Saturday, June 11, 2005

Found in the history room at Canessa...


The Canessa Building, built in the late 1800s and located at 708 Montgomery, is an official San Francisco landmark. Canessa once housed printing presses and gas lights, and nearby, on Sansome Street, a bustling produce market district shook the neighborhood into pre-dawn life.

For 30 years, from 1933 to 1963, the Black Cat Cafe, located at 710 Montgomery, was the Canessa Building's next-door neighbor. The Cat attracted a bohemian clientele of both straight and gay writers, artists and musicians from the neighborhood. Many lived and worked across the street in the historic Montgomery Block building (where the TransAmerica Pyramid now stands). Just north of the Cat, at 716-718-720 Montgomery, were the studios of Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, Emmy Lou Packard and Ralph and Peter Stackpole.

Regular visitors to the Cat included artists Hassel Smith, Maynard Dixon and Ed Corbett. John Steinbeck and William Saroyan dropped in from time to time -- as did two veteran police reporters, Neil Hitt of the Chronicle and Harry Debolt of the Examiner. According to Jerry Flamm, author of Hometown San Francisco, Hitt and Debolt, “an inseparable pair in the Hall of Justice press room after 5 p.m., would occasionally stroll down one block to the Black Cat for a thirst quencher after advising the police radio dispatcher where they would be in case all hell broke loose somewhere in the city.”

Though many of the buildings in this area did not survive the era of high-and-higher architecture, the diminutive gem known as Canessa has. Today, the old brick building still glows with light and life and is home to an art gallery and several creative professionals with small businesses.