Heritage's mission is to preserve and enhance San Francisco's unique architectural and cultural identity.

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Heritage Welcomes Karalyn Monteil as President & CEO


With family ties in San Francisco, Karalyn is delighted to be able to put down roots in the city as she begins her leadership of San Francisco Heritage in January 2022. For the past 20 years, Karalyn has been working in the Culture Sector of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), where she was based for fourteen years at the organization’s headquarters in Paris, France, working as a program specialist for the World Heritage and Museum programs.

Over the past six years, Karalyn has served as the regional advisor for culture in the UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa in Nairobi, Kenya, guiding the development of the culture sector in 13 East African countries (Comores, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Rwanda, Seychelles, Somalia, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda).

Through her work with UNESCO, Karalyn has gained extensive experience advocating for and directly supporting historic and cultural preservation and education, developing culture strategies, policies, and legislation, strengthening museums and the diversity of the cultural- and creative-industries sector, safeguarding intangible cultural heritage, ensuring conservation and management of World Heritage sites (including historic cities and urban landscapes), and promoting the creative economy and cultural tourism using a participatory, community-based approach. She works on local, national, regional, and global levels using UNESCO’s international standard-setting instruments, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and a cultural-diversity lens as guides.

“Karalyn is a highly skilled preservation advocate, team builder, and community partner who brings enormous creativity and a broad perspective to SF Heritage. We’re delighted that she’s joining us.”

-Debbie Cooper, Heritage board member

Among her proudest achievements, Karalyn supported the development of UNESCO’s Recommendation concerning the Protection and Promotion of Museums and Collections, their Diversity and their Role in Society (2015), which offers guidelines to broaden the roles museums play in education and community outreach, intercultural dialogue, the promotion of cultural diversity, and sustainable development. As a Member of the International Council of Museums, Karalyn has participated in the ICOMDEMHIST conference on “Historic House Museums for a Sustainable World,” and has been actively engaged in museum networking and peer exchanges. She has contributed to the identification and listing of World Heritage sites from underrepresented regions and categories, and has strengthened the integration of policies and practices of conservation of the built environment into the wider goals of urban development, while respecting different cultural contexts in line with the UNESCO Recommendation on the Historic Urban Landscape (2011).

Karalyn earned a Master of Arts Degree in Museum Studies with Distinction from the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom, and a Bachelor of Arts in Communications with Honors from the University of Dayton in Ohio. She has traveled to over 50 countries around the globe and speaks fluent French and intermediate Spanish.

Heritage board member Debbie Cooper, a principal at Architectural Resources Group, co-chaired the board’s search committee to select a new CEO and is looking forward to Karalyn’s tenure: “Karalyn is a highly skilled preservation advocate, team-builder, and community partner who brings enormous creativity and a broad perspective to SF Heritage. We’re delighted that she’s joining us.”

As a proven leader in partnerships and fundraising, Karalyn brings creative thinking, strong communications, and broad relationship building skills to Heritage. Her clear vision and strategic direction for inclusive and innovative heritage preservation and promotion will help raise the organization to its next level of development through resourceful positioning on local, state, national, and international levels.

Heritage in the Neighborhoods: Visitacion Valley town chats


Our Heritage in the Neighborhoods: Visitacion Valley program continues in December with two gatherings, one virtual and one in-person. We are kicking things off in Visitacion Valley with a free and open virtual meeting on December 9, 20216:00 – 7:00 PM on Zoom.

We will recap some of our favorite Visitacion Valley architectural and cultural landmarks, and share how you can help celebrate and defend this neighborhood’s unique heritage.

Presented in partnership with the Visitacion Valley History Project. Register at the link below to receive the Zoom information:

Register button

We are also hosting an in-person gathering outside on the Visitacion Valley Greenway on Saturday, December 11 from 1:00 -2:30 PM. Meet at Hans Schiller Plaza (entrance to the Greenway) at Leland Avenue and Peabody Street.

We will start with short discussion about our preservation efforts in Visitacion Valley, followed by a short history walk around the immediate neighborhood with the Visitacion Valley History Project (~30 min.). Grab some coffee or a sandwich from nearby local businesses on Leland and come out for this informal gathering!

This event is FREE, but RSVP so we know you’re coming. Please wear a mask throughout the discussion and tour unless actively eating and drinking.

