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- From: Charles Smith <CharSSmith@AOL.COM>
- Date: Fri, 22 Oct 1999 12:50:51 EDT
- Message-Id: <199910221654.JAA19434@palimpsest.Stanford.EDU>
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More lousy news.=20
Eviction stalks letterpress printers creating new Bible
Thursday, October 21, 1999
=A91999 San Francisco Chronicle
In the beginning was the Word. In the end was the lease termination notice.
And while the end is not quite yet, the folks at Arion Press, one of the
finest printing houses in the nation, know well that their days upon Earth
may be a shadow.
Such biblical quotations are fitting in this case because Andrew Hoyem, the
publisher of Arion books, is in the process of creating one of the world's
But just as the book is taking shape, so is a familiar San Francisco
controversy: Hoyem and his specialized team of letterpress printers are
being evicted from their longtime home on Bryant Street in the South of
Market area, a place where meticulous book designers have been painting
words for nearly a century.
Long before rising land prices, astronomical rents and multimedia, there was
an art form called fine printing that found a home in San Francisco. The
city became a showplace for some of the great American bookmakers of the
modern age. People like John Henry Nash, Lawton Kennedy, and Edward and
Robert Grabhorn all gravitated to the cultured city by the bay. Hoyem, who
was Robert Grabhorn's last partner before his death, is their direct
The pages of the city's past are zipping by with such speed these days that
it is hard to remember that beautiful books are still in demand, even if
they are not available at a click from a discount merchant somewhere in the
ether of the Internet. And only in development- crazed San Francisco, it
seems, could the future of the Good Book end up being in such a bad place.
``It's a terrible situation for us,'' Hoyem told me the other day. ``There
is a serious question about whether we can continue to function at all. And
here we are in the midst of printing our biggest project ever.''
That would be the new Bible, the greatest single challenge in bookmaking.
Hoyem, whose publishing house is renowned as a spawning ground for
beautiful, handcrafted books, started the project more than a year ago. The
Bible, all 400 copies, is being printed and bound mostly by hand. A work of
printing art, and carrying a art-heavy price tag: $7,250 for an unbound
edition, $8,500 for a leather-bound edition. That's without the
hand-illuminated letters, which would raise the price another $2,500.
But that printing run has been disrupted by news of ``progress.'' The owners
of the brick building at 460 Bryant St., the real estate arm of Fisher
Friedman Associates, an architectural firm, are evicting all the tenants,
ostensibly to do seismic upgrades.
Hoyem believes that the engineering work could take place with his printing
presses in place, but the landlord has so far refused to extend the lease.
And Hoyem says he has been told that the architects want to develop the
building to its ``full economic capacity.''
All the tenants, including some sewing firms and a few other small
businesses, have been told to be out by June 30, 2000. Nothing in the Bible
about that, although you might find it on a fiscal year calendar.
In Arion's case, however, moving is about as easy as printing ``War and
Peace'' one letter at a time. Within his shop sit priceless presses, rare
casting machines, keyboards and other equipment. His firm now owns the famed
type foundry of Mackenzie & Harris, which began using its hot metal magic on
equipment purchased for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. In
1925, Mackenzie & Harris moved to a new building on Folsom Street and
Hawthorne Lane, where their typography machines churned until they were
relocated to the Bryant Street building in 1974.
So finding a new home for Arion involves moving more than 30 tons of
cast-iron inventory and carefully reinstalling a complex configuration of
gas lines, electrical lines and compressed air machines. Hoyem said the
minimum estimate of any move so far has been $400,000 -- money, he says,
that he does not have. At the very least, he believes, he would have to
close the type foundry if he's forced to move. And the result of that would
be even more costly.
``We simply could not make the kinds of books we make today,'' he says.
``It's very painful to contemplate.''
And even more so, if, like Hoyem, one bleeds ink.
Hoyem, by way of the Midwest and the Navy, started out at a small press shop
in San Francisco in 1961, printing books no one else would publish,
including some of the ``Beats,'' Philip Whalen and William Burroughs. Money
was harder to come by than market share. He printed everything -- birth
announcements, wedding announcements, even, desperate thing, office
He ended up meeting the brothers Grabhorn, legends in their field, who
responded to his request for printing assistance as if he were being
shepherded into a secret society. By 1966, Hoyem and Robert Grabhorn formed
a partnership, which lasted until 1973 when Hoyem went on his own.
He formed Arion Press, after the Greek poet who was saved from drowning by a
dolphin. And then Arion built its own mythical status in the fine art book
field, starting with an edition of ``Moby Dick'' that included wood
engravings of Herman Melville, whaling tools and even sea creatures. It was
a tome that collectors ranked as one of the two or three greatest American
fine press books. Ever.
That was many years and printings ago. Hoyem decided that his great project
would be a classic rendition of the Bible, an undertaking that he said would
probably be the last folio Bible printed from hot metal type, a book to rank
up there with Johannes Gutenberg's 1455 landmark version.
A timeless treasure, now running short on time.
Hoyem says Arion has just completed printing the book of Isaiah, almost
exactly halfway through the 1,350-page Bible. Since the landlord so far has
declined to grant a lease extension, Hoyem says he'll be lucky to finish the
printing by June, and almost certainly will not be able to complete the
Profit driven by development was not a key topic for the prophets, either in
the end or the beginning. Hoyem is just trying to find a way to survive.
That's not an easy thing for a practitioner of a lost art in a rapidly
``That which now is in the days to come shall all be forgotten,'' the Bible
says. Words to live by, which is probably why they wrote them down.
=A91999 San Francisco Chronicle Page A19
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