Inside 500 Capp Street (Image Source:
The inside of San Francisco artist David Ireland’s 500 Capp Street home has been chronicled in both print and video by Cal’s Regional Oral History Office. And according to the Chronicle, the living gallery will soon be up for sale.

To its neighbors, the shabby-looking 1886 Victorian on the corner of 20th Street probably looks like a holdout in the area’s slow march to gentrification. But the contemporary art world knows 500 Capp St. as the lodestar of David Ireland’s quirky, lyrical art, which has won him an international, though somewhat esoteric, reputation.

After a failed attempt by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art to acquire the Capp Street house, arrange for its conservation and provide a lifetime income for Ireland, it is to go on the market this month.

The artist’s sister, San Francisco Realtor Judy Ireland, said she plans to offer the property at around $900,000. The rush to sell, she said, concerns a law expiring April 1* that would exempt the artist from tax on $250,000 of the considerable capital gain from the sale.

To quote John Elderfield (chief curator of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art in New York): “It would be great if some white knight rode in and took it over.” And bar that, all we ask is that they resist any recommendations to “stage.”
[*Editor’s Note: Don’t panic, as far as we know it’s not “the law” that’s expiring April 1 but rather Mr. Ireland’s ability to qualify for the primary residence capital gains tax exemption (he hasn’t lived at 500 Capp Street for going on three years).]
Little-known S.F. gem may be lost [SFGate]
Inside 500 Capp Street: An Oral History of David Ireland’s House (pdf) []
David Ireland at 500 Capp Street: Real Player Video []

20 thoughts on “David Ireland’s 500 Capp Street: Inside And Soon To Be On The Market”
  1. I’m sorry, but I do not consider this to be a big loss. The Mission needs housing stock (even if it is high-priced housing stock), not a derelict art house. I love and appreciate art deeply, and granted that there’s no accounting for taste, but having lived next to 500 Capp for 2 years, read about the house, watched the videos about the house, and seen Mr. Ireland interviewed, I doubt deeply the significance of the work, especially to the tune of $3-5M, which you could probably use to build elsewhere a big shared studio space to help support young and emerging artists.

    Mr. Ireland is an artist, an artist who made a house into his art, and who also made a shrewd real estate investment. I don’t see it as any kind of tragedy that he or his family want to sell the house at a handsome profit (last I checked he bought it for $75K or thereabouts). The art is going to the museums and the Mission will get a historic residence back, one with more history than just Mr. Ireland’s (1886, remember? Built by a ship’s captain).

    Also, did you not see the photos and read the article?:

      After buying 500 Capp St. in 1975, he began to make an environmental artwork of its interior. He removed window moldings, stripped wall coverings and coated the walls, ceilings and floors with glossy polyurethane varnish. Over time, the golden tone of the varnish has deepened, producing an impression of architecture preserved in amber.

    Stripping the interior of a building like is considered to be a crime by some. I’m not kidding. It literally pains me to read this (and to have seen it).

    The building desperately needs a coat of paint and as the article says, probably a lot of other work, too. It is not in good condition. $900K for this building strikes me as kinda high given that it is probably in need of $100K+ of basic work to make it livable, but maybe that’s fair for 3K square-foot house in a not-so-bad block of Capp Street (in the gang turf DMZ).

    One last sour note: the Chronicle article reads like a hit job for the art community to raise awareness and find a patron for this project. Not really very deep or analytical in my book.

  2. Former Neighbor,
    We gotta think bigger than 500 Capp. The Academy of Sciences isn’t finished yet. Perhaps we could convert it to BMR housing? Personally, I’ve got my eye on the Legion of Honor site. Imagine the views from the condos we could build up there!

  3. I’m waiting for the Board of Supes to landmark the interior and prevent any reasonable reuse of the building. If it completely falls apart I doubt they’d care.

  4. The idea and this person’s energy seemed to be fun in some ways, or at least it made for good zine articles. The execution seem to me completely uninteresting and badly flawed in terms of safety and efficient and responsible use of space. With a thorough redesign and rebuild that home might potentially yield a half a dozen modern units with sun and air and maybe even positive feng shui. That’s all I could ever think about when viewing this self indugence. Make room, make room.

    Because of its nature San Francisco retains value when broadly shared. Hoarding exceptional holdings in the City is really only for the most resourceful and determined.

  5. I live on the other side of Capp St on 20th and have wondered what the deal with 500 Capp was. Frankly, the house looked abandoned and the exterior is a depressing gray falling in disrepair. A fresh coat of paint on the outside would go along way to convincing a buyer or museum to take the house on.

  6. So the 77 year old “artist” has to “rush” in order not to pay any extra taxes for when it does sell? If this is truly a national treasure, the artist who bought the property for under 100,000, should be willing to help sacrifice for this “masterpiece”. A collection of rubber bands, a bunch of brooms tied together, and a historic home with its entire interior removed, and I am told that this is a great loss for San Francisco? This sounds more like a family estate trying to put things in order so that the heirs will pay as little tax as possible.

  7. It is a little odd to let the place sit for almost 3 years then “rush” to sell to avoid taxes on $250,000 of the gain. He still has to pay capital gains taxes on the appx. $550,000 (assuming $900k sale) that is not exempt. As far as tax consequences for the heirs go, a wiser move might be to just will them the house — they’d inherit it with a “stepped up” basis and if they sell right away at market price they’d owe no taxes at all because they’d have no capital gains.

