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Free Community Meeting 9/19 on Para Las Rosas Restoration

Sep15th

Juana Alicia with her sketchbook in front of Para Las Rosas in July 5, 2021 (David Allen)

Since 1985, the westward facing exterior wall of 855 Treat Avenue, home of the San Francisco Mime Troupe, has been adorned with Para las Rosas / For the Roses, a vibrant work by gifted artist Juana Alicia.

Sadly, the mural is now showing its age after 35 years. Heritage is working with the Mime Troupe to support Juana Alicia in a major restoration of Para Las Rosas, which is aiming to kick-off in the summer of 2021.

Para Las Rosas in 1985. Photo by Miguel Bry.

The mural on July 5, 2021. Photo by David Allen.

This month, Juana Alicia is giving us all a glimpse of the future mural by restoring the section depicting comedian Lenny Bruce as a clown character. This comedian and social critic was only one of the many great artists who recorded at 855 when it was the original location of the Fantasy Records studio from 1959 to 1964.

Section of Para Las Rosas depicting Lenny Bruce in 1985. Photo by Miguel Bry.

But we need YOUR HELP to maintain the mural as a cornerstone of the Mission’s cultural legacy. On Sunday, September 19 from 1:00-2:00 PM, Juana Alicia will host a free community Zoom meeting to share the history behind the mural and her plans for the restoration project. We will share our fundraising campaign and establish a dialogue with community members to hear thoughts and ideas. Everyone is welcome!

Find the Zoom info to add to your calendar below (flyer in English and Spanish).

Heritage 50: Asian Art Museum Moves into the Main and the Fight for the Piazzoni murals

Sep2nd

The Land (1932), by Gottardo Piazzoni in the Piazzoni Murals Room at the de Young Museum. Photo by Stephen J. Bodio.

When the Asian Art Museum opened in its new home in the former Old Main Library building in March 2003, Heritage announced the news with a concession: “The preservation battle over the planned treatment of the historic Civic Center resource is in the past, and it is time to consider the resulting facility on its own architectural terms, as much as possible.” (Heritage News, May/June 2003)

In 1998, when it was announced that the San Francisco Public Library’s Main Library branch was slated to move to a new facility the Asian Art Museum, which was previously housed in a wing of the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park, was given the green-light to convert the building into a new state-of-the-art showcase. At the time, Heritage disagreed with the museum’s plans to alter and adapt the George Kelham-designed Beaux Arts building constructed as San Francisco’s Main Library in 1917.

[Interior of Main Library – Reading Room] 1917. San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection, San Francisco Public Library. AAD-2744.

Shriners Parade on McAllister Street. View east from City Hall towards Old Main Library. June 13, 1922. (OpenSFHistory / wnp36.02870)

Gottardo Piazzoni painting The Land mural on the second floor of the Old Main Library. May 20, 1932. San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection, San Francisco Public Library. AAF-0021

Heritage fought proposed alterations to the old Main Library building for almost two years (including in court), specifically opposing rehabilitation plans affecting significant interior features such as the loggia and the main reading rooms. Prominently lining the walls of the loggia were a series of murals by Swiss-born California artist Gottardo Piazzoni (1872-1945). Slated for removal, the murals were a focus of Heritage’s opposition to the Asian Art Museum plans.

Parade passing Public Library, Scottish Marching Band, Army armored fighting vehicle, c. 1952. (OpenSFHistory / wnp25.2534)

The Asian Art Museum in 2015. Changes to the facade include a mansard-like roof addition.

The San Francisco Superior Court rejected a stay to prevent the Asian Art Museum from proceeding with construction during the course of litigation. Given the likelihood that an appeal process could take a full year more—with work moving forward all the while—the Heritage board decided to give up the fight.

The loggia in what is now the Asian Art Museum. The window openings onto the atrium behind were where the Piazzoni murals originally resided.

For Heritage, it was a loss in more ways than one. Long-time research assistant William Beutner has argued that by fighting to keep the murals in place, Heritage alienated many in the Asian-American community who wanted to make a new home for the museum a reality.

Piazzoni mural, The Sea (1931), in the Piazzoni Murals Room at the de Young Museum. Photo by Stephen J. Bodio.

