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    Restoration of the Murals at the Grubstake Diner

    “A Showboat on the Mississippi” panel from the
    Grubstake Diner mural

    By John Jason Phillips–

    In 1976 when The Grubstake (at 1525 Pine Street) doubled its space, I was contracted to paint murals on the new walls and the outside of the building. After consultation with the owners and the manager, and because the original restaurant was depicted as a train car, it was decided that I would paint a series of panels depicting a journey from New England to San Francisco at the time of the California Gold Rush.
    On the interior I painted five panels of a larger mural entitled Coast to Coast. The individual panels are entitled:

    1. “All Aboard in New England,”
    2. “A Showboat on the Mississippi,”
    3. “Colorado Pastoral,”
    4. “Moonlight on the Desert of Utah,”
    5. and “San Francisco Harbor.”

    On the exterior of the building, I painted a large scene of the train arriving and the passengers leaving at their arrival in San Francisco. Outside of the main building through the small windows, I painted scenes of people on the platform waving to the passengers.

    “San Francisco Harbor” panel at the Grubstake Diner

    Unfortunately, due to time and construction, the exterior murals were destroyed.
    As an artist, I am still amazed and pleased that my work has been preserved and appreciated for so many years. However, I noticed on my last trip from Santa Fe that the murals had faded, and some were in bad need of repair. After conversations with Jimmy Consos (the current owner of The Grubstake), a deal was reached, and I came to San Francisco for a week’s work of restoring the panels.
    The work proved to be a bit more difficult than I had anticipated—in some ways because I am no longer a “mere pup” and climbing around the tables and banquettes did cause more than one backache. Nothing would have prevented me, however. How often, if ever, does an artist get the opportunity to update his legacy?!

    “Colorado Pastoral” panel at the Grubstake Diner

    Over the week, I sanded, scraped, and patched the work. I did not want to change the content of the pieces in any way, so it was apparent that “repainting” was not the course of action. With some opaque foundations and a series of transparent acrylic glazes, I was able to restore the pieces. I was aided by the ability to use acrylic paint markers to increase some of the detail—these lovey inventions were not available at the time of execution. In many ways, I feel that the murals are not only restored but also are actually better than the originals.

    “All Aboard in New England” panel at the Grubstake Diner

    I will forever be grateful to The Grubstake ( for this wonderful opportunity! John Jason Phillips is a Santa Fe-based artist exploring the beauty of the people and land of the West, his birthplace.

    Artist John Jason Phillips

    Published on May 23, 2024