Observations — From the Personal to the Historical

Informing Storylab’s approach to surveying the vicinity of Southern Exposure, is an underlying respect for the stories, the keen observations of previous inhabitants of this neighborhood. In this way, each declaration contributes to “Whereas” and “Therefore” in a way that illustrates a spectrum, a wide array of possibilities situated historically. Following are some particularly meaningful exerts that profoundly shape what the Mission neighborhood has been, is presently, and may continue to be.

The first observations are of Spanish explorers. In 1776 the Catholic conversion of the indigenous populations begins. It is not long before they are mostly decimated due to illness.

1776 “Spanish missionaries arrived in San Francisco (then known as Yerba Buena) in 1776. A Catholic priest named Father Palou founded Mission San Francisco de Asis, which still stands in the Mission District as Mission Dolores on 16th and Dolores streets. It is the oldest structure in San Francisco.” (10)

1821 “California and Mexico were part of Spanish territory until 1821, when Mexican independence marked the end of European rule in California. The missions’ influence shrank while ranching and trade increased.” (10)

1848 “The Mexican-American war (1846-1848) ended with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. In that treaty, the United States agreed to pay Mexico $18,250,000; Mexico formally ceded California (and other northern territories) to the United States.” (10)

The gold rush begins and a huge influx of people to the present day Mission District begins.

1849 “During the California Gold Rush, at least 25,000 Mexicans, as well thousands of Chileans, Peruvians, and other Latin Americans arrived in California. Many of these Latinos were experienced miners and had great success mining gold in California.” (10)

1851 “Despite its proximity to San Francisco, the Mission district was often a several-hour ride or walk in 1850, because the trail between the church and Portsmouth Square went through a swamp, several creeks, and numerous sand hills. But the opening of the Mission Plank Road in 1851 brought the Mission Dolores and all its unsavory entertainments within an easy ride of town. For twenty-five cents, a horseman could use the forty-foot-wide toll road, which ran along present day Mission Street from Third to 16th Streets. The toll for a wagon and two horses was seventy-five cents and a four-horse team, one dollar.” (12)

“Whereas most of San Francisco peninsula was frequently foggy, the sheltered Mission area was warm and sunny, often when the nearby town at Yerba Buena was damp and fogged in. Fresh water streams ran through the fertile farmlands on their way to join Mission Creek, which emptied into San Francisco Bay south of Rincon Point. The nearby fields and several marshy areas abounded in rabbits and game birds.” (17)

1852 “In 1852 the Pioneer Race Track opened on the site bounded by Mission, Bryant, 24th, and Army Streets. A beer garden called the Willows was established near the end of the Mission Plank Road in the late 1850s. ” (12)

A shift in the populations of the community occurs after the earthquake of 1906. The neighborhood becomes resoundingly “working class.”

1906 This was amplified during the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, when hundreds of homes were burned by the ensuing fires north of the Mission. These displaced people moved deeper into the Mission and strengthened the blue-collar roots that is a notable feature of the district to this day. (9)

“Residents of burned-out areas, especially South of Market, moved to the Mission and pushed out the middle class families that had occupied the neighborhood, making it into a low-income working class neighborhood and the most heavily Irish area of San Francisco…. Many Italian immigrants also moved into the Mission after 1906.” (12)

1914 Central Americans who had been hired to work on the Panama Canal in 1914 came back with their San Francisco based companies and settled the neighborhood, adding to the already rich cultural mix of Spanish, Mexican and European immigrants. The area continued to gain wide varieties of immigrant populations until about the 1950′s, when the increasing Chicano/Latino population dominated the neighborhood. (9)

Construction of BART negatively impacts the thriving Latino community of the Mission.

1962“In 1962 a Mission Corridor Study was started by the Redevelopment Agency and the Department of City Planning to study the maximum effect of the BART stations on the Mission District. Several groups in the Mission fought back and stopped the study. These groups were afraid that the study results would be used to change the community. The Mission Corridor Study was never finished. But the BART stations were not stopped. The victory was an illusion.” (16)

Early 1970’s Bay Area Rapid Transit tore up Mission Street for three years, supposedly killing the vibrant Latino neighborhood and turning it in to a wasteland (3).

1974“The new tropical mission begins with the image of a palm tree as it sways over Alejandro Murguía’s apartment. “Gato” Murguía, publishes “Palms outside my window” in Time to Greeze, the landmark anthology edited by the Mission poets of the Pocho-Che Collective in 1974.” (13)

Palms sway outside my windows, the sky is like that over the tropics on a hot day. Walking into my room, a parrot greets me from a corner and a mayna & guacamayo are outside, where an iguana hides in the grass.

1990’s “A precarious balance between colorful Latino roots and gritty bohemian subculture…” (4)

Dot-com era begins and so does gentrification transform the Mission.