If you have any thoughts, ideas, and questions as we plan this program, please reach out to Kerri Young at kyoung@sfheritage.org or call 415-441-3000 x22. We welcome interest and participation from anyone and everyone for this exciting program!

Landmark designation initiated for Golden Gate Valley Branch Library


Detail of the library’s exterior looking south. The Golden Gate Valley Branch Library was constructed in what for many years was known as Golden Gate Valley, the area below Pacific Heights and above the Marina, between Van Ness Avenue and the Green Street hill rising at Pierce Street. (Source: TEF Design)

Last week, the Historic Preservation Commission voted to initiate landmark designation for the Golden Gate Valley Carnegie Library, located at 1801 Green Street on the border between Cow Hollow and Pacific Heights.

Constructed in 1918, the building is a one-story plus basement, masonry building clad in terracotta that has served as a library since its construction. According to the Landmark Designation Report, the building appears significant for its association with patterns of social and cultural history of San Francisco, particularly the national and local ascendancy of Progressive political and social values and the development of public libraries. It also expresses the City Beautiful philosophy by presenting a building intended to create a sense of civic grandeur and dignity in the citizen who enters, or merely views it.

Designed by well-known architect Ernest Coxhead, primarily recognized for his ecclesiastical and residential works, the building incorporates a rounded end, resembling the apse of a basilica, a semicircular recess often containing the church altar. (San Francisco Public Library, Golden Gate Valley Branch, Octavia and Green, n.d. San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection, SF Public Library, AAC-5849)

The building is associated with the Carnegie Library Grant Program, established by wealthy Progressive industrialist Andrew Carnegie in 1886 and intended to fund the construction of libraries for the use of the public. Through this program, Carnegie funded the construction of 1,681 libraries across the US, including seven Carnegie libraries in San Francisco (the six other Carnegie libraries in San Francisco have each received landmark designation).

Additionally, the Golden Gate Valley Library is an excellent example of the work of master architect Ernest Coxhead, that displays the distinctive characteristics of the Neoclassical style. A departure from his religious and residential work, which was often executed in wood-frame construction and sheathed in wood shingles, the Golden Gate Valley Library commission came to Coxhead just before he travelled to Europe during World War I, where he directed the American Expeditionary Force’s Architecture program for the United States armed forces stationed in France.

The library’s interior after 2012 renovation. (Source: TEF Design)


Landmark Initiation Draft Resolution, San Francisco Planning Department

American Indians on Film and the Work of the American Indian Film Institute


MC, Susan Masten (left), with Michael Smith and Cindy Spencer at the Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco, c.1980s. Courtesy of Mytia Zavala.

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. 

Compiled by Kerri Young

For almost half-a-century, the American Indian Film Institute (AIFI) has brought to light the full spectrum of contemporary Native American life and culture to the public, shattering long-held stereotypes of American Indians through film and providing historical context for their centuries long fight for justice. Today, AIFI is the major Native American media and cultural arts presenter in California, and its American Indian Film Festival (AIFF) is the world’s oldest and most recognized international film exposition dedicated to Native American cinematic accomplishment.

Through film, AIFI and the AIFF are bringing to light American Indian stories and voices, while preserving and recording American Indian heritage. In this context, film is as an important vehicle for Indians and non-Indians alike to “unlearn” the damaging stereotypes that have existed on film since the medium’s inception over 100 years ago, and replace them with multi-dimensional images that reflect the complexity of Native peoples.

AIFI and AIFF founder Michael Smith (left) and actress Diane Debassige at the AIFF c.1980s. Courtesy of Mytia Zavala.

The organization’s roots stretch back to 1975, when a visionary young Sioux man named Michael Smith founded the AIFI and helmed the first ever American Indian Film Festival in Seattle, Washington. Smith founded AIFI during a time when Native activism was a capturing the attention of the nation, from the founding of the American Indian Movement (AIM) in 1968 to the occupations of Alcatraz in 1969, Mount Rushmore in 1970, and Wounded Knee in 1973. The passion for his work with the film festival was borne from years of watching non-Natives play Natives, perpetuating harmful stereotypes and disseminating inaccurate, often offensive portrayals of American Indians onscreen. In these early years of the AIFI and the AIFF, Smith recruited two of his heroes – Mvskokee actor Will Sampson (“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”), and Canada’s Coast Salish actor and tribal leader, Chief Dan George (“The Outlaw Josey Wales, “Little Big Man”) – to become AIFI founding board members.

