This whimsical take on the city of San Francisco in the late 1980s was compiled and drawn by illustrator and writer Robert Zell-Breier, and subsequently published as a promotional poster map in 1989. Measuring 24 by 36 inches, it presents San Francisco as the “Oz of the Bay,” referring to the beloved and deeply symbolic land in the classic movie of the same name.
Casting San Francisco as an American version of Oz – a place full of mystery and potential danger, where dreams really do come true – is underlined by the vignettes in each corner of the map, which depicts four of the movie’s heroes: the Tin Man, the Lion, the Scarecrow, and the Fairy Godmother who guides Dorothy towards the wizard shortly after her arrival.
The map aims to promote San Francisco as a hip and happening city, focusing on its iconic locations and districts. Zell-Breier spotlights particular elements and neighborhoods intentionally. For example, he distorts the geographical spacing to emphasize the Castro. We see San Francisco’s famously tolerant milieu, and the undisguised highlighting of some businesses and not others suggests a clear commercial element in the conceptualization of this poster: as if it were a whimsical and pictorial version of the Yellow Pages.
The map displays a general leaning towards the more progressive businesses catering to the LGBT+ communities of San Francisco. We see ample references to the city’s nightlife that underscore how bars, clubs, and restaurants welcomed homosexual customers. In the 1980s, this progressive attitude was considered one of the city’s most alluring qualities. Among the plethora of restaurants and watering holes included on the map, we find not only a number of now-famous gay bars but also feminist hang-outs like Maud’s, which claims to be the oldest bar in the world specifically for women.
While there can be little doubt that Zell-Breier’s wonderful composition portrays a city characterized by a relaxed atmosphere and a tolerant view of non-traditional lifestyles, it is also a poster meant to promote the city’s small businesses. Alongside iconic locations, we find companies specializing in various matters such as custom framing, boxing and packaging, or the sale of Harley Davidson motorcycles. The result is an enticing and witty urban view that today has become a cartographic time capsule, vivaciously capturing San Francisco in the late 1980s.