlin wasn't a trained musician, so that he needed an arranger all his life to get the tunes in his head onto the page. There's an interesting examination of how he left his arranging collaborators in complete anonymity on the "Parlor Songs" website, along with this great quote from Alec Wilder:
"I heard Berlin play the piano, back in vaudeville days and found his harmony notably inept. -- Yet Robert Russell Bennett states unequivocally that upon hearing someone's harmonization of his songs, Berlin would insist on a succession of variant chords ...and was not satisfied until the right chord was found. I must accept the fact that though Berlin may seldom have played acceptable harmony, he nevertheless , by some mastery of his inner ear, senses it, in fact writes many of his melodies with his natural, intuitive harmonic sense at work in his head, but not in his hands." (Wilder, p. 93)
Ethel Merman, when I saw her as an older actress in bad 1950s-1960s films, always quite terrified me as a child for reasons I still don't quite understand. She was a favorite of composers, though, including Cole Porter and Irving Berlin, because she not only had that monstrously large voice but her diction was beyond impeccable. You could understand every word in the last row in the days before amplification.
The main reason to go to the fourth floor of the Veteran's Building is to see a permanent photography show that is hidden at the very end of the building.
The lighting isn't all that great, but the large black-and-white photos of conductors "out of tuxedos," taken between 1982-1988 by a local professional photographer named Tom Zimberoff, are totally cool.
Go to Zimberoff's website by clicking here to check out more of his work. There's also a really interesting interview with him on the site that's worth checking out. The above photo, by the way, is of the very scary old Nazi Herbert von Karajan.
The photo above is of Calvin Simmons, a local musical genius who died way too young in a canoe accident on a lake in the East Coast not all that long after this photo was taken.