Today, the murals are situated in the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park. The Asian Art Museum funded their beautiful restoration and they are on public display in specially designed light-filled space viewed by thousands of museum visitors each year. While the Old Main fight strained community relations and felt like a disheartening preservation loss in 2003, without it, the murals may not be on display today. All involved in the issue have probably considered different approaches, more collaborative attitudes taken, and that includes Heritage. But from the vantage point of 2021, the old preservation loss now feels like a positive outcome.

Takahashi Trading Co. Building Approved for Landmark Work Program

Sep1st

North façade of 200 Rhode Island Street. Photo by ARG, 2021.

Today, San Francisco’s Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) voted to add the Takahashi Trading Co. Headquarters at 200 Rhode Island Street to the San Francisco Planning Department’s Landmark Work Program, which puts the property on track for landmark designation. Located within a flat, triangular parcel in the Showplace Square neighborhood and within the larger South of Market (SoMa) district, 200 Rhode Island is determined eligible for designation in part for its association with its long-term property owners, Henri Takahashi (1914-2002) and Tomoye Takahashi (1915-2016). Both were prominent entrepreneurs and philanthropists, through whose efforts Japanese culture, history, and art were supported and showcased to a broad audience in the Bay Area and elsewhere throughout the United States. The original 1912 heavy timber-frame and brick warehouse also constitutes an early and distinctive project in the career of architect G. Albert Lansburgh, who was highly regarded as a designer of theaters in the early twentieth century.

Approval for Planning’s Landmark Word Program is one of several ways that a landmark designation process can be initiated. Since 2012, the HPC has prioritized inclusion on the current Landmark Work Program for properties that represent underrepresented communities – with strong cultural and/or social associations, property types including landscapes, buildings of Modern design, and sites located in geographically underrepresented areas of the city. In 2020, the HPC adopted Resolution No. 1127 Centering Preservation on Racial and Social Equity, which states goals for how the Commission and the Planning Department can develop proactive strategies to address structural and institutional racism and center their work and resource allocation on racial and social equity, focused on preservation, and applies to prioritization of Landmarks.

G. Albert Lansburgh designed this light industrial brick building early in his career and is one of his few known warehouses.

200 Rhode Island Street is the most significant extant property in San Francisco associated with the legacy of Henri and Tomoye Takahashi and Martha Suzuki, and their story is deeply emblematic of the history of Japanese Americans in California and the opportunities that changes in broader social attitudes afforded them after World War II.

Born on Stanyan Street in San Francisco of Japanese parents, Tomoye Takahashi earned her bachelor’s degree in decorative arts from UC Berkeley. Henri Takahashi was born in Japan, and immigrated to Hawai‘i with his parents in 1918 and then moved to Oakland in 1930. He later enrolled at Pamona College and became a journalist. Tomoye and Henri married shortly before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor precipitated their removal to desolate internment camps (Topaz War Relocation Center), along with 120,000 others of Japanese descent. After the war, the Takahashis returned to San Francisco and opened a dry goods store called Takahashi Trading Co. at 1661 Post Street in Japantown. They exported medicines, clothing, and other staples to war-torn Japan and soon began importing traditional items, like folk pottery, lacquerware, and musical instruments.

Tomoye and Henri Takahashi, undated photograph (University of California, San Francisco Osher Center). In 1985 the Takahashis established the Henri and Tomoye Charitable Foundation, helping support the Asian Art Museum, the Japanese American Cultural Center of Northern California, documentary films on Japanese-American history, and other efforts. 

Takahashi Trading Co. pottery mark (Modern Japanese Pottery and Porcelain Marks).

After their building was demolished in 1959 as part of the redevelopment of Japantown (ironically for the construction of the Japanese Trade and Cultural Center), the Takahashis moved their burgeoning retail business to Jackson Square and soon expanded to Union Square and Ghirardelli Square. Buoyed by the continued success of their business, Henri and Tomoye purchased the light industrial property at 200 Rhode Island Street in 1965 and expanded it over the next decade to form an integrated complex of offices and warehouses. Tomoye’s sister Martha Suzuki joined the family business and played a key role in its financial success. The buildings at 200 Rhode Island Street served as their business headquarters, and later their charitable foundation beginning in the mid-1980s, and provided ample storage space for imported Japanese finely crafted goods that they sold wholesale and in retail stores throughout the San Francisco Bay Area and as far away as New York City.

Lamp designed by Tomoye Takahashi, 1954. (“Lighting: Simplicity is a Keynote,” Los Angeles Times, July 18, 1954). By the 1960s the Takahashis were creating contemporary designs with traditional Japanese materials, like the shoji screen, an entirely original design. From the single store, the business grew to several in and around San Francisco and one in New York City. Many of their creations were selected for the definitive Good Design Exhibition at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art in 1950.

