Remembering Valencia Street

Michelle Tea at the screening of her film The Valencia: Movie/s at Adobe Books on Thursday. Photo by Emily Gibson.

Michelle Tea at the screening of her film The Valencia: Movie/s at Adobe Books on Thursday. Photo by Emily Gibson.

Dressed in a tight, grey skirt suit, the author Michelle Tea appears in her new movie mimicking a real estate agent, speaking excitedly and obnoxiously into a giant, antiquated cellphone, “The neighborhood is really nice, there are artists!”

The scene is perhaps the only one where we actually see Tea in her film Valencia: The Movie/s. Instead, Tea’s character is depicted by a wide range of some 18 different actors, each reenacting a separate episode from Tea’s youth, including late-night bar hopping and tumultuous romantic fights.

“There was no creative input from me at all,” Tea said on Thursday night during a screening at Adobe Books. “It was way more fun for me to see how Valencia was interpreted 20 years later by all these different people.”

The collaborative project brought together the author’s filmmaker friends to recreate scenes from her 2000 novel, Valencia, which pays tribute to the Mission District and Valencia Street of the ’90s. Each chapter of the book becomes a short film, with 20 filmmakers in all shooting scenes of Tea’s love affairs and comedic failures.

Natasha Wilder, a recent transplant from the Los Angeles area, came to the screening because she was a fan of the book. “I just moved to San Francisco and in some ways it’s showing the San Francisco that was, a romanticized version. It is honoring the history of the Mission.”

The film primarily concentrates on the micro-dramas of Tea’s tight clique of friends and girlfriends, but scenes that break away provide an excellent sense of how critical it is that such dramas are played out within San Francisco. In one chapter we see Tea basking in the celebratory air of the Pride parade and the Dyke March, concerned only that she may run into an ex. But in a later chapter when she leaves the city to visit the Midwest with her girlfriend, Tea is prohibited from displaying affection in front of the girlfriend’s family and is taunted after sneaking a kiss by an isolated bridge.

The Mission also played a vital role in Tea’s creation of the book. “I wrote a lot of Valencia right in a coffee shop next to Adobe that no longer exists,” Tea said, referring to their previous location at 3166 16th Street off of Valencia where they did business for 25 years. Rising rents forced Adobe to relocate this summer to 24th Street. Tea too faced rent hikes in the neighborhood and relocated three years ago to the Lower Haight.

The audience of 30 people represented a mix of newcomers and Mission veterans, though several who had experienced the neighborhood two decades ago have relocated. The director of photography for one of the short films, Ilona Berger, spent 10 years in San Francisco but decided to leave the Mission for Los Angeles a few years ago.

Berger attended the screening with her friend, Andrew Wingler, who has stayed in the Mission. But after 19 years of living here, he is also contemplating moving on. “Sometimes I feel like I am chasing a San Francisco that doesn’t exist anymore,” Wingler said.

For information on future screenings of Michelle Tea’s Valencia: The Movie/s please check the film’s Facebook page

10 Comments

  1. I have been on Valencia since 1981 and love the new changes in the hood (never would have happened if the horrible housing project at 15th and Valencia had not been razed, prime facie proof poor people drag a neighborhood down into HELL) Of course I was astute enough to BUY my property in 1981 for the huge sum of 85K. I love rich people and think they are far more interesting and fun than poor people and hope many more flood the hood!

    • Coco

      There are a lot more homeless, beggars, and crackheads now than ever. Human feces everywhere. Local bookstores and coffee shops being driven out. Enjoy, Kevin Smith.

      • David

        I’ve never understood how a neighborhood, or in this case a street, can be gentrified? Who in their right mind wants to live in a million dollar condo when there is so much crap (literally) outside the door. This has been going on for over 20 years and the social fabric of the street hasn’t changed. The crackheads, the drunks, and the homeless are still there. How does that elevate anyone’s social status? Heck, East Harlem is a lot cleaner than Valencia.

      • David

        I’ve never understood how a neighborhood, or in this case a street, can be gentrified? Who in their right mind wants to live in a million dollar condo when there is so much crap (literally) outside the door? This has been going on for over 20 years and the social fabric of the street hasn’t changed. The crackheads, the drunks, and the homeless are still there. How does that elevate anyone’s social status? Heck, East Harlem is a lot cleaner than Valencia.

    • missionite

      In the Mission since 1960

      Its creating a bigger divide between rich and poor. Mission was middle and working class for decades. It had a soul and cared about it neighbors. Now its the opposite the new commers have no respect of its history, sense of community, or social issues. Its all about the money, looks and high end restaurants and trendy clothes. Will turn into LA rich and poor. Very shallow population coming into neighborhood

      • Mission

        The Mission that I live in is still working class. You just have to go about 5 blocks east of Valencia and you’re in a working class neighborhood. My neighbors have about 10 people living in a 2 bedroom apartment. Granted, there are a lot more rich people in Mission, but not everyone who lives here works for Google. In many cases they work 4 jobs and are just getting by.

  2. SA

    “Michelle Tea appears in her new movie mimicking a real estate agent”

    What? “Mimic” means “to imitate, usually in order to entertain or ridicule.” Unless the scene in which Tea appears is one in which she’s aping a real estate agent for comic effect, I think the author means that she’s playing the role of a real estate agent. Writers: after you reach for your thesaurus, reach for your dictionary. Otherwise your efforts to sound literate have the opposite effect

  3. been here

    @coco — you are remembering the past with rose colored glasses. The feces and crackheads and drunks have been here all along.

    I’m quite pleased that there are fewer shootings and less crime now. it still happens, but there is less than there was 10 or 20 years ago.

    so, it seems to me that the neighborhood is changing for the better.

    also — it is completely false to say that the new folks do not care about community. they may just be part of a different community. I know many of them who are *very* actively engaged in communities. It is a city — many communities can exist in the same neighborhood — that is normal.

  4. john

    It’s humorous to read that ancient history for the Mission only goes back 20 years. In the 50’s and 60’s, and even through part of the 70’s, the Mission was very working class with people living and working in the neighborhood. There was heavy manufacturing(American Can 18th and Alabama), and many other industrial plants. There certainly wasn’t crack and meth. But there was booze. Bruno’s was one of the most popular restaurants and the movie theaters were packed on the weekends. Residents were lucky to have one car and public transportation was the Muni as it is today, although a lot cheaper. In short, there wasn’t anywhere near the level of violent crime or congestion. My Italian relatives moved out of the Marina and bought a set of flats on 20th Street in the 50’s for $8500! Those of you myopically viewing the “good old days” of the 90’s need a wider historical perspective.

  5. Mark

    All the commenters have such interesting things to say. Maybe they could write a book about their experience in the Mission and one day a filmmaker, or several, will produce that book as a film. Let’s hope.

Comments are closed.