San Francisco, 1961

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In the early 1960s, I lived communally with a rag-tag bunch of artists, including a couple of San Francisco Art Institute students, in the old Primalon Roller Rink above Tree’s Pool Hall on Fillmore Street, about a dozen blocks from the Fillmore Auditorium. The Fillmore District was an exuberant and very cool place in the 1950s and 1960s, abounding in jazz joints, soul food restaurants, pool halls, bowling alleys, movie theaters — and roller-skating rinks. There was a lot of street music – guys would stand around in the marble-floored doorways singing doo-wop, because the reverb was better.

Across the street from the Primalon was Shabazz Bakery — owned by members of The Nation of Islam — where they didn’t serve white people, which to forward-minded SFAI students like us seemed very fair. By contrast, a few doors down was a Christian/Rastafarian spiritual shop run by two sweet black women, who always welcomed me and served me courteously. (I bought copper sulfate bath salts and candles there.)

The Primalon had been a popular African-American-owned nightclub and weekend roller rink in the 1950s, where famous blues musicians performed.  Eventually it closed, and was rented out cheap to starving SFAI artists. In the old roller skate rental room, which had become my “bedroom,” I found an old poster advertising a local band, with the additional message “Special Added Attraction: That Amazing Blind Singer, Little Stevie Wonder!”

Ronald Davis 1961 SFAI by Gail Nanao

Ronald Davis, 1961 at San Francisco Art Institute, with one of my first art school paintings.  Photo by former classmate Gail Chadell Nanao