Project: Salud! The Bethany Senior Center Mural - 1997 / 2009 (With Isabel Graeser assisting)
Medium: Acrylics on Concrete
Dimensions: 75' x 100'
Location: Corner of 21st and Capp Streets, San Francisco, CA
As I was working on the Stanley Middle School mural in Lafayette, I heard about a call for entries for a proposed mural in San Francisco, and decided to apply for consideration. The Bethany Senior Center building was a massive tall HUD project from the 1960s. I found the project intriguing because the senior center was such a hub of activity in the Mission District, and I wanted to have a major piece of my own there, due to the prominence of the area as a showcase for community murals. The bond I'd had with my grandmother was also a key factor in my desire to do the project. I applied, and was selected from among three candidates.
I'd been invited to meet Center Director Jerry Brown (no relation to the politician) and staff member Lola Fraknoi. They both guided me around the center and introduced me to many of the residents there. I created a massive watercolor rendition (which took a month to create) of my proposed ideas. Some of the residents were real characters, and I included them in the mural design. Soon, the scaffolding went up, and the images were transferred to the wall one by one.
The first day on the job there was a ton of commotion across the street, police, ambulance and fire trucks everywhere-a woman had hung herself from a chain off the porch. Later that day, I was high up on the wall and a man was running down the street carrying a package with a small crowd following calling out “Stop him! Thief!” In the afternoon, I watched a woman in a fine business suit take a fat magic marker from her briefcase and tag the bumper of a nice white truck! Is this how the whole project was going to go? What had I gotten myself into? Surprisingly, not much else happened-at least when I was around.
Watercolor maquette of the Bethany mural
Usually, when you're high up on a scaffold, you need to wear a safety harness but I found it was always getting in the way of my painting so I chose not to wear it. One day, I was working around the 8th floor, I lost my footing and barely hung on to the scaffolding with one hand, while my legs flew outward. I looked down and saw that a busload of tourists just happened to be taking pictures at that moment. I focused on one elderly man as he slowly raised his camera and took a snapshot of the mural right then. I'd love to see that image someday. I clambered back onto the scaffold and sat there while I calmed down, and, after about five minutes, got back to work.
In 2008 I did some minor restoration and took home this souvenir (The eye of Rosa Guerrero)
One feature of the Salud! mural that people often miss is the shadow of the church on the blue "Bethany" signage in the center. It's a life size representation of the church spire that had stood on that corner for nearly a century, and was once one of the tallest buildings in San Francisco.
Another day, while working on about the 5th floor, local journalist and broadcast legend Belva Davis and a videographer came by for an interview. She wanted to get up on the scaffold and do some painting with me. She had always wanted to paint murals. We really hit it off. We'd been talking for about ten minutes, having a great time and laughing, when her videographer accidentally let go of his video camera! I instinctively reached out and caught the heavy camera as it was falling. We all just sat there, stunned. She later told me how much the equipment cost, and that they were both very grateful. I still have the little clip of that day filed away somewhere.
A street party/dedication was held when it was finished, with Pete Escovedo and his band. The Salud! mural receives an enormous amount of sunlight pretty much all day long, year-round, and in 2009 I went back and touched it up (The mural can be seen from over a mile away.) In addition to celebrating the vibrancy of its senior residents, it also stands as a tribute to the Mission theater district that once thrived nearby, with its many neon marquees. A documentary film was made about the making of the Salud! Mural and I was flown out to Chicago when it was included in a film festival there.
But once it was all completed I was exhausted, both physically and financially, and ended up having to file for bankruptcy.
Early in progress view with scaffolding