Cover Lede Tower Records founder, Russ Solomon, photographs a mural that was painted in 1973 on what was once a small outlet store that he owned on K Street. The building is now vacant and is in danger of being torn down as part of the Ks Street Mall revitalization. He wishes there was a way to preserve the mural but knows the best he can do is to photograph it. March 29, 2011. Autumn Cruz acruz@sacbee.com
Cover Lede Tower Records founder, Russ Solomon, photographs a mural that was painted in 1973 on what was once a small outlet store that he owned on K Street. The building is now vacant and is in danger of being torn down as part of the Ks Street Mall revitalization. He wishes there was a way to preserve the mural but knows the best he can do is to photograph it. March 29, 2011. Autumn Cruz acruz@sacbee.com

Arts & Theater

Tower’s Russ Solomon sees old storefront mural as a link to Sacramento’s psychedelic past

By Dixie Reid

April 11, 2011 12:00 AM

In 1973, a local graphic artist named Frank Carson made Tower Records founder Russ Solomon an offer he couldn't very well refuse.

If Solomon paid for the materials and rented scaffolding, Carson would paint a mural above the entrance of Tower's little store at 726 K St. in downtown Sacramento.

"I said, 'Sure, go ahead.' Maybe I gave him 500 bucks, I forget now, " Solomon said the other day. "And so he's up there on the scaffolding, lying on his back, doing the Michelangelo thing, painting on the ceiling and down the side walls.

"It took him a couple of months to finish the darned thing. I thought it was perfect. I wish there was some way to save it, because it isn't a bad piece of art."

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Thirty-eight years later, Carson's mural -- though faded in places and peeling in others -- is a bright spot along an otherwise blighted stretch of K Street. It is a period piece, a product of the psychedelic, flower child, counterculture era that was still flourishing six years after San Francisco's infamous Summer of Love in 1967.

On a mostly black background, Carson painted with mind-blowing shades of red, bright pink, blue, yellow and green. Fantastical ferns and flowers flourish amongst an array of seashells, scorpions, bugs, butterflies, stars, clouds and windblown cypress trees. Opposing each other on the side walls are two large female profiles with sailing ships tangled in their blue Medusa-like locks.

"I used to go down and watch him paint from time to time, " said Bob Rakela, who hired Carson to work at his Sacramento design firm in the early 1970s. They became friends. "It took him all summer to paint that thing. It became a passion. Frank was meticulous about his work. I really love that piece of art and wish there was some way to save it."

As it happens, an environmental impact report currently before the city of Sacramento's Historic Preservation Commission proposes to rehab 11 parcels in the 700 block of K Street. One parcel is the old Tower Records store, which once housed Burt's Shoes and, before that, Zuker's Dress Shop.

"The proposed project would restore the mural, which contributes to the historic importance of the building. The K street facade would be rehabilitated, " reads the report.

"We're looking at that storefront and mural as being pretty significant, " said Roberta Deering, senior planner in the historic preservation division. "It's one of the very few examples of the psychedelic era in Sacramento, and it's pretty wonderful. It's great that it will be preserved."

Solomon, 85, hadn't seen the Carson mural in at least a decade before making a pilgrimage last week to visit it with his wife, Patti.

"It's pretty beat up, " said Solomon, who brought his camera to document the piece.

"Frank Carson found us in the early 1970s and suggested that he could do calendars for Tower. The thing that was popular in those days were the rock concert posters for the Fillmore West and Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco. He was one of those kinds of illustrators. His calendars were beautiful.

"And then he said, 'I'll paint the mural if you buy the paint.' I said, 'Do what you want.' I didn't really care. I was happy with it, " Solomon said.

Solomon was so busy running his burgeoning Tower empire, which grew to 90 record stores in the United States and dozens more throughout the world that he rarely made it down to his K Street location.

Interestingly, 726 K St. is next door to, or perhaps two doors down from (Solomon doesn't remember exactly) the very spot where his father, Clayton, opened a Sontag Drug Store in 1937. The elder Solomon soon left Sontag to open his Tower Cut-Rate Drug Store next to the Tower Theatre at 16th and Broadway.

Russ Solomon started out in the record business in the 1940s by selling used jukebox 45s out of his dad's drugstore. After becoming a rock 'n' roll legend, Tower Records went out of business in 2006, two years after its parent company filed for bankruptcy protection.

By that time, Carson was long gone from Sacramento. The last most folks heard, he was in New York. Dennis Newhall, founder of the temporarily closed Sacramento Rock and Radio Museum, learned about a month ago that Carson is somewhere in Pennsylvania.

"I found someone who knows him, and I said, 'Let him know I'd like to talk to him.' I haven't heard anything, " Newhall said. "Frank is maybe someone who doesn't want to be gotten in touch with."

Newhall, who never met Carson, owns dozens of Carson's Tower Records promotional pieces left over from the original print runs. He has a few for sale, priced at $10 to $30, at Dimple Records, 2500 16th St., the site of a onetime Tower Records store.

Carson, as near as anyone can remember, grew up in Sacramento and graduated in 1965 from Encina High School, the year before Solomon's son, Michael, finished up at Encina.

The Bee published an obituary for Carson's stepfather in 1989. Carson was listed as a resident of New York.

"When he disappeared, " Solomon said, "we'd had a falling out. We were always friends but had a business falling out.

"I wish I could find him. That's one of the sad things. I've lost him. I would like to find him."