Mona Caron’s “Manifestation Station” — its fate is manifested


Mona Caron’s “Manifestation Station” in its original location, on Duboce at Church. Photo by Mona Caron

After the story hit the local blogosphere and social media outlets* of Mona Caron’s muralized utility box at Duboce and Church, “Manifestation Station”, being removed mid-September of this year, the first step was to track it down. The intrepid (and outraged, thus driven) artist Hugh D’Andrade launched a series of emails and phone calls, and with Mona’s help and that of the media and countless horrified people on social media, found it on a SFMTA lot.

hugh found the box

Hugh found the box!
Photo by Hugh D’Andrade

The workers he met there weren’t convinced it wasn’t trash, and was possibly even removed because of the artwork painted on it. But with pressure from the media and neighborhood groups who commissioned the painting of the box and calls from concerned citizens, the agency agreed to release it to the artist if it would be hauled away.

The question then arose: What to do with it now that we’d found it? The removal of the box hit a chord because it was painted to correspond exactly with the environment it was in, to disappear if you will, even, into a beautiful future possibility of the block. Mona has an exquisite sense of perspective and this box demonstrated her skills amazingly.

Many people wanted to keep it in the neighborhood, for fear that its significance and mastery would be lost if placed elsewhere. Suggestions to auction it off to benefit a local organization, or romantically let it float away or live as a seagull perch in some body of water were brainstormed, even to offer it as a tool shed to a local community garden.

Mona painting “Manifestation Station” during the Critical Mass 20th Anniversary celebration week September 2012. Photo by LisaRuth Elliott

Mona painting “Manifestation Station” during the Critical Mass 20th Anniversary celebration week September 2012.
Photo by LisaRuth Elliott

But then Mona got this email from a worker at the SFMTA:


We have been making efforts to reduce the weight, probably already down several hundred pounds materials.
The box now still weighs approx. 600 to 700 pounds.
What happened is that the Artwork Mural box on the outside physical attached to another steel box inside.
So please let know when you have arrangements.
We have well protection to the box now, and many people observing the box take photos at the shop.
Everyone wants to preserves the artwork.

Wait, the thing weighs 700 POUNDS!?!? This was discouraging, but good to know the SFMTA folks wanted to see it live on!

There had been offers by some organizations to house it for a little while, but with the news of its weight, the trick was to find a place that we could move it to where it would be permanently placed and appreciated. We lamented the recent loss of Hayes Valley Farm, since it was close and had just the right combo of urban-scape and utopian present/future that the box invokes. Enter me, LisaRuth Elliott, former mural assistant to Mona and a volunteer at Alemany Farm. I suggested there is lots of space at this other urban-utopian experiment. It just so happened that there also was a project underway at the farm by CCA students and alumni to create an outdoor kitchen. The Alemany Outdoor Kitchen (AOK) team happily agreed to incorporate it into the kitchen area being built…but there was paving to be done first.

Fast forward three months, when conditions finally converged to have 1) a truck to transport the box, 2) people available to do it, and 3) a prepared spot where it will live at the AOK.

On Wednesday, December 11, David Solnit and I showed up at 2502 Alameda Street, the SFMTA facility where the box was in a corner of the rail yard visible from Alameda St., with a truck and a furniture dolly.  When we approached the box, about ten SFMTA workers spilled out of the facility anticipating watching us struggle with the 700 pound beast, telling battle stories of getting it to the yard with a crane and forklift. One guy escaped back into the building afraid that just watching the move would hurt his back. But with the help of a few of the men (and David’s friend Lisa who is a former UPS worker and thus used to moving all sizes of things), we quickly were able to push and slide it—dolly and all—onto the bed of the truck.

Twenty minutes later we arrived at Alemany Farm, where the emerging AOK was being given granite countertops by AOK Team member and CCA alumnus Alex DeCiccio and local Alemany Dwellings resident and welder Tony. The two of them helped us slide the box and dolly out of the truck and roll it the several hundred (very long and heavy) yards to its final spot at the corner of the demonstration kitchen near the Alemany Farm lower food growing boxes.


Alex DeCicco of the AOK Team rests a bit after helping move the box to the kitchen site at Alemany Farm. Photo by David Solnit


Here’s the outside of the inner steel door with breakers. David says it is fun to know what is in those boxes that litter our cities.
Photo by David Solnit

There Alex, David, and I saw inside the box for the first time, which contains a second steel door with switches and breaker and the interior which does have quite a bit of hardware still, but plenty of space for storing kitchen equipment.

Update: By Sunday the AOK Team had removed the inner door and much of the remaining internal hardware. Turns out they can use the door hinge for their cabinets!


Alex and LisaRuth show the inside of the box at the Alemany Farm AOK site. Photo by David Solnit

So, for all the concerned box fans, bloggers, and blog commenters who were afraid that it would get scrapped, there is a happy ending to this crazy saga! We are planning to make a plaque to post near the box with a photo of it in its original context and a short explanation of how it came to be at Alemany Farm. Stay tuned!


Alex shows off the countertop construction at the Alemany Farm AOK. Photo by David Solnit

Many thanks to Mona Caron; David Solnit; Hugh D’Andrade; Victor Chen and Hubert Wang at SFMTA; Hugh Vanho and the rest of the AOK team; Max Chen; and John Stokes, Erik Rotman, Brett Stephens and the rest of the Friends of Alemany Farm, for their help in coordinating the final move!


Later that afternoon, Mona was seen standing near the nondescript replacement box on Duboce at Church.
Photo by David Solnit

* The case of the missing box was first covered by Mission Mission, then by SFBG, Uptown Almanac, Haighteration, and on various Facebook threads.

PS The mosaic sidewalk is personally a favorite detail of this box’s artwork for me, since it connects to a mosaic project I was coordinating near the Yuba River in August 2012. Mona wasn’t able to make it up to the mountains to help us that weekend (because she was painting the box), so she incorporated a mosaic in the design of the future Duboce Street on the box.

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