Actor Will Sampson (right) with Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975).

Watching Sampson’s and George’s barrier-breaking performances inspired Smith, then only in his 20s, to establish a forum and showcase from an indigenous perspective. Smith spoke of their impact on him years later, at the festival’s 40th anniversary in 2015:

“Seeing these formidable, funny Indian actors onscreen illuminated the void of authentic portrayals, complex characters and three-dimensional Native life, in the movies. They were unforgettable presences in my life, and at the festival. The American Indian Film Festival gave us a voice, 40 years has flown by, and we’re looking forward to the next 40.”

In 1976, the AIFI and the AIFF relocated to the Bay Area, where they found a permanent home. They first established an office at the Intertribal Friendship House in Oakland, and then on East 12th Street, before moving to San Francisco. The AIFI was incorporated in 1979.

Michael Smith inside his office in the Fog Building located at 335 Valencia, c. 1990s. Photo courtesy of Mytia Zavala.

Much of the organization’s history is rooted in San Francisco’s Mission District, which has historically housed several important places that, today, serve as landmarks that outline the American Indian Cultural District. The AIFI found temporary homes at important American Indian hubs such as the American Indian Center (225-229 Valencia) and the Red Stone Building (2926-2948 16th Street), but its longterm headquarters was the Fog Building, located near the corner of 14th and Valencia streets. Starting in the 1980s, it resided here alongside other important American Indian community organizations such as Friendship House and the American Indian AIDS Institute, and remained at this location for almost forty years. The Fog Building was eventually sold, and the AIFI found their way to Intersection of the Arts in San Francisco’s mid-Market area (1446 Market Street), where it remains today.

The Fog Building, obscured behind trees near the corner of 14th and Valencia in 2012. A former casket factory, this industrial building was remodeled in the early 1980s as an office building. At that time, there were many nonprofits in the building, including the American Indian Film Festival, and other American Indian organizations including Friendship House and the American Indian AIDS Institute.

After 42 years dedicated to his work, Michael Smith passed away at age 66 on February 14, 2018 in San Francisco. The 43rd Annual American Indian Film Festival later that year was dedicated in his memory, and since then Smith’s daughter Mytia Zavala has carried on his legacy as AIFI’s Executive Director. Zavala comes from the Navajo, Laguna-Pueblo and Grand Ronde Tribes and is an enrolled member of the Fort Peck Sioux tribe of Montana. She shared with us a few memories of her father:

“I miss him everyday. My dad was the type of person where when he spoke, people would stop to listen. He also had this deep laugh that you could hear from the room over and you knew Mike was around. My dad loved his job. There were many challenging years that went with it but he pushed through year after year because of the love he had for his people and the stories and knowledge that he felt needed to be shared through film. With no other film festival like AIFF in existence, he knew that with this platform he had created, it was an extremely important step for us to voice our truth.”

Mytia Zavala takes the stage with her daughter at the Brava Theater during the 43rd Annual American Indian Film Festival. Courtesy of Mytia Zavala.

The American Indian Film Festival has taken place at a variety of San Francisco venues over the years, such as the AMC Metreon 16 theaters, the Brava Theater, and San Francisco Jazz Center, among others. Festival events include panel discussions, film screenings and an awards ceremony to recognize the achievements of Native American filmmakers. Zavala has continued to expand AIFI’s programming around the country, such as its recent drive-in series at the Motorama at the Downs in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

In 2021, the festival marks its 46th year of creating countless filmmakers, screening hundreds of films by, for and about Native peoples. It will hold a virtual series running from November 5-13, and you may purchase tickets for individual films by browsing through the Film Catalog. Once ordered, you can begin streaming Video-On-Demand content beginning November 5.

Poster for season 46 of the American Indian Film Festival, premiering on November 5. 

Zavala knows the importance of carrying on her father’s work, and is looking ahead:

“Like him, I face challenges, but that’s a given, right? When you decide to protect and nourish a long-standing film organization with a tiny budget, there are hurdles. But I embrace the challenge and move forward with a full heart and open arms.”

A trailer for the 46th annual American Indian Film Festival, starting November 5, 2021.

Purchase tickets to the virtual film festival: https://watch.eventive.org/aiff46

Support the AIFI: https://donorbox.org/support-american-indian-film-institute

Thanks to Wishelle Banks and Mytia Zavala for their research and contributions to this post.