Regarded by critics as one of the most influential yet unsung Bay Area artists ever, David Ireland devoted decades of his life to his masterpiece: 500 Capp Street, the house he occupied in San Francisco’s Mission District from the mid-1970s until a few years before his death in 2009. No, he wasn’t an architect, but almost an archaeologist—stripping the two-story Victorian’s walls down the raw plaster and then varnishing them to a high-gloss finish, excavating its basement for dirt and concrete to use in his “dumbball” sculptures, creating commemorative labels for divots gouged out of floorboards and wainscoting (courtesy of a wayward safe). Although Ireland didn’t have much of a public presence—think of him as the anti-Warhol, when it came to self-promotion—he generously opened his home to art students and threw dinner parties that the guests are still talking about.
All this history would have vanished, and the house no doubt would’ve been renovated into yet another brogrammers’ lair, if not for the quick action and devoted stewardship of Carlie Wilmans. Already a noted arts philanthropist—following in the footsteps of her grandmother, Phyllis Wattis—Wilmans bought the house, raised the money to stabilize the building (all that excavating? not such a great idea, structurally speaking), restore and protect its installations, and turn it into the Mission District’s first house museum. Actually, the Mission’s first museum, period. The house is open for guided tours, and a tiny gallery in a garage-like annex will show his works and, eventually, pieces made by artists in residence. And, of course, there will be the occasional dinner party bringing laughter and life back into the house. Just like Ireland would have wanted.
Above Photos by Henrik Kam, courtesy 500 Capp Street Foundation
David Ireland at 500 Capp Street, 1978; photo courtesy 500 Capp Street Foundation
David Ireland in the basement of 500 Capp Street, 1988; Photo: Christine Labb, courtesy 500 Capp Street Foundation