Bay Area/ San Francisco/ Community & Society
Published on September 06, 2019
Graffiti murals of Marvel heroes revive North Beach building destroyed by firePhotos: Carrie Sisto/Hoodline

An "Avengers"-style squad of San Francisco graffiti artists have joined forces to liven up the exterior of a North Beach building destroyed by a massive fire last March. 

Appropriately, their murals depict a group of Marvel superheroes, including The Incredible Hulk, Black Panther, Iron Man, Captain America and Storm. 

The murals have been installed in recent weeks on the exterior of the building, on the corner of Powell and Union streets and Columbus Avenue. The project was the brainchild of artist PENGO1, who partnered with several other local artists to bring the vision to life.

As developers debate the future of the destroyed building, the scaffolding that surrounds it cried out for an artistic statement, PENGO1 (who prefers to keep his full name anonymous) said.

He got the idea for a series of murals of Marvel heroes from one of his son's favorite picture books. 

"I wish we actually had some superheroes [to protect the neighborhood]," he said. Art depicting them was the next best thing. 

Black Panther is among the superheroes now protecting North Beach, thanks to volunteer artists.

To create the murals, PENGO1, who curates the art installed on Lilac Alley in the Mission, called on his colleagues in the Bay Area chapter of graffiti crew Experienced Vandals (a.k.a. Ex-Vandals), as well as other local artists. Most have two decades or more of experience.

A few of the artists were working nearby on the night of the fire: St. Patrick's Day, 2018. That night, seven businesses — Coit Liquors, Ferry Plaza Seafood, Rogue Ales Public House, Tuk Tuk Thai Café, The Salzburg, Jack Lee Fong Insurance Agency and Michelangelo Caffe — were completely destroyed, leaving around 50 employees out of work and decimating a colorful central corner of the neighborhood. 

Experienced Vandals, or 'Ex-Vandals,' is a graffiti crew comprised of experienced artists. 

To create the murals, PENGO1 got the approval of the building owner, who told the artists that they could choose any theme they wanted, as long as the neighborhood was OK with it. The artists volunteered their time and work, and got some support from spray can producer Montana Colors for supplies.

Since the installation is temporary, PENGO1 says he isn't concerned about legal retaliation for using Marvel's characters. If they raise a fuss, he says, they'll just paint over it. 

North Beach resident "Daniel" painted Captain America.

Each superhero was executed by a different artist. North Beach resident Daniel painted Captain America on the corner of Union Street, closest to Columbus Avenue, and also helped coordinate the effort, according to tipster Angela A.

Tim Hon of the Illuminaries painted the Hulk across the middle of the building, and Mark Bode depicted Iron Man with lettering to honor famed New York graffiti artist Stan 153, who passed away last month at age 60.

Tim Hon working on the Hulk.
Mark Bode's Iron Man commemorates recently-deceased artist Stan 153.
PENGO1 filling in Iron Man colors at the corner of Union and Columbus. | Photo: PENGO1/Instagram

Boxcar Vida's depiction of Storm is the only work done by a female artist on the wall, according to PENGO1. Vida was originally considering painting Jean Grey, who has been reborn multiple times as Phoenix through her Marvel career.

But the group had some concerns about a superhero whose strength depends on fire appearing on a building recently destroyed by one. So she switched course and chose Storm, who can control and change weather patterns to suit her needs. 

Storm, painted by Boxcar Vida, is the only female-identifying Marvel character depicted on the wall.

The mural is also a tribute to the characters' creator, comic writer and producer Stan Lee, who passed away in November 2018 at the age of 95.

Lee wasn’t a visual artist, so he didn’t complete any murals or art installations himself, said author Abraham Riesman, whose biography of Lee will be published by Penguin Random House next year.  

But “I have a feeling Stan would have been very happy to have someone commemorate him in mural form,” he said. “He was always happy to see people celebrate… his work.”

Mural in progress on the corner of Powell and Union streets.

PENGO1 hopes the mural will change neighbors' perceptions of graffiti, and graffiti artists. 

"Most people never see graffiti being done," PENGO1 said. "They all look at it and think 'those kids!' But I'm 50 years old, and it's an art form."

He said the artists are interested in expanding their collaboration to other construction sites, and bringing in emerging artists as part of a mentoring effort.

"It's important to have everyone sharing the 'art galleries' of the streets, and respecting each others' work," he said.

The walls of 659 Union St. are being propped up after the structure was destroyed in a fire.

According to public records, last year's fire was the second to occur in the building in less than five years. The building's remains are currently being propped up with temporary supports while developers consider potential rebuilding concepts for the site, which could include residential units and tourist hotel rooms. 

The property owner is reviewing options for rebuilding the site with housing and retail uses, according to Larry Badiner, the urban planner who is listed as the contact for the documents filed with SF Planning.

He said they may use the state's Density Bonus Program to construct a taller building, in exchange for including a higher percentage of on-site affordable housing units.

"They have been meeting with neighbors and interested groups to obtain input, and hope to file entitlement applications in the near future," Badiner said.

Thanks to Angela A. for the tip! See something interesting while you’re out and about? Text Hoodline and we’ll try to find out what’s going on: (415) 200-3233.