SF’s Historic Preservation Commission approves two Mission murals as City ‘Landmarks’

Two historic murals — both located at 24th Street and South Van Ness Avenue — were unanimously approved for Landmark Status by San Francisco’s Historic Preservation Commission on Sept. 20, 2023. 

The murals — the iconic Carnaval mural painted in 1983 by Daniel Galvez and the Chata Gutierrez mural painted by Carlos “Kookie” Gonzalez in 2015 — were the subject of concern after the building changed ownership. 

Gonzalez said the fight for achieving landmark status was about “preserving our footprint, our culture, you know, the mission has long been the enclave of Latino immigrants and generations of Latinos who were born here that are American citizens.” 

Gonzalez added: “That’s why this whole landmark status came about because of fear of further encroachment by developers.” 

Lou Dematteis, the iconic photographer who documented the first-ever Carnaval in San Francisco and whose photographs were used as reference for the mural, testified at the Historic Preservation Commission’s public hearing on Sept. 20, 2023. According to Dematteis, the owner of the building that was once ‘The House of Brakes’ will be restored to an auto repair shop. 

“The Carnaval and the Chata murals are the first ones to get this historical designation. A lot of murals in the past have been lost, so I think what this does, while it doesn’t absolutely guarantee that nothing can be done on that corner, or on the mural itself, but it gives us more opportunity to save the murals, not just these two, but throughout The Mission,” said Dematteis, who is a resident of The Mission District.  

In August, the Michael Rios’ historic BART mural at 24th and Mission streets was restored, giving hope to further preservation of murals in the neighborhood, Dematteis said. 

Carnaval director Roberto Hernandez also spoke at the hearing. “People I grew up with have been pushed out, but the mural still stayed there,” Hernandez said. Hernandez is a well-known activist in the Mission and has been involved with Carnaval for 45 years. 

By giving landmark status to the murals, Gonzalez says that the city is preserving the characteristics of The Mission that make it so special. “The Mission has long been the spot where if you want a taco, menudo, or you want to see some murals or low riders, that’s the place to go.”

(From left) Lou Dematteis, Daniel Galvez and the late Mauricio Aviles in front of the newly restored Carnaval Mural, 2014. Photo: S. Thollot

George Crampton-Glassanos is a Mission District resident and muralist. Crampton-Glassanos started painting murals as a child through Precita Eyes, a non-profit mural arts organization. Today, Crampton-Glassanos has completed several murals throughout The Mission and says that murals done by residents like Galvez and Gonzalez are necessary and relevant to the neighborhood. 

“Those people that have a mural company downtown and paint spray paint murals; I can guarantee you they don’t know half of that history or the significance that it has to our neighborhood and a voice that was in a time where a lot of people’s voices weren’t being heard,” Crampton-Glassanos said. “That was a way to put it in people’s faces, this what’s happening to our people back home. It [Painting murals] was a form of protest, it has always been a form of protest.” 

“You see so many of these commercialized street art walls around the city that are being called murals, it’s like someone drew it up on a laptop or whatever,” Crampton-Glassanos added. “It doesn’t have any relevance to the city or neighborhood and doesn’t have any true flavor to it.” 

Speaking to the preservation of culture in the Mission, Gonzalez added: “So what’s left now is the tenacious few that are still fighting to preserve all of that, you know, the culture and the food, the smells, the music, and all that stuff. So it’s still there. It’s still vibrant, hanging on tight, but the murals are part of that.”

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