The Red Powell / Reggie Pettus Collection
Curated by Lewis Watts
This exhibit is a celebration of the indigenous American musical art form and the rich and vibrant past of the Fillmore District. During World War II, the Fillmore became the Harlem of San Francisco with the large migration of African Americans from the South. During the 1940's, 50's and 60's the Fillmore neighborhood boasted nearly two dozen jazz venues, including the Blue Mirror, Club Alabam, The Booker T. Washington Hotel lounge and Jimbo's Bop City. Well known jazz players came to the Fillmore after their "downtown" gigs to jam with local musicians.
A place that most of the artists and residents visited was Red Powell's Shine Parlor at 1552 Fillmore St. Red's walls were filled with pictures of personality of the day, sporting events, movie stills and pictures of life in the clubs and community. Red was an archivist, who saved everything that reflected life in his community.
How the pictures were lost, found, saved, and restored
In 1990 I was working on a photography project in the Fillmore and I went into Red's shop and inquired about making some pictures of his walls. He stated that he was busy and the that I should come back later to talk about it. When I returned his store was empty and there was no trace of the pictures. I was afraid that this valuable collection of history was lost and I thought about it for years.
Last year I was gathering images for a report on the cultural past of the Fillmore. I kept inquiring in the neighborhood about Red's photographs and when I asked Reggie Pettus of the New Chicago Barber Shop, he surprised and thrilled me with the words: "They are in my back room."
Reggie had rescued the photographs and memorabilia as it was about to be thrown out by the landlord. Red Powell had lost his lease and died soon afterward. Like Red, Reggie is an archivist. Traditionally in the Black community, the barber shop has been the place where local history and lore are collected in conversation and on the walls. Reggie graciously has allowed use of the images for this exhibit and in efforts to re-develop the Fillmore into a Jazz Preservation District.
The original pictures were scanned and digitally restored. There were no labels or dates on many of the original photographs. If you know any of the people in the images, the date or location or if you have some photographs from the Fillmore, please contact me via e mail. Hopefully this history can be preserved and knowledge of the past can lead to a renaissance in the future.
About Lewis Watts, the Curator
Lewis Watts is photographer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is a professor of Art at the University of California, Santa Cruz. For the past twenty years, he has worked on documentary, educational and architectural photographic subjects. The images from Jazz and the Fillmore reflect a strong interest in history and culture.
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