The family retained ownership of the property until 2019, selling it shortly after the death of Tomoye Takahashi in 2016.

Properties associated with San Francisco’s Japanese-American community are not well represented by existing landmarks. Currently there are only two landmarks associated with Japanese-American history, the Kinmon Gakuen and the Japanese YWCA/Issei Women’s building, both of which are located in Japantown. Thus if designated, the subject property would only be the third Landmark associated with Japanese-American history and the first with this association not located in Japantown.

The American Indian Center in San Francisco

Aug24th

This is part of a series of posts in partnership with the American Indian Cultural District to promote and document American Indian cultural sites in San Francisco. 

Original caption: An American Indian boy in front of the second American Indian Center at 225-229 Valencia Street in San Francisco, 1972. Photograph by Ilka Hartmann.


San Francisco’s Mission District was home to the first and the second American Indian Center (AIC), located at 3053 16th Street and 225-229 Valencia Street respectively. The buildings that housed the AIC and the 16th Street and Valencia Street area hold great importance to the American Indian community and have provided a home for historic and politically significant events. A virtual incarnation of the center, the American Indian Cultural Center (AICC), is working towards acquiring a physical building while continuing the important work of the earlier centers: providing resources and programming for American Indians in the San Francisco Bay Area.  

Partial view of the original American Indian Center at 3053 16th Street (the address no longer exists) before the building burned in a fire on October 29, 1969. Warren’s Bar, one of the first American Indian bars in San Francisco, can be seen a few doors down. Photo by Greg Peterson for the San Francisco Chronicle.

The AIC was originally founded by The Society of St. Vincent de Paul in the early 1950s, and was turned over to the American Indian Council of the Bay Area the following decade. The AIC opened its first physical space at 3053 16th Street, between Valencia and Mission streets in 1959. Here, the center established programs to aid with job counseling, social work, and health outreach programs, as well as distributing food and clothing. The center also hosted  recreational activities such as sports, socials, and rock concerts with local bands.

The American Indian Center listed at 3053 16th Street in the 1959 San Francisco City Directory.

For many American Indian migrants moving to San Francisco during a period of American Indian urbanization intensified by official government Relocation programs the AIC provided help in locating temporary housing and assisted in their overall adjustment.1 National American Indian leader Wilma Mankiller (Cherokee) described the AIC as an important location for an urban population with no land base: The center, Mankiller said, “helped to give us direction and boost our pride.”2 Debbie Santiago (Washoe), who grew up in the Mission and whose parents frequented the original center, said that “this wasn’t just an art center, it was a center for EVERYTHING.”

An excerpt from the American Indian Center newsletter “The American,” March 1962. The calendar lists volleyball on Mondays and Wednesdays, ping pong tournaments on Tuesdays, “Kitchen Social” events on Thursdays, and rock-and-roll concerts with local bands like the “Travelers,” the “Hi-Fi’s,” and the “Panics” on Saturdays. (click to view larger)

An excerpt from the American Indian Center newsletter “The American,” March 1962. Services offered by the Indian Center are listed in the categories of “Recreation, Information, Financial Assistance, Counseling, Religion.” The center’s focus on Catholicism harkens back to its founding by the St. Vincent de Paul Society. (click to view larger)

According to the Executive Director of AICC April McGill, when a mysterious fire burnt down AIC on October 29, 1969 3 “it provided the spark that ignited the Alcatraz Movement,” launching a new era of Native American rights and advocacy. Activists, who sought to improve conditions for recently urbanized American Indians, pushed to create a new center and Native American school on Alcatraz Island, which remained open until June of 1971. From 1969 through 1970, the AIC also held an office space at 16th and Guerrero Street; it was from this location that Santiago’s mother and other activists coordinated supplies to and from Alcatraz.

While the community established these new spaces for the center, it continued to seek restoration of land and a larger permanent home in the Mission District. According to Santiago, the community acquired the use of a new building at 225-229 Valencia Street in 1968, and they were up and running by 1971. Originally built in 1907 for the Serbian Benevolent Society in the Classical Revival/Mission Revival style, this building housed a wide variety of services, programming, and resources for the American Indian community. By 1971, according to Kent Blansett’s Journey to Freedom: Richard Oakes, Alcatraz, and the Red Power Movement, the American Indian Center hosted an estimated forty or more local organizations, from Tribally specific organizations (Navajo, Eskimo, Chippewa, and Tlingit-Haida) to a wider range of Intertribal organizations.4 The American Indian Movement (AIM) held an office in the building before moving to the International Indian Treaty Council on Mission Street. The center on Valencia closed in 1989 due to financial difficulties.

