Mission Murals

In San Francisco’s Mission District, walls, garage doors, and fences aren’t just architectural necessities — they’re canvases waiting to be covered with art. Over the last few decades, artists in the Mission have obliged by painting many of them with murals. These vibrant murals add color, meaning, identity, and life to this busy neighborhood. According to the just published book Street Art in San Francisco: Mission Muralismo, the Mission has a “greater concentration of street art than any other neighborhood in the world.”

1) Mini Park (Z28-5-809)

Influenced and Inspired by the works of the Mexican Muralists and motivated by the 1970s civil rights movement, the Mission Murals are art with a message. Some depict Mesoamerican legends and history, some are about the timeless struggle for equality and justice, some rage against the horrors of war or cry out for peace, and some, as you might expect, are comical or whimsical.

If you trek into the Mission to see the murals, stop by the Precita Eyes Mural Arts Center and purchase a map. This organization is dedicated to community art. They conduct tours, teach classes, collaborate on mural projects, and sell art supplies and art. They work to protect the murals and the interests of the artists who create them 

1) Mini Park (Z28-5-990)2) Mini Park (Z28-5-828)

The Precita Eyes Mural Arts Center was founded in 1977 by Luis and Susan Cervantes. Susan is a Master Muralist who has been creating, teaching, and promoting community art for forty-some years. Visit her website and browse through the history section. Her body of work is astonishing, and her work continues. Last week, while taking photos for this blog, I saw Susan Cervantes at work  — she was on a scaffold setting tile in a beautiful new mosaic mural, called Tropical Fantasy, at the 24th Street mini-park.

24th Street Mini-park

The 24th Street Mini-park occupies a narrow city lot and is surrounded on three sides by buildings. The building walls are covered with vibrant, colorful murals. The centerpiece of the park is a huge concrete sculpture that repeatedly rises from and disappears back into the soft playground surface. The sculpture is Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent deity of the Aztecs, and it is beautifully clad in a mosaic of ceramic tile. Go there on any afternoon and it is also covered with happy children who find the feathered serpent perfect for climbing. This awesome mosaic sculpture of Quetzalcoatl is another Precita Eyes collaborative project. It was added when the mini-park was restored in 2006.

«««« Precita Eyes artists, including Susan Cervantes, working on Tropical Fantasy.

3a) St. Peters (Z28-5-970)

St. Peter’s Church

The walls of St. Peter’s are covered with murals on both the front and 24th Street side. The work of Salvadoran artist Isaias Mata, the mural portrays “the Spanish conquest of the New World and its repercussions through the ages. It was painted in 1992, the 500th anniversary of Columbus' landing in Hispaniola, and depicts indigenous people of the Americas confronting the swords of conquistadores and the gun barrels of modern armies” (Hendricks).  The mural is titled 500 Years of Resistance.


6) Balmy Alley (Z28-5-950)

Balmy Alley

There are at least two-dozen murals in this one-block alley. The paintings, which began here in 1971, run non-stop along walls, fences and garage doors. Many are political with peace as the dominant theme.

«««« Victorion: El defensor de la Misión, by Sirron Norris, 2007

5) Balmy Alley (Z28-5-939)

«««« Indigenous Eyes: War or Peace, by Susan Cervantes, 1991

4a) Balmy Alley (Z28-5-953)

My favorite Balmy Alley mural is A New Dawn (by Martin Travers, 2002). It portrays Nepalese women and girls standing firm with their clenched fists raised and their eyes fixed — “demanding we acknowledge the struggle of people everywhere” (Jacoby). I think it’s the determination in their faces that resonates so much. That and the way the wooden fence adds to the texture of the work.

4b) Balmy Alley (Z28-5-955)


7) Clarion Alley (Z28-5-851)

Clarion Alley

Inspired by Balmy Alley, a group of Mission artists formed a volunteer organization called the Clarion Alley Mural Project (CAMP). Beginning in 1992, they obtained landowner permissions and provided funding to create murals in Clarion Alley. Like Balmy Alley, Clarion Alley is also covered from end-to-end with murals, but the vibe is definitely different. The murals are more contemporary and subversive with an urban graffiti aesthetic (they have graff-roots).

«««« Untitled, by Mats Stromberg, 1995


Women's Building

The massive four-story women’s building on 18th Street is a multi-service center for women and girls. The front and east side are covered with massive murals depicting the independence and strength of women. Called "Maestrapeace” by locals, the mural is titled Women's Wisdom Through Time.

8d) Women's Bldg (Z28-5-891)

The top of the 18th Street façade portrays the Goddess of light, creativity, and rebirth. Symbolizing the continuation of life, the goddess is six-months pregnant. To her right, is an African American woman and on her left, an Ohlone women. The lower part of the mural depicts flowing fabric designs from around the world.


8a) Women's Bldg (Z28-5-922)

The east side (on Lapidge Street) is covered with a mural representing famous women and powerful goddesses. Among the women are artist Georgia O’Keefe and Rigoberta Menchú who won the 1992 Nobel Peace prize for her work fighting for the rights of Guatemalan Indians.

This blog has only shown a few of the hundreds of murals and only acknowledged a few of the scores of artists who create them. To learn more about both the art and artists, pickup a copy of Street Art in San Francisco: Mission Muralismo.


Credit where credit is due:

Street Art San Francisco: Mission Muralismo By Annice Jacoby, published in 2009 by Abrams

“History, culture merge in the Mission’s vibrant murals” - By Tyche Hendricks, SF Gate, May 5, 2009

“Street art and artists in the Mission” - By Julian Guthrie, SF Gate, August 21, 2009


© Virginia E. Vail 2012