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If Ace of Base had been from San Francisco instead of Sweden, their song “The Sign” would acutely accept been an admiration to the behemothic covering looming aloft annoy boutique Kahn and Keville at the bend of Turk and Larkin — a San Francisco accoutrement that Herb Caen already coined the “world’s better affluence cookie.”



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The awakening covering has featured quotes and aphorisms, both acclaimed and obscure, aback the backward 1950s. Over the years I’ve lived in San Francisco, I’ve been fatigued to the assurance as an adumbration of the eccentricities that accomplish this burghal account active in. I aboriginal spotted it active up Larkin Street one afternoon in my 1984 gold Mercedes-Benz. Now I go out of my way to booty that avenue home, so I can attending out my window and curiosity at the quotes, some phrases axis my neck, others agee my mind.

I capital to apperceive more, so I started advancing by the shop, not for a new set of tires, but to acquisition out who or what was abaft the sign. The boutique guys told me I bare to allege to Bill, but every time I came by, Bill was out. After several visits, I assuredly affianced him bottomward one Friday afternoon, and we entered the aback appointment of the annoy shop, a beheld admonition of a ancient era. The allowance was a paper-packed sea of receipts, sun-faded bank calendars, billowing anchor from eons ago, all topped off by the aroma of elastic tires casting apart aloft the air. Everyone’s fingers but mine, begrimed with work. The computers on the board were acutely Internet-proof, adumbrated by blooming belletrist amphibian forth a atramentous abyss. Bill Brinnon, the guy abaft the sign, sat down, austere his throat and began to acquaint me the adventure of the ambiguous assurance I had continued aback wondered about.

Photo by Erik Wilson



Back about 1912, Harry H. Kahn and Hugh J. Keville went into the annoy business together, aperture their aboriginal boutique on Golden Gate Avenue. While both owners aggregate business duties, the adventure of the assurance begins alone with Keville, aback he absitively to advance his account in Apple War I as a mapmaker. While at war, he agitated a little anthology of adorning sayings to accumulate his alcohol up. Bill explained, “Hugh saw a lot of abhorrent things in the war, so this little book of sayings meant a big accord to him.”

When he returned, Keville had the abstraction to allotment the quotes that buoyed his alcohol during the war with his barter by putting up a blackboard in the shop. “First it was tiny, and again aback the quotations got best the chalkboard got bigger. He had a accomplished big chalkboard wall. He’d appear in every anniversary and address a new quotation; it was by the cashier’s window so all the barter could see it.”

In 1934 the boutique confused to Turk and Larkin, complete aloft a beefy acreage aforetime apartment a miniature golf course. Kahn anesthetized abroad in the backward ’50s and Keville agitated on the business. The covering assurance we apperceive and adulation today went up about 1958 and aback Keville assuredly retired he angry it over to Marshall Jenkins, who agitated on the attitude until about 1969, aback he anesthetized the bake to Bill Brinnon, the man who currently picks the cogent lines.

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“I’m now clearly in allegation of it. It’s afflicted absolutely a bit; to be honest, the tenor of the animadversion in the ’50s were a lot about women drivers because that was the way bodies talked in those days. That was one of the aboriginal things we changed. Also, I like to accept a little aberration at the end. Some irony. A joke.”

Photo by Myleen Hollero

I ask Bill if he gets acknowledgment on the sign’s quotes, which ambit from curve of book to acclaimed quips. “Oh, bodies call. Leah Garchik watches it. Herb Caen acclimated to be a fan. We get a lot of chump feedback. A ample allocation of the bodies who watch it on a approved base are bus riders. They don’t alike own cars, but they alarm us to comment. We appetite to be noticed and we like feedback.”

The assurance changes every three to six weeks, depending on how abundant acknowledgment they get from the community. Bill says that if the buzz isn’t campanology with bodies complimenting or complaining, again they apperceive it’s a dud and booty it down. “The purpose of the assurance is to animate discussion.”

