And the Beat goes on

Famed arts movement gets a permanent home

It seems impossiblethat San Francisco, the birthplace of the Beat Generation and the embodiment of so many aspects of the Beat philosophy, even to this day, has gone without any kind of permanent space dedicated solely to the preservation of this cultural movement.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti still calls San Francisco home, among a slew of others.

Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and Neal Cassady are names as tied to San Francisco as Saint Francis.

City Lights Bookstore is a city landmark.

Yet, it is only this week that The City will officially celebrate the grand opening of its first-ever Beat Museum, located at 540 Broadway, on Wednesday.

The gala event features readings and recollections by Beat icons Al Hinkle (better known as Ed Dunkel in Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road”), Michael McClure, Magda Cregg, Hugh Romney (or Wavy Gravy), John Allen Cassady (son of Neal and Carolyn Cassady) and the poet laureate of San Francisco, Jack Hirschman.

Founded by Jerry Cimino, the museum has existed in various incarnations before its present, more permanent one, in North Beach.

Three years ago, Cimino opened the museum in Monterey, where the Beat preservationist lived.

Shortly thereafter, in the fall of 2004 and 2005, the fledgling museum evolved into the Beat Museum on Wheels, and hit the road. Cimino and John Allen Cassady drove a small trailer hitched to an RV, bringing the contents of the museum to colleges and high schools across the country.

“I knew I eventually needed to come to San Francisco,” Cimino said.

And so he did, first to a small space on Grant Street, around the corner from Café Trieste, then to a temporary location in The Cannery.

When Black Oak Books closed earlier this year, its owners offered the lease to Cimino, and now the 5,000-square-foot spot at the intersection of Broadway and Columbus Avenue will be the new hometo the museum.

Its collection, honed primarily from the donations of individuals, include personal relics, such as the well-worn black-and-white striped referee style jersey that Neal Cassady wore throughout most of that infamous cross-country bus trip with Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters to the world’s fair in New York City.

The jersey, which was presented to Cassady’s son several years ago by Kesey, Mountain Girl and several other members of the Prankster gang, now hangs behind glass in a corner of the museum devoted to Cassady and Kerouac.

Old typewriters and other reminders of the era, such as first-edition prints of “On the Road,” are also showcased.

One item the museum would desperately like to acquire is a 1949 Hudson, the same prized vehicle Cassady and Kerouac drove in “On the Road,” and anyone in possession of such a car is encouraged (if not begged) to donate or loan the item to the museum for placement in its front lobby.

Regardless of the historic and societal impact the Beats have had, Cimino and John Allen Cassady believe the true mission of the museum is to illustrate the endless love the Beats had for art, in all its forms, and how that love and passion continues to influence the artists and young people of today.

“These guys weren’t out to start a movement or a counter-culture. They were basically just free thinkers in an oppressive post-World War America,” said John Allen Cassady. “They just loved art of all kinds.”

The Beat Museum

When: Opens Wednesday

Where: 540 Broadway (at Columbus), San Francisco

Info: Visit http://www.kerouac.com or call (800) KEROUAC.

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