Unidentified American Indian family in front of the American Indian Center on Valencia Street in 1972. Photograph by Ilka Hartmann.

Murals painted on the side of the second American Indian Center at 225-229 Valencia Street,  February 20, 1983. (Max Kirkeberg Collection, San Francisco State University.) The mural artists were Gary McGill, Sherly Graves, and Barbra Cameron. 

The second American Indian Center at 225-229 Valencia Street, February 20, 1983. (Max Kirkeberg Collection, San Francisco State University.) “When I grew up we had many [American Indian] organizations that came out of the center on Valencia Street.”—Mission District native Debbie Santiago (Washoe).

A view of the former American Indian Center in 2003. (Max Kirkeberg Collection, San Francisco State University.) The American Indian-themed mural is replaced with new street art. The building, now used as office space, remains a canvas for different mural artists and currently features a piece by San Francisco artist Amos Goldbaum.

From 1990-1995, a new incarnation of the center, the Indian Center of All Nations (ICAN), was located at 3020 16th Street near Mission Street. ICAN struggled financially and closed in 1995. 

From 2005 to 2007, the American Indian community, including members from different Ohlone tribes and other recognized community elders, advocated at city meetings for program funding and a new community space. In 2013, after meeting with community members about a new center and supporting American Indian visibility, Mayor Ed Lee attended the Dancing Feathers Youth Pow-wow at Thomas Edison Charter Academy (3531 22nd Street) and announced his intentions to help find a new home and funding for an American Indian Cultural Center. As a response to Mayor Lee’s announcement, an American Indian Advisory Council formed that same year. Debbie Santiago, a member of the council, said that the community felt that they were close to gaining a new physical home for the center: “This is our time, we need to move forward and we need to do it now.”

From April McGill: “This is the American Indian Community’s dancers and singers participating in the annual San Francisco Mission District Carnival celebration. The AIAN community are raising their fists to say, We are still here!” October 2016. Photo courtesy of the American Indian Cultural Center.

Starting in 2014, the San Francisco Arts Commission and local Native American-based funding initiatives provided funds to help create a new, virtual American Indian Cultural Center (AICC) in 2019. The AICC is composed of the American Indian Advisory Council, a functioning Board, and led by Executive Director April McGill.

The AICC celebrating Native American Heritage Night with the late Mayor Ed Lee in the City Hall rotunda on November 7, 2017. Courtesy of the American Indian Cultural Center.

While the death of Mayor Lee in 2017 was a setback in AICC’s plans to find a new home (it has now been eight years since Mayor Lee announced his intention to give the American Indian community a new cultural center), the community continues to fight for a physical building in the Mission District. Every year, AICC hosts the Native American Heritage Month celebration at City Hall with the Mayor and collaborates with other Native organizations to honor local heroes. Throughout the pandemic, the American Indian Advisory Council has met virtually the last Saturday of every month to discuss the future and vision of a new center. Council members are also in the process of teaching community elders how to use tablets to join council meetings virtually. They call elders regularly to see how they are doing and distribute food boxes to those in need; this has been a good way for elders to receive news about the American Indian community during the pandemic. 

Soon, the AICC will join other local American Indian organizations like the American Indian Cultural District (birthed from the AICC) and the International Indian Treaty Council to open an American Indian Cultural Hub at Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture. Save the date for the Cultural Hub’s grand opening on Saturday, September 25 from 12:00 PM – 3:00 PM at Great Meadow Park (Bay St. San Francisco, CA 94123) and follow the American Indian Cultural District on social media for updates.


Special thanks to April McGill and Debbie Santiago for their assistance on this post.

Other sources:

1.Kent Blansett, Journey to Freedom: Richard Oakes, Alcatraz, and the Red Power Movement, (Yale University Press, 2018), 87-91

2.Wilma Mankiller and Michael Wallis, Mankiller: A Chief and her People (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993), 162

3.“Richard Oakes and a Clash Of Cultures,” The San Francisco Chronicle, June 17, 1970

4.Blansett, Journey to Freedom