Colorful murals painted on the walls in San Francisco’s Mission district. (Al Auger)
San Francisco is considered the most visited city in the United State and known the world over. Stroll through Chinatown, climb to Coit Tower for a 360 degree vista and the newly restored murals and, speaking of murals, the greatest collection of murals are just a few minutes away in the celebrated Mission District, writes our travel editor Al Auger.
San Francisco is considered the most visited city in the United State and known the world over. During the high tourist season the streets are jammed with double-deck buses, traditional buses, walking tours, all surrounded by the decimal-loaded sounds of tour leaders and docents. On the sidewalks parade the unprepared tourist, native wits name “Click-Clicks” because of the ubiquitous camera, with bright Hawaiian shirts, plaid shorts and well-formed goose bumps. San Francisco’s warm season, begins much later called “Indian Summer.”
Seasoned travelers love The City as a walker’s paradise; cozy gardens in vibrant bloom reached by over a hundred staircases hidden away; North Beach, proudly solid in its his colorful historical foundation as a San Francisco rogue and home to Italian roots and dining. Stroll through Chinatown, climb to Coit Tower for a 360 degree vista and the newly restored murals and, speaking of murals, the greatest collection of murals are just a few minutes away in the celebrated Mission District.
You are cordially invited to join Lindsay and me as we ramble this ever-changing al fresco art extravaganza. We begin at 24th St. and Potrero Ave. to strengthen our temple for the stroll. Our target is the renowned Roosevelt’s Tamale Parlor, nearing legendary status for its bountiful cocina6. The menu boast probably the largest variety of dishes to be found in San Francisco’s legendary Mission District at affordable prices. Roosevelt’s also offers a wide choice of alternate veggie dishes with an ethnic zing. My choice is the traditional Tamal Pollo (chicken tamale) ala carte, as the portion is so large the additional rice and beans are unnecessary.
As we attempt to walk off the meal down 24th street, we are surrounded by sounds of pulsating salsa from the music stores. You can’t leave this enchanting cuarto without one CD musical memory. While the Mission is largely regarded as a Mexican community, they are joined by a wide-ranging population of peoples from the far-flung countries of Central America. Immigrants in the beginning, now a growing population committed to a community never losing their grand heritage, but always connected and growing with today’s world. The canvas, if you will, is so broad here in the Mission and covers the drama of politics, labor and just life from their deeply held rich history and their new world here.
Today, the murals go beyond past struggles to illustrate the modern world goodness and darker depths of the ever-changing new millennium. Happy children laughing, playing together; children lost forever to the sinister world of gangs and friends, fathers and mothers lost to AIDS, heroes in the battle of HIV, Martyrs and simple people making a difference and, beyond all this drama are portrayals of the family and the strength they give to their community.
So immense we took little notice of where we strolled, simply soaking up the drama of each mural. There is the huge Balmy mural depicting the time Ronald Reagan supplied the conservative army of El Salvador with arms to quash the socialist rebels. Depictions of women are powerfully portrayed as nurturers, soldiers and the strength behind the men. My favorite is a large fence covering some 24-feet in length and 10-feet high showing a woman seemingly holding the world in her hand, flanked by a man just out of his chains. In the middle is a young man painting a family group so real he seemed actually part of this enormous message.
The pleasure of meandering this al fresco history of people struggling for freedom and independence is the largeness of area. We let the rainbow of dramatic art form lead us from street to street, alley to alley and then returning a few weeks later to find new works constantly being added to this vast array. There is an unspoken sharing of their lives, loves and despair with Lindsay and I. These visual stories bond not just people within each series of neighborhood murals, but the whole community and The City.
For a more layered introduction to the culture and art of the Latino visit the Mission Culture Center for Latino Arts and the Mural Arts & Visitors Center (see sidebar for information). For a more entertaining view of this intriguing neighborhood and people, check out the video “La Mission” starring Benjamin Bratt and Mi Familia/My Father with Jimmy Stitt and Edward Olmo.
WHEN YOU GO
Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts
2868 Mission Street
Mural Arts & Visitor Center
2981 24th Street
Roosevelt Tamale Parlor
2817 24th Street
Between York & Bryant St.