The case of the missing mural box


Several observers in the blogosphere have pointed out that a utility box painted by San Francisco muralist Mona Caron was removed without warning, and replaced with a “boring box.”

The public art piece, titled Manifestation Station, featured an optical illusion completing a view of the intersection of Duboce and Church streets with an alternative reality incorporating a garden, a creek, cyclists and mosaic sidewalk art.

When the box was removed, “Mona had no idea where it went, and it took a while – lots of phone calls and emails – to locate it,” reports Hugh D’Andrade, a friend of Caron’s. D’Andrade finally tracked it down at a San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency rail yard, at 2502 Alameda Street.

D'Andrade tracked it down and took this photo at the SFMTA yard.

In addition to being flagged on neighborhood blogs, the sudden removal of the box has also attracted the attention of the Duboce Triangle Neighborhood Association. According to an email that was forwarded to the Guardian from DTNA’s David Troup, “Supervisor [Scott] Wiener is aware of the situation and monitoring it.”

According to Paul Rose of the SFMTA, "The controller box was replaced after the completion of the Church & Duboce Rail Replacement project, as part of a system-wide upgrade of various electrical sectionalized switches and associated controller boxes."

In a note to a community of concerned supporters on Facebook, Caron related the backstory.

It all started when the SFMTA needed to install two new boxes as part a 2012 track improvement project at Church and Duboce. “The community complained of additional sidewalk clutter,” Caron explained, so “under pressure, MTA softened the pill by agreeing to beautify the two new boxes with art.”

At that point, another neighborhood group pushed for including a pre-existing box, at the corner of Church and Duboce, in the beautification project. That’s the one Caron transformed into Manifestation Station, but unfortunately the switches inside it were aging and in need of replacement. “This was a last-minute addition, pushed for by well-meaning, community-oriented people, and nice people at MTA shooed that in,” Caron notes. However, “I repeatedly asked about the projected longevity of that old box, and was reassured.”

Rose said SFMTA did not know that the box would have to be replaced at the time the project was approved. But while he initially told the Guardian that he believed it was the Art Commission that had granted approval for Manifestation Station, it was actually SFMTA. “They basically informed me down the line a ways that there was a third box to paint,” Caron explained.

It didn’t take long before Muni learned (the hard way) that the switches inside the box needed to be replaced. “The switch failed in that location,” Rose told the Guardian in a phone interview. “And that’s when it became evident that they needed to be replaced.”

What Caron had heard about the switch failure was this: “Awhile back, a sectionalizing switch inside it actually blew up, and caused a nine-day mess at that corner affecting J and N train service. I remember seeing the white smoke sediments beneath the box's vents.”

And that is why Manifestation Station was removed and replaced with “this new, narrower but much taller box,” in Caron's words. Rose said SFMTA plans on asking Caron to paint it. “We’re going to reach out to the artist,” he said, adding that the agency hopes to address it over the next three months. As for what will become of Manifestation Station, Rose told the Guardian that decision would also be left up to the artist. 

If a new utility box creation does manifest at the corner of Church and Duboce, don’t expect a repeat of what was there before. Asked how she might respond if the SFMTA contacts her with this request, Caron said, “I guess I may be willing to in this case – though I won't redo the same thing. Generally I don't really want to spend too much time painting boxes. I want to paint walls. I'd love for Muni to have me paint a big wall.”


Posted by Guest on Sep. 17, 2013 @ 1:45 pm
Posted by anon on Sep. 17, 2013 @ 1:46 pm

I watched every day as Mona Caron painted that box- I'd say it took a couple of weeks-if you stood in the right place, the perspective was correct, and the painting lined up with the real view in the backround-great piece! I am dismayed but not surprised that it is gone. Typical San Francisco government inefficiency and disregard for the public- expecially MUNI!

Posted by Guest on Sep. 17, 2013 @ 2:38 pm

even the SFBG article tried to explain.

Given the choice of a Muni system that actually worked and some cute art on a system that doesn't, I know what I would choose.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 17, 2013 @ 2:53 pm

Hopefully, Mona Caron will get an opportunity to paint the new box, which will be an nice accompaniment to her wonderful mural on the back of the Safeway adjacent to the Duboce Street bike/walk way.

Her "cute" and extensive artwork is a strong contribution to San Francisco. And your contribution is what exactly?

Blah, blah, blah, taxes, value added, blah, blah, blah.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 17, 2013 @ 10:39 pm

We are definitely world leaders in bad pointless art, no question.

Meanwhile, bills have to be paid.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 18, 2013 @ 5:51 am

Yes! I too demand a more grey drab world. I want a city that looks like a bowl of oatmeal (without fruit and honey!)

The Soviets had it right. Art has no place in society! Down with color!!!

Posted by Guest on Sep. 19, 2013 @ 9:19 am

then rely on boxes of switchgear to gives us some aesthetic.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 19, 2013 @ 10:31 am

A political lens was applied to the art that was subsidized under the Soviet sytem -- similarly to how it is so often done here -- but public art was common and culture was highly prized.

For them, I think it was religion which had no place in civilization.

Posted by lillipublicans on Sep. 20, 2013 @ 4:18 am

I saw it on fire at Burning Man, as a circle of naked, drugged-out hippies danced around it. I felt radically included. More SF artists need to commit to burning their work as soon as it's completed, to make room for new work that can also be burned.

Posted by Chromefields on Sep. 18, 2013 @ 7:18 am

I sense a troll circle jerk in the making here.

Posted by troll barrier on Sep. 19, 2013 @ 10:59 am

"troll barrier troll" (or TBT for short) then you might want to wait more than 2 minutes between posting that and another post on the same thread in your "real" name.

C'mon Lilli, make it hard for us, otherwise you might find yourself banned from here for trolling just like you were banned from SFGate.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 19, 2013 @ 11:05 am

It used to be that electrical contactors -- which I'm guessing is what the "switches" inside the box which "blew up" -- were routinely rebuilt with new contacts, coils, auxilliary contacts as needed.

Then it became more standard to replace contactors as a unit.

When did it become commonplace to swap out whole boxes?

Anybody decent would have seen the beautiful artwork and taken steps to avoid destroying it. I'm not pointing my finger at the tradesmen who installed the new box as they were probably instructed to do exactly that.

My supposition is that just like the trolls here on SFBG, there are administrators in city government who will habitually shit on anything decent.

Posted by lillipublicans on Sep. 19, 2013 @ 10:57 am

For any and everyone who was concerned about or somehow interested in the removal of Mona Caron's muralized utility box on Duboce and Church, there is a happy ending to the saga. The good news is that Alemany Farm will be able to make good use of it in the new Alemany Outdoor Kitchen!

Posted by Guest on Dec. 16, 2013 @ 9:15 am

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