1996 “The dot-com economy, which hit its stride here in 1996, has dictated real estate costs, which have reached unaffordable levels downtown for all but the richest companies. (5)

1999 The Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition (MAC), a coalition of community organizations to stop the displacement of working class people is founded (15)

“New people, people who have money, are moving in altering life for everyone. Sagging Victorian houses that landlords had chopped into two or three rental units are sold for a half-million dollars, and warehouses are becoming loft condominiums in the $300,000 to $400,000 range. The neighborhood, in short, is gentrifying.” (6)

“In the last three years, rents here have jumped from $600 a month for a two-bedroom apartment to $1,800; a house that cost $150,000 is now $450,000. More tenants have been evicted in the last three years than at any other time by landlords using a city ordinance that allows eviction if the owner or a relative plans to move in for at least a year. Last year, 1,400 apartments in the city were emptied for this reason, most of them in the Mission District.” (6)

“Now, there is a fear that as San Francisco becomes more affluent, the ingredients that made the Mission District unique will be lost.” (6)

2000 “The neighborhood, which is 62 percent Latino, is poorer than most in San Francisco: 83 percent of the residents are tenants, compared with 65 to 70 percent in San Francisco as a whole, and the per capita income is $20,112, versus $32,441 citywide. In recent years, rents here have gone from about $500 for a 250-square-foot studio apartment to $1,200 for that same studio, in a plain building with no amenities.” (5)

“Several groups have been formed to fight gentrification, including the Artists Eviction Defense Coalition and the Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition, an umbrella group of at least a dozen neighborhood organizations. The antigentrification groups have organized sit-ins at dot-com buildings and protest rallies, and they plan more in the coming weeks.” (5)

“By day, the Mission District still looks like the workhorse immigrant neighborhood it has been for a hundred years” (5)

“But by night, it becomes clear why the Mission is at the center of one of the most tense battles over the future of San Francisco in decades. This is when the newcomers — mostly young, white and affluent — come home from the jobs that afford them $700,000 loft condominiums in former warehouses, and when the limousines pull up to the bistros that have taken over the butcher shops and bakeries on Valencia Street. This is when the warnings — ”Artists Evicted!” stenciled in red paint on the sidewalks, posters that say ”Gentrify Me” under the head of Medusa, graffiti that says ”Dot Com” with a line across it on buildings in progress — begin to make sense.” (5)

2008 “With a population that is about half Latino, a third white and an estimated 11 percent Asian, the Mission still remains a wonderful mishmash. Where else can you find epicurean vegan cafes, feisty nonprofits and a Central American butcher shop that, for a memorable time, anyway, had women’s undergarments in the window?” (4)

Now. Technically gentrification has been transforming the neighborhood for quite some time. Where are we now, in this process? Are we in the throes? Where are we headed?

—Julie Conquest


  1. City-data.com http://www.city-data.com/neighborhood/Mission-District-San-Francisco-CA.html Good source for comparative graphs, especially ones that contrast the Mission with the rest of San Francisco.
    “Gentrification in San Francisco’s Mission District” by Simon Velasquez Alejandrino
  2. New York Times http://travel.nytimes.com/2005/11/20/travel/20next.html?_r=1 “San Francisco’s Mission District: Eclectic, Eccentric, Electric” By Gregory Dicum November 20, 2005
  3. New York Times http://travel.nytimes.com/2008/09/14/travel/14hours.html “36 Hours in San Francisco” By Chris Colin, September 14, 2008
  4. New York Times http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9D05EED81439F936A35752C1A9669C8B63 |“Mission District Fights Case of Dot-Com Fever” By Evelyn Nieves, November 5, 2000
  5. New York Times http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9D03E2DA1030F932A15752C0A96F958260
    “In Old Mission District, Changing Grit to Gold” By Evelyn Nieves January 21, 1999
  6. San Francisco Chronicle http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/1995/11/26/PK1862.DTL By Sam Whiting November 26, 1995
  7. KQED http://www.kqed.org/w/hood/mission/thestory.html
  8. “Quality of Life (the movie)” http://qualityoflife-themovie.com/website/mission.html
  9. Only in San Francisco http://www.onlyinsanfrancisco.com/sfnews/?p=506
  10. “Shaping San Francisco” http://shapingsf.org/ Chris Carlsson Found SF: http://foundsf.org/index.php?title=Category:Mission
  11. The Mission Becomes a Resort, 1850’s http://foundsf.org/index.php?title=The_Mission_Becomes_a_Resort,_1850s By Charles Lockwood
  12. Tropicalized Mission Palms http://foundsf.org/index.php?title=Tropicalized_Mission_Palms By Juan Felipe Herrera
  13. “The Birth of Carnaval on the Streets of San Francisco” http://foundsf.org/index.php?title=The_Birth_of_Carnaval_on_the_Streets_of_San_Francisco By Willy Lizarraga
  14. Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition http://foundsf.org/index.php?title=Mission_Anti- Displacement_Coalition
  15. BART Changes the Mission from BASTA YA! http://foundsf.org
  16. Gold Rush 49ers Discover the Mission http://foundsf.org/index.php?title=Gold_Rush_49ers_Discover_the_Mission By Charles Lockwood
  17. “A Time of Little Choice” By Randall Milliken

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