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Heritage 50: Desiree Aranda on Landmarking the Great Cloud of Witnesses

Exterior of Ingleside Presbyterian Church.
The Great Cloud of Witnesses inside Ingleside Presbyterian Church.

San Francisco Heritage is celebrating its 50th anniversary all through 2021. Each week we will share a short chapter of our history.

Desiree Aranda

For our #Heritage50 lookbacks, we are connecting with former staff and asking them to share their thoughts on favorite projects during their time at Heritage. This week, we hear from Desiree Aranda (formerly Desiree Smith), Heritage’s Preservation Project Manager from 2011-2016 and current Co-Chair of Latinos in Heritage Conservation (LHC).

Through the Landmark Fund, in 2016 Heritage designated the Ingleside United Presbyterian Church (1345 Ocean Avenue) and its spectacular interior collage, The Great Cloud of Witnesses, as San Francisco city landmarks. Reverend Roland Gordon started work on the sprawling mural collage in 1980 when he tacked an image of Muhammad Ali to the gymnasium wall in an effort to inspire African American youth, who made up much of his congregation. The collage has expanded over time into most rooms and hallways of the church, incorporating images of African American leaders, heroes, and artists that Rev. Gordon collected and/or donated by visitors and community members. The result is an unparalleled visual documentation of over three decades of African American history.

Desiree shared her experience working with Heritage on the landmarking effort:

I have such fond memories working on the landmark designation of Ingleside Presbyterian Church and its interior mural collage, Great Cloud of Witnesses by Reverend Roland Gordon. I still remember the first time I walked into the church’s gymnasium and looked up at the massive, awe-inspiring mural collage created of newspaper clippings and other ephemera that honor the experiences and contributions of African Americans from around the world. I still have never seen anything like it and I think it is a real treasure in the city that hopefully more people will learn about now that it is a city landmark.

Reverend Roland Gordon stands beside the Great Cloud of Witnesses.

Today, Desiree continues her efforts focusing on preservation advocacy in culturally diverse and underrepresented communities. In 2014, she co-founded Latinos in Heritage Conservation (LHC), a leading organization for the preservation of Latina/o places, stories, and cultural heritage in the United States. In Summer 2021 LHC will launch the Abuelas Project, a multi-year preservation initiative to collect, curate, and amplify stories about places that matter to Latinx communities in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. Keep up to date on LHC’s work by subscribing to La Herencia, their quarterly e-newsletter: 

African American heritageHeritage 50Ingleside

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