San Francisco Mosaic

The Mosaic that is San Francisco
By Douglas Towne

Mention broken glass and tile fragments to SCA members and many will instinctively wince visualizing the shattered tubes on a vintage neon sign or the degenerating tile on a long abandoned diner. These perceptions are likely to change for those who investigate Lillian Sizemore’s impressive new publication, A Guide to Mosaic Sites – San Francisco. A current SCA member as well as a professional artist for over 20 years, she has produced a 36-page guide to 57 mosaics in the city by the bay. 

What exactly is a mosaic? In a perhaps underappreciated medium, mosaics consist of small pieces of glass, tile, stone, pottery, pebbles—and just about any other item you can think of—that are used to create artwork. Mosaic is an ancient technique; the Greeks created mosaics using pebbles as far back as the 3rd century B.C.

Sizemore’s guide exhibits my favorite book characteristics. It manages to be highly professional in its layout, graphics and content yet the writing has a homespun touch making one feel as though they’re on a personal walking tour led by the author. As a guidebook, it does its job well, clearly delineating where the mosaics are located and what each consists of. Particularly impressive to this geographer are the book’s maps that will lead even the most locationally challenged individual to these works of art.  The descriptions are brief and the images small but crisp. This results in a compact publication perfect for actual street use. Its user-friendly content ranges from access contacts for private mosaics to websites for additional information on other sites. Clearly, extensive research went into this labor of love.

Some SCA members may think this mosaic guide sounds intriguing but their current interests revolve around building types such as movie theatres and motels. Leafing through the guide, it’s surprising how many of these enterprises contain outstanding examples of mosaics. Sometimes part of the allure of your favorite roadside business is not only its Art Deco lines and stunning neon sign, but the mosaic featured on the façade of the building.  This roadside tie-in is an excellent portal to a wider mosaic appreciation.

Besides authoring the guidebook, Lillian also conducts group mosaic tours in San Francisco. These come with a fringe benefit sure to brighten the Bay Area vacations of many SCAers. Lillian’s original documentary focus was the area’s vintage neon signs. As such, she’s a well-versed font on where to best spend your nocturnal hours. Based on her impressive mosaic guide, here’s hoping she follows it up with a neon guide. In anticipation, I’ve already stepped-up my gym training to handle the infamous hills that will come into play for both daytime mosaic treks and evening neon odysseys.

To obtain a copy of Lillian’s guidebook, please contact her at: Lillian Sizemore Design, PO Box 31899, SF, CA 94131-0899 or at The cost is $15.

Douglas Towne is book review editor of the SCA Journal, published by the Society for Commercial Archeology