And absolutely a altercation they accept maintained. Bodies all over boondocks adore the sign. Filmmaker Pete Lee recalls the assurance actuality a accoutrement of his time alive in the Tenderloin. “I acclimated to airing by it every day; it’s the one affair that still catches me by abruptness every time I attending up at it, because the sources are consistently affectionate of obscure. It becomes this affair in the adjacency that you booty pride in.”

Has there anytime been a assurance that backfired? Bill nods. “Yes, badly. It was during the accumulation and loans crisis of the ’80s. A lot of bodies were out of assignment and we put up a assurance that said, ‘You never looked so acceptable as aback you ample out an appliance application.’ Man, we got calls that never ended. Bodies were actual upset; they anticipation we were authoritative fun of them. It was a boxy time, affectionate of like now, alone this is worse. Bodies attending up there for admonition and how to alive their life; we don’t appetite to accomplish them feel badly.”

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Photo by Sarah Han

How does Bill aces the quotes? The ancient way. Barter accompany in ideas, and bodies active on the streets accompany in a few from time to time. Mostly the afflatus comes from Bill’s hours spent reading. I ask Bill why he doesn’t aloof argue the Internet. “We break abroad from the Internet; I’m alone not actual addicted of it.” He elaborates on why it’s not the best source: “A acceptable analogy is afresh we had Gore Vidal up there because he died. I capital to accomplish abiding the adduce was exact because he was a absolute stickler on proofreading. If I got it wrong, somebody would accept told me. So I went on the Internet and went through 99 references and they were all wrong. The actual one came from San Francisco Chronicle anchorman Jonathan Curiel who had been at the Herbst Theatre that night taping it. We got it from the horse’s mouth. Every added distinct one all beyond the country in every bi-weekly had printed it incorrectly. That’s why we break abroad from the Internet.”

Once several quotes are up for vote, the alternative action at the annoy boutique begins. “I accept about four or bristles quotes and again I go from being to being at the boutique while they are alteration tires and they analysis off the one they like so it gives a acceptable cross-section. Some of the guys adore it, some don’t appetite to do it at all and I accept to cajole them. My best antecedent is the being who physically puts it up; his English isn’t perfect, so he has to anticipate and absolutely assignment at acrimonious a quote, so I amount his accommodation added than others.”

Bill’s tracking arrangement of the sign’s sayings over the year is additionally actual antiquated. He doesn’t use a computer and aggregate gets logged manually. The annal of the old signs is aloof a anthology abounding with cardboard templates of the covering with the adduce penciled in. The history of the assurance is stored in this ambiguous assemblage of papers, but that’s absolutely the way Bill brand it.

Photo by Eric Steuer

A chump campanology the alarm interrupts our conversation. The aboriginal antecedence about actuality is tires, and Bill has to appear to bodies in charge of patches and new axles, so I let him get aback to business. As I airing out I ask him, “Is there a day aback you’re gonna be done?”

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“Yeah, the aftermost assurance will be my name up there with RIP.”

Outside in the parking lot abounding of anchored cars with punctured and declining tires, I attending at the assurance that’s up now. It’s a adduce from Cormac McCarthy: “Between the affair and the ambition the apple lies waiting.” This adjacency is alteration rapidly; aloof blocks away, businesses based on things beneath ashore than tires are affective in. While the architecture itself at 500 Turk has been preserved as a actual landmark, that doesn’t accommodate the august marquee.

My ambition is for the abundant assurance to abide forever, but I apperceive change is inevitable. Alike if bottomward the road, aback I’m old and still hopefully in adulation with San Francisco, and all the kids accept chips in their academician and don’t apperceive how to read, I’ll be able to say that already aloft a time I saw the assurance and it opened up my eyes.

Photo by Myleen Hollero

Replace the tires on your car at Kahn and Keville, or aloof stop by to action your admired adduce for the sign.

Top photo by Eric Steuer

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