From pizza to art: The generous act behind a San Francisco North Beach billboard

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Monday, January 22, 2024
From pizza to art: The generous act behind SF billboard
The owner of San Francisco North Beach neighborhood's famed Tony's Pizza Napoletana is helping local artists in a big way.The owner of San Francisco's famed Tony's Pizza Napoletana is helping local artists in hopes of encouraging people to enjoy and appreciate the city.

SAN FRANCISCO -- A local restauranteur, known for his award winning pizza, is now helping local artists in a big way. He's doing it with the hope of encouraging people to enjoy and appreciate San Francisco.

In the heart of North Beach, the place where people come for some of the world's best pizza - if you happen to look up you'll see the work of a talented local artist.

Markelle Palombo maps out every stop for the landscapes used in her art.

"I've covered all national parks in Oregon, California, Nevada and Utah. I visited all of them. My favorite is Joshua Tree," Palombo explains while showing dozens of her photographs.

Her project is called 'Extraordinary Decisions.' It's about a personal journey of moving from Louisiana to California, specifically to North Beach.

That's the neighborhood where she happened to meet the owner of Tony's Pizza Napoletana and how her self portrait photograph ended up for all to see.

"She handed me a card, this one actually, and said I'm a photographer, anything I can do I just want to be on this billboard that would be awesome. I said I like this right here," explains Tony Gemignani, owner of Tony's Pizza Napoletana.

Tony Gemignani loved the photo so much he came up with an idea.

"Is she going west, is she going east, how about we put that on the billboard and it won't cost you anything and we make it about the art or the photograph," he told Palombo.

Tony offered to put Palombo's photo up on the billboard free of charge. But he went a step further. He decided to feature six different artists for the next six months.

"Starting in January, it's a fresh new year - San Francisco is getting a bad rap and it's not all bad. Let's give some artists some love and make it about San Francisco or North Beach. It's a love letter, a testament, it's not about a logo or something branded," he explains.

Tony says he wants visitors and locals to be drawn to the art and in turn, the neighborhood that he's loved since he was a teen and the place where he even got married.

"A lot of business guys came to me and said, 'you're going to give away the billboard, are you nuts?' The more people that come to North Beach or San Francisco, the better for everybody." Gemignani says.

For Palombo, that kind of positive thinking and generosity turned into a dream come true.

"I was so excited. I was pumped. Man, to be on a billboard! And a couple years later it happened," she says.

Her work now blown up to 12 by 25 feet, with a special message.

"On the road to North Beach, come to North beach and experience it. Whatever journey you're on. Stop by here in the neighborhood because we want to support, artists especially," she says.

Over the next six months, the artwork will be featured at another location as well.

That's at Vallejo and Columbus streets in North Beach, next to Cafe Trieste.