Crocker Park is a manicured jewel on just an acre of land, which features a shaded lawn area and beds of rhododendrons, camellias and ferns. The park is located on property that was once the home of Wallace Alexander, one of the city¹s founding fathers. Numerous species of rhododendrons, azaleas and saucer magnolias have been donated to the park throughout the years. A granite sculpture of a Bear and Her Two Cubs by noted sculptor Beniamino “Benny” Bufano sits in the park's center. The park is intended for informal use and dogs must be kept on a leash. It's a lovely, quiet spot to read a book on a warm summer day.
Benny Bufano Bear
An ode to Benny Bufano, a San Francisco sculptor who broke the mold
April 18, 2017
Chances are you’ve seen Benny Bufano’s art, but you’ve never heard much about the artist.
I certainly hadn’t heard of Bufano when I was a kid whose favorite part about visiting the Hillsdale mall in San Mateo was seeing his animal sculptures spread across the shopping center. The memory of these visits sent me to The Chronicle’s archive in search of old photos and stories about Bufano’s sculptures, and I was amazed at the abundance of images we had of the classic San Franciscan and his work.
Bufano was an interesting man who relished his art being free for all to see. As he became better known, a portrait of a complicated artist arose. Chronicle art critic Alfred Frankenstein wrote: “Bufano never could decide if he wanted to be an artist or a town character. ... He was very good at both roles, but his performance in the second of these assignments would get in the way of the performance of the first.”
Bufano was born in Italy and raised in New York City, and came to San Francisco in 1913 to work on the Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915. He traveled around the world after the fair, and returned to San Francisco in 1923 for a short-lived term as an art teacher. According to a Chronicle article from May 23, 1923, Bufano’s dismissal was a skirmish in the battle between modernism and “old-school methods.”
Following the teaching dustup, Bufano went to France for several years, working on a statue titled “Peace,” which he planned to present to San Francisco as a gift. The statue would languish in a French warehouse for nearly 20 years, as he attempted to raise funds to bring his gift back to San Francisco. In 1955 it would be placed in front of what was then the St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church. Parishioners quickly started a parade of complaints about the placement, and it was moved a few times before landing at a park near Fisherman’s Wharf.
Bufano returned to San Francisco for good in the 1930s to work for the Federal Arts Project. This job gave him the space to create the first of his highly popular animal figures, some of which still reside at Aquatic Park, with others scattered around the city and the Bay Area. During this period, Bufano proposed a 180-foot statue of St. Francis to be placed on Twin Peaks to welcome visitors to the city. It never got past the planning stages.
St. Francis of the Guns, which many consider Bufano’s most famous statue, did become a reality. He created it from firearms that had been turned in after the assassination of Robert Kennedy in 1968, and at the base of the 9-foot-tall statue was a mosaic that included the likeness of Robert Kennedy, President John F. Kennedy, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and President Abraham Lincoln. The statue stands in front of the entrance to the City College of San Francisco’s science building.
Bufano died in 1970, and the one-and-only Herb Caen dedicated his column from Aug. 21, 1970, to stories about the artist, who had become a friend. Particularly illuminating was an item on Bufano’s relationship with Trader Vic Bergeron.
The restauranteur paid the rent on Bufano’s studio for 10 years, and told the artist that he could eat at his Trader Vic’s spot any time. “Meat and potatoes were OK, but when he started going for nothing but caviar, pate and Champagne, that was too much. ... Still, he was a magnificent artist, a giant, the finest sculptor of the age, and the biggest pain in the neck I ever met.”
Bufano was often at odds with the the city of San Francisco, but former Mayor George Christopher and then-Mayor Joe Alioto attended his funeral.
Alioto said: “San Francisco was enriched by Benny’s talent, his spirit, his character. ... We need a thousand Benny Bufanos. ... Ciao, Benny. Ciao. ... You are a part of our lives from here on in.”
Oakland Tribune - Wed - Oct. 17, 1973
The San Francisco Examiner -
Sun - May 10, 1987