Pied Piper of Hamelin

Background

Courtesy of SF Gate

Courtesy of SF Gate.

Commissioned in the aftermath of the 1906 Great Earthquake and Fire, “The Pied Piper of Hamelin” made its debut with the grand reopening of San Francisco’s landmark Palace Hotel in 1909. The 16-foot-long painting was one of only two Maxfield Parrish barroom artworks in the country. Positioned prominently above the oak bar, “The Pied Piper of Hamelin” has been an enduring symbol of San Francisco’s identity for over a century.

On March 22, 2013, to the astonishment of longtime patrons, the Palace Hotel removed Parrish’s masterwork from its namesake bar for sale at auction. A statement released by the Palace announced: “It is no longer practical for the hotel to display an original work of this value and cultural significance in a public area” and so the cultural icon was slated to be sold to the highest bidder by Christie’s Auction House in New York City on May 23, 2013.

Upon learning this news, Heritage acted quickly to advocate for its return to San Francisco and the Palace Hotel by rallying a coalition of heritage and arts organizations, circulating a petition that gained over 1,000 signatures in less than two days, and appealing directly to the hotel administration for its return. On March 25, the Palace withdrew its intention to sell the painting in response to outcry from longtime patrons, public officials, and members of the preservation community. While the painting will be returned to the hotel after a “museum-quality” restoration in New York City, the owners have yet to indicate where it will be re-hung.

The painting dates from the “Golden Age of American Illustration” when Parrish and his contemporaries, including Dean Cornwell and Norman Rockwell, produced numerous examples of fine art intended to enliven drinking establishments throughout the country. Longtime San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen, whose signature martini is still served at the bar, revered the Pied Piper and its “beloved” namesake painting. The painting has witnessed generations of celebrities and politicians, from James Rolph to Willie Brown, gather under its colorful gaze.

Moreover, Heritage selected the Pied Piper Bar and Grill as one of the city’s 25 most legendary eating and drinking establishments with the launch of its “Legacy Bars & Restaurants” project in January 2013. Heritage remains committed to working with the hotel’s ownership to explore alternatives that would enable the painting to return home and be permanently protected in place.

 

Update

On August 22, 2013, the Palace Hotel re-installed its newly-restored painting in its original location above the bar at the Pied Piper Bar & Grill.