Perhaps the most striking visual element of the new Merchants Exchange Club is the reemergence of three historic murals by acclaimed Spanish artist Jose Moya del Pino, a contemporary of Pablo Picasso and Diego Rivera. Commissioned by the Merchants Exchange Club in 1933 and unveiled on April 13 of the same year, the murals depict three centuries of rich San Francisco history.
The work depicting the 18th century features the Native Americans and early Spanish missionaries and soldiers. Another shows a bustling 20th century San Francisco, with muscled workers erecting the city’s skyscrapers. What’s interesting about this mural is that there was no Treasure Island in 1933, nor a Bay Bridge. A relatively accurate representation of the bridge features prominently, however, which Moya del Pino undoubtedly drew based on the plans.
The mural on the eastern wall of the room represents Gold Rush San Francisco in the 19th century. Unfortunately, decades of neglect and mistreatment by the original Club operators – along with severe water damage – severely compromised the original work. Strange glues, floor varnish and other substances were used to shore up the rapidly deteriorating mural, and it was removed in the late 1990’s for stabilization and to prevent further damage.
The room would not be complete without the full triumvirate of paintings, however, so our team employed 2013 technology to repair and reproduce the 80-year-old mural. A day-long effort with photographer César Rubio captured a series of high-resolution photographs of the original work. Each shot was then stitched together to create a digital copy to scale. The team then embarked upon the painstaking process of digitally “restoring” the damaged areas of the mural image with as much fidelity to the original work as possible. What currently flanks the eastern wall of the room is the result of that project, a digitally re-produced and restored version of the original artwork that completes the room while allowing the original to be appropriately stored and conserved.