Attention Cool Cats: Frisco’s Beat Museum Welcomes You

Allen Ginsberg speaking at George Mason University in 1983

At the corner of Broadway and Columbus, what Jerry Cimino calls “the center of the universe,” is the Beat Museum, memorializing all the greats of the Beat Generation. With materials from Jack Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Burroughs, the museum offers a history of the literature, poetry, and art that defined the influential group. Yesterday’s New York Times goes behind the story of the museum and the one man, Jerry Cimino, who made it all happen.

Through the museum’s quirky collection of more than 1,000 photos, rare books, paintings, records, posters and artifacts, visitors learn about the cold war context of the Beat Generation’s emergence, the importance of jazz to their writing, their rejection of the status quo and their influence on the counterculture of the 1960s

Many of these items were donated, often by people who knew some of the prominent Beats. “We have no budget for acquisitions,” Mr. Cimino, 58, says with a chuckle. “So this is a pretty good way to build a collection.”

What really keeps the Beat Museum humming is its founder’s enthusiasm. “I think a lot of museums start this way,” says Elizabeth Merritt, director of our Center for the Future of Museums, at the American Alliance of Museums in Washington. “They are often the result of an individual or small group’s passions about something.”

The Beats may soon be rediscovered by a wider audience with the Dec. 21 release of a film version of “On the Road.” The director, Walter Salles (“The Motorcycle Diaries,” “Dark Water”), visited the Beat Museum as part of his research on the picture. After it was shot, he donated a 1949 Hudson — the same kind of car used by the Kerouac- and Cassady-based characters in the book. “It was our way to thank the Beat Museum for everything we learned,” said Mr. Salles in an e-mail message. The car, which was also used in the film, was driven by Garrett Hedlund, the actor who plays the character based on Cassady, right up off the street and into the open-front museum.

Across the street from the museum is the famous City Lights Bookstore, the block altogether proving that the Beat is still alive in the streets of San Francisco. With Hollywood movies on the way, it may just be time for Beat to enter the mainstream.


The New York Times
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