North Beach Journal

The truth about baccala; Beat Museum plans move, seeks angels; the loss of a McCourt poet

The Beat Museum is looking to become supersized, with some super help. photo: Curtis Cronn; FLICKR.COM/cronncc


If you’re around North Beach on a Friday, you might want to drop into the Original U.S. Restaurant. That’s the day Al Cippolina makes his baccala alla Messinese — salt cod, potatoes, capers, olives and raisins, in a spicy tomato sauce. Al, one of the owners of this fine Sicilian restaurant, loves salt cod and is an expert in preparing it. For the uninitiated, salt cod is the dried, salted, slabs of fish encountered at real Italian delicatessens. The slabs of dried fish look like the soles of well-worn sneakers. To enjoy salt cod, it is necessary to soak it in a bucket of water for several days to rinse out the salt from the dried fish and reconstitute it before it is cooked.

In the old days, North Beach residents rinsed their dried cod by placing it in the water tank of their toilet — not the kind most of us are used to now, but the kind our grandparents had, with the water tank up near the high ceiling with a long pull chain running down to the business end. Every time the toilet was flushed the cold water in the tank rinsed the fish and it became less salty. I have this on the good authority of a North Beach old-timer who is well beyond his sell date.


Back in 2003, Jerry Cimino, a former tech guy who worked for IBM, opened a tiny museum on Upper Grant Avenue in the space now occupied by the gallery Live Worms. It was a shrine to the Beat Generation — a group Jerry Cimino wishes he had been part of. The small, nonprofit outfit honors Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and other Beat poets who made North Beach their home in the 1950s.

Cimino moved his Beat Museum in 2006 to its present site at 540 Broadway, not far from that other Beat shrine, City Lights. These days he has a new and somewhat grandiose idea to “further preserve the legacy of the Beats in San Francisco,” as he puts it.

The idea (call it Jerry Cimino’s vision) is for the museum — with its collection of Beat memorabilia, including original manuscripts; first editions; letters; personal effects like Allen Ginsberg’s typewriter; and a 1949 Hudson Commodore, the kind Kerouac and his buddy Neal Cassady drove cross country — to purchase the building at 580 Green Street (at Stockton), recently vacated by Citibank. The building as it exists now without modification would double the space of the present Beat Museum.


So the guy who wanted to be a Beat now wants to broaden the scope of the museum, put it closer to the heart of the old Beat neighborhood, and create a literary meeting place that would include a Beat cafe and a small Beat hotel. Preliminary plans by designer Michael Palumbo include a small cafe on the first floor, museum space on the second and third floors, and a boutique Beat hotel on the fourth. Jerry Cimino recalls that there was a so-called “Beat Hotel” in Paris at one time. Ginsberg, Kerouac, William Boroughs, Gregory Corso, and other Beat writers stayed in the cheap, Left Bank hotel in the late fifties and early sixties. “What a thrill it would be to have a Beat Hotel in North Beach,” he says.


That’s Jerry Cimino’s dream — and it may be a stretch because it will take bucks, lots of bucks, to put this deal together. How does he propose to realize his dream? By fund raising, of course. Jerry Cimino is an enterprising and persistent guy — a guy who doesn’t accept “no” for an answer. He says the Beat Museum at its present location is at a crossroads. “We need more space and we need a sense of permanence,” he says. He worries that this city, in which many small businesses and organizations have had to shut down after being priced out, will eject his baby.

So what’s the status of the Beat Museum’s fund-raising project? A building fund has been set up and the word has gone out asking for financial support. He was quoted in Hoodline saying, “We’re seeking the support of likeminded people who believe in the ideals of the Beat Generation.”

At this point it would seem that what Jerry Cimino needs is an angel, or perhaps a heavenly host of angels. Howl poet Allen Ginsberg’s “angel-headed hipsters” need not apply.

Good luck Jerry. We wish you well.


In last month’s Sketches column on San Francisco’s homeless citizens, I included a poem about them by Alphie McCourt, one of the famed McCourt brothers. A few days after my column appeared, I got word from Malachy McCourt that Alphie (baptismal name Alphonsus) had died in New York. All who knew Alphie will miss him greatly.


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