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San Francisco’s Cliff Home Now a Non permanent Museum – NBC Bay Space

When Nicole Meldahl and her group Western Neighborhoods Project raised money to buy up and save historic artifacts from the recently-closed Cliff House restaurant in March 2021, she had no idea at the time what venue she’d be able to display them in.

It certainly never dawned on her that the group might one day get the chance to display them in the same venue they’d come from.

“Never imagining one day the National Park Service would give us the keys to the Cliff House,” Meldahl said.

As the NPS searches for a new restaurant operator to take over San Francisco’s venerable Cliff House, it has indeed allowed Western Neighborhoods Project to turn the empty restaurant into a temporary museum, with its sweeping views and historic artifacts as the centerpiece.

In the Cliff House in an exhibit called Naiad Cove — the name of the adjacent cove where the ruins of Sutro Baths rest — the group paid tribute to the neighborhood known as Lands End and its once-iconic roadside destinations like the old Sutro Baths and Playland at the Beach.

Inside the restaurant, there’s a tribute to the old Sutro Baths, which includes vintage bathing suits and a locker believed to have been saved from the old building. There are original posters and photos of the famous baths, flanked by the actual Sutro Baths ruins just outside the window.

“I think this is what makes this exhibition so wonderful and so powerful, is that you’re really experiencing this history in the place that created it,” Meldahl said.

The former restaurant booths inside the Cliff House pay tribute to the restaurant that served generations before closing during the pandemic.

One room holds signs from the long-gone Playland at the Beach, with the sounds of an old amusement park lending an air of authenticity. A tall wooden cowboy that once stood in the nearby amusement park looms over the room.

The darkened, empty kitchens now display historic projections by artist Ben Wood, who has been projecting period photos and videos from Cliff House history out of the gift shop windows for months. The rooms are washed with a sound installation by Andrew Roth.

The restaurant even holds a tribute to the restaurant itself with a series of place settings from different eras of the Cliff House along with the menus displaying period prices.

“We’ve staged six vignettes at the bar to represent six different experiences patrons would’ve had coming here,” Meldahl explained.

When the Cliff House restaurant permanently closed under the weight of the pandemic, Western Neighborhoods Project rallied to save its collection of historic memorabilia from the auction block. The group raised $180,000 in an effort to prevent the collection from getting spread to the wind.

A crew hoists one of a pair of porcelain muses for an exhibit inside the Cliff House.

Among the objects it saved were a pair of porcelain “muses” figures that had lived in the old Cliff House for ages. On a recent day, Meldahl watched as an arts preservation team helped stage the two large figures.

Alexandra Mitchell, whose company ACT Art Conservation LLC is caring for the artifacts said it was important for the public to view the Cliff House objects back in their original home.

“People can visualize it themselves while they’re here looking at the pieces that were here,” Mitchell said. “You’re seeing the same view, you’re seeing the same ocean waves that have crashed on the shore the whole time.”

Aside from the artifacts, the exhibit is a rare opportunity for the public to visit one of San Francisco’s iconic destinations and view it outside its normal state as a bustling restaurant.

There are windows where generations of visitors have sipped cocktails while watching the day’s last rays glancing across seal rock. There is the long counter where visitors bellied up for the restaurant’s signature poppers, or Bloody Mary’s.

“There’s all these people,” said Great Highway Gallery owner John Lindsey, who is curating the exhibit. “Not only do they have a lot of memories of what’s around us, they have a lot of memories of what’s inside this building.”

As far as the Cliff House’s future goes, the National Park Service put out bids for a new restauranteur to take over the space and is now reviewing those bids. In the meantime, the special exhibit is scheduled to run until Aug. 21, although Meldahl hopes it might be extended. The exhibit is free, but visitors must register in advance.

“People who said they never came here because it was too expensive now find themselves able to take in this incredible view, doing the same thing San Franciscans and visitors have been doing since 1863,” Meldahl said.

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