The Lost History of San Francisco’s “Beatles House”

Historical Essay

by Todd Lappin

This is a tale of The Beatles, a house, a mural, an artsy kid, domestic terrorists, classic punk rock, and a lost moment of San Francisco subculture…

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For almost two decades, the former “Beatles House,” on the 100 block of Precita Avenue in San Francisco, was covered by a colorful mural of the Fab Four. The mural became a local landmark and tourist attraction; so much so that the Beatles House was used to represent a rehearsal studio in the film “Living on Tokyo Time,” while also garnering mentions on local TV, CNN, and in local newspapers.

Today, the mural is gone… vanished without a trace.

I live down the street from the former Beatles House, however, so neighborhood lore piqued my curiosity about it. Eventually, I found an old black-and-white picture of the house from 1978 and posted it to Flickr:

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The posting triggered a lively discussion in the photo comments that attracted both past and present residents of the property, and soon the woman who actually created the mural chimed in to tell her tale.

The Beatles mural was first painted in 1974 by Jane Weems, a young woman who lived in the house during the 1970s and 1980s.

In high school, Jane was the drummer/songwriter for a punk band called The Maggots. The band had a local underground hit with their song “Let’s Get Tammy Wynette.” Stereo Sanctity explains:

Formed around the nucleus of drummer Jane Weems and bassist Robert Mostert in ’78, it seems The Maggots proceeded to get through a veritable bus-load of additional members in their short existence, all arriving and departing from within SF’s high school-age punk milieu, raising merry hell in some parental basement and swiftly developing into the kind of band just as concerned with pasting together fake biographies and press releases for themselves and developing their own brand of icky goofball humor as they were with finding shows to play or recording songs.

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You can listen to some vintage Maggots here. (Good stuff!) Jane still looked the part in 1982, and apparently she had a favorite Beatle:

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And here’s Jane, hard at work repainting the Beatles House, also in 1982:

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Vintage Photos: Courtesy Jane Weems

So what inspired the Beatles House? In an email to me, Jane wrote:

“I painted the house in 1974, when I was still in junior high school… I had painted the walls of my bedroom inside the house, first with yellow submarine, then, I did the Elton John “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” album cover really big on one wall, and other paintings of the Beatles & Elton John on my walls… they were pretty much covered… so, I asked if I could paint a mural on the house, and my parents said yes… so, I started to draw out what I wanted to paint, with a pencil, all freehand, in the low parts that I could reach… after painting that, my mom rented a scaffold, so I could go up higher to get the whole front done… in the middle of this, I had to go to school every day, so progress was slow.

The S.L.A.'s Emily Harris [of Patty Hearst kidnapping fame] lived secretly in a safe house down the street, and used to come by to “watch me paint” and talk to me about the Beatles.

It was fun, both times I painted it… lots of people would stop & watch, or talk to me when I was up there… when I was finished, for years folks would come by, take pix, ring the bell and see what kind of folks lived inside… the SF Bay Guardian gave me a blue ribbon award once for being voted “The best SF remnant of the psychedelic 60′s” even though it was painted in ’74…

Basically, I was just an artistic kid who ran out of room inside, and started on the outside.

And finally, the Where Are They Now? Today, Jane lives in the Midwest, and Beatles House looks like this:

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