  8. To truly make this a complete monument, we’ll have to wait for the artist to pass on. Then place him in his favorite chair and apply 6 coats of polyurethane.
    Hopefully that won’t happen for a long time. I have a great deal of respect for Ireland and wish him long life. No disrespect intended.

  9. From my perspective as a native Californian (and former SF resident) and friend of David Ireland for many years, it is sad to see that the god of real estate (condos, more condos!) trumps significant, intelligent art in many of the comments.
    A high-powered lawyer turned college president recently noted when discussing fundraising, “People in the arts don’t make money [so they don’t have a lot of money to give]. Lawyers do. Doctors do [to a lesser degree]. Artists give their bodies, their art.” Now that this hard-working, intelligent, and gifted artist is his late 70s and in failing health (which required his move to an assisted living facility), these comments from neighbors and fellow SF citizens strike me as cynical, ignorant, and bereft of humanity.

  10. The whole point of 500 Capp Street is to resist the commercialism of galleries. Of course it will be a loss if someone attempt to put it in a museum.

  11. I have recently come across David Ireland’s work in a gallery here in London. I have been trawling the internet for related material so that I may get to know his work a little better.
    I read the above article, and the subsequent comments below with increasing disbelief.
    That someone spent some considerable time over the work involved for this art/house, amongst an on-going body of work, with the result that as far away as London, here I am, intrigued, my curiosity tickled, and my synapses firing, is sufficient reason for me to consider what that ‘art’ may be about. That it may ask you to consider, and indeed re-consider, what is art, is of my opinion, ultimately the question in hand here.
    For those who only see disrepair, and supposedly ‘unfair’ profit – (presumably anyone else who purchased a property of this time also enjoyed considerable returns?); I suggest you by-pass your ‘taste’ valves, and have more respect for yourselves and others, and consider tribute to someone who has bothered to try and think differently for a moment.

  12. It saddened me to read some of the comments posted above. I have fond memories of visiting 500 Capp Street and Meeting Mr. Ireland (as a SF native since that seems to be the qualification for being an “expert” in prior remarks). While I don’t generally remark on articles, I feel compelled to state how disturbed I felt, thinking how easy it seemed for some of you to write such mean-spirited remarks when you were not looking Mr. Ireland in the face. The real estate remarks were your call as neighbors I guess, but why shoot his artistic efforts down? Shame on you. Be David Irelands and Gordon Matta-Clarks in this short existence before you throw stones.

  13. I’ve been thinking about victorians lately (i have one) which led me to think about David Ireland lately (i’ve met him.)
    my san diego victorian was also built in 1886. When i moved into it almost 6 years ago it was pretty much ready to go. there is always something to do of course, and i could probably put $30,000-$50,000 into various repairs to make it perfect if i wanted/could afford to (if you own a victorian you know exactly what i mean and those numbers don’t shock you.)
    David Ireland started to work on his house when it, and the neighborhood he was moving into was in such deplorable condition that i suspect none of the above complainers would have been willing to live there at that time anyway. His decision to rehab the house in his own unique way should be valued and, i think, once understood, would be valued by the average untrained-art world person (some of the above comments imply art world insider knowledge but don’t really seem to demonstrate it by their crass, ill informed attitudes.)
    Ireland, given his Buddhist sensibilities, chose to preserve the house as he found it. exposing it nuanced history and carefully preserving what he discovered. an example of this preservation was the retention of original wall paper fragments,so faded as to nearly disappear. He also replaced the sidewalk in front of the house as a sculptural exercise (he did nothing remarkable to this sidewalk-just repaired and restored it to usable condition.)
    there is much precedent in art history for this kind of activity. Duchamp’s Urinal is one, although perhaps not the best, example. some of Allan Kaprow’s works are another: stepping in a friend’s shadow, trading dirt, building Ice houses and letting them melt in the sun are just some of them.
    These works, including Ireland’s i guess you could say are fragile. Fragile in the sense that they don’t call attention to themselves as art. The work is about paying attention to one’s environment and making choices about that environment. That these choices don’t necessarily look like art to the casual viewer(or the not-so-casual observer!) and that is fine. It seems to me that that is more about expectations and should not be the concern of interesting artists.
    Meeting David Ireland:
    I was lucky enough to have tea one afternoon with David Ireland years ago at 500 Capp street. I knocked on the door and introduced myself. We had mutual friends so he invited to come back that afternoon for a tour and some tea. It was a great visit. the house, to spite what i just said about ordinary was anything but. The amber coated interior gave the space a beautiful luminosity. I saw Ireland’s collects of rubber bands, wire and string. as well as his flatware with cement handles. the effect was subtle, amazing and, while quite describable in one way, leave me completely empty of words. We had smoke-laden tea in the living room. Ireland lit the homemade blow torch chandelier hanging above us and gave it a swing lending a strange wonderful light to the room and the proceedings. we didn’t talk about much as i recall-tea mainly, but that afternoon was an amazing moment in my life.
    I suppose it is o.k that Ireland’s house is to be sold. I’d personally rather it not be sold to the highest bidder because I’d like to take another stroll through it, and I think his legacy is worthy of preservation (and, of course, wanting his wishes to be fulfilled.) In the case of Ireland’s work It is easy to argue either way. I can only hope that whoever does buys it has respect for the house’s artistic and cultural legacy.
    Warm wishes and good health to David Ireland

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