Know Your Street Art: The Adolph Gasser Parking Lot Mural

180 Second St.

The closure of Adolph Gasser Photography earlier this year was a nadir for fans of the medium. The longtime SoMa store had been the epicenter for the culture of photography in an area that has undergone warp-speed real-estate escalation. Typical art in the transformed area includes the nearby LinkedIn building and its priceless Frank Stella painting collection in the street-level lobby. But there’s a remnant of Adolph Gasser’s culture that’s still going strong: The parking lot, which will continue to display street photography on its red-brick walls — at least for a few more months — even as the store prepares for a new tenant.

Located just across the street from the shop, the lot has oversized prints that were wheat-pasted onto its bricks. The store started its outdoor photo exhibits more than a year ago, and the current iteration features the work of eight notable photographers, including Michael Jang, Maurice Edelstein, David Root, and Vladimir Panasenko.

“It’s a good place to put up things, and people seem to enjoy it,” John Gasser, the store’s owner, tells SF Weekly.

He’s had multiple offers for the lot, including one from a developer who wants to build a hotel there. Once the former store is refurbished for a new tenant, “The trustees of the estate and I are going to sit down and figure out what we’re going to do with the parking lot,” Gasser says. “Right now, the store is the first thing we have to finish getting done. The building is going to be rented.”

The store had existed for decades, and had a steady stream of customers, but San Francisco has also targeted it for eminent domain because of the Transbay Terminal and Caltrain’s expansion.

“And I don’t have any family members who want to take on the business,” says Gasser, who’s about to turn 76. “I said, ‘We’ll simplify, then.’ That’s why we decided to shut it down.”

A staff member of the former store originally suggested the photo exhibits for the parking lot, “and I said, ‘Why not?’ ” Gasser says. Of the current photos in the lot, he’s especially fond of the Jang’s Golden Gate Bridge image, which is “about 20 prints mounted together. It was quite an exercise [to paste it up]. It was impressive.”

Jang took that photo in 1987, on the bridge’s 50th anniversary, when people were allowed to walk everywhere on the structure. SFMOMA owns a print of the same image. The version in the parking lot is cracking in many spaces, but it still retains its depth, and the lot’s whole collection still draws passersby who peek through the parking lot’s chain-link fence. Some of them take photos: Photographers taking photos of photos that were orchestrated by a now-former photo store. 

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