S.F. Wax Museum Closes, Goes Corporate

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Denis A./Yelp
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Can a gentrification story be squeezed out of ersatz celebrities made out of wax? Possibly, as San Francisco's lone locally owned wax museum is going corporate.

Today is the Wax Museum's last day of its 50-year-run at Fisherman's Wharf. The Fong family, which has run the museum since before the Wharf was a tourist trap, according to write-ups in the Chronicle and the Business Journal, is getting out of the wax figure game.

But fret not -- this is a success story that contains decades of wax to come.

See Also: Lance Armstrong Booted From Wax Museum

The Fongs own the building, and have landed a multi-year lease with Madame Tussands who plan to build a "San Francisco Dungeon." The wax Willie Brown should be pleased.

Locals know and love the Wax Museum more so than transplants, for whom the Wharf is a far-removed anomaly visited only when relatives come to town (and even then for solely sea lions, a bread bowl, and a scare from the Bushman).

It may be hard to see why a erratically lit, erratically artistic wax museum -- which in the words of one unaccommodating Yelper "looked like they were made from a high school after school arts program with a limited budget and a donation of melted Crayola surplus" -- would elicit pangs of nostalgia, even in this nostalgia-mad time-capsule of a town.

But San Francisco used to be kind of janky (or at least jankier than now, or janky without artisanal cocktails and app-builders). It was working class, a little schmaltzy and kitschy in the tourist areas, weird and not so flashy. A somewhat low-rent tourist trap of a museum -- and admissions up until the end today are still just $5 -- is a one of the last living vestiges of that era. This used to be a weird city, and the wax museum is seriously weird.

In any event, it appears to be a good deal for the Fong family, who is selling the wax figurines currently on display to a mystery buyer, and who will have a tenant for the prime real estate on which they're still paying 1963-era taxes for the foreseeable future.

Madame Tussand's opens up in 2014.


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