The Google buses idling at 24th and Valencia have now been forever enshrined as the symbol of the money rolling through the Mission District in the city’s second tech boom. Parked just one corner over sits a just-as-potent sign that change is here: softly glowing iconic golden arches.
Without fanfare or community protest or staged shouting matches, even the 24th and Mission Street McDonald’s has gone upscale.
If the old McDonald’s was a slightly seedy Mission curmudgeon greeting BART commuters since the 70s, the new one is an approximation of a Valencia hipster. Gone is the homey hut-like roof with french-fry-shaped detailing and the familiar red and yellow sign. Gone are the flower beds — the cops told the owner they were easy hiding places for gangbangers to stow drugs, money and guns. Instead: a disability law-compliant ramp, modern wood paneling and a minimalist arch logo. The murals have been quarantined to just the rear. Meanwhile, the dining area could easily fit in at a modern airport concourse with a corporate take on funky street art (a girl in headphones and shades), low-slung lamps in place of fluorescents, and lounge-like sitting á la Starbucks.
It says a lot about the pace-setting potential of 24th and Mission that this is where owner Scott Rodrick started renovating his empire of 10 McDonald’s across the city. “That corner is the Grand Central Station of the Mission; I thought it was important to make a statement in the city there first,” Rodrick says, adding that the 16th Street and Mission location will be changing in coming months, too. “I hope this seven-figure investment will trigger other building owners to modernize their facility without negatively impacting the community.”
Still, management says the redesign projects are where the Mission is going. “The redesign is going to fit in really well in the neighborhood,” says manager Richard Jones.
In his epic chronicle “Super-Sized Day,” of embedding at the fast food joint, Mission Local writer Armand Emamdjomeh wrote, “This isn’t the McDonald’s we know as the franchise that is killing all of us with trans fats, but the Mission District’s equivalent of the Zócalo, the town square in Latin America.” It’s a place where 70-something Salvadorenos gather at 8 a.m. to eat pan dulce from neighborhood bakeries with their coffee, where teenagers smuggle in liquor in Powerade bottles, where police rustle out hoodie-clad loiterers, and a constant stream of street folk duck into the bathroom.
On its face, McDonald’s is anathema to everything San Francisco — a chain in a city with strict controls on formula retail, and target of city supervisors’ ban of toys in Happy Meals. Indeed, the Mission first resisted the corporate invasion in the 70s, recalls Susan Cervantes, the executive director of Precita Eyes. Back then, during the barrio’s nascent mural movement, she was part of Mujeres Muralistas, a group of Chicana painters commissioned to paint Paco’s Tacos on 24th and South Van Ness where La Casa de la Salud now sits. The mural showed women selling vegetables and tortillas at a market — which Paco’s owner hoped would send a statement to McDonald’s about the importance of local culture, Cervantes recalls.
Yet at a charity event hosted by the Ronald McDonald House in the mid 1990s, Cervantes ran into Scott Rodrick, the McDonald’s franchisee. To her surprise, he asked if Precita Eyes would paint a mural on his restaurant’s exterior. “I told him the whole story,” Cervantes recalls, “and told him that if you want a mural on that building, you’ll have to let us do whatever we want, but he said that he still wanted it.”
Rodrick continues the tale. “It was one of those things where I asked for forgiveness before permission [from the board of directors]. If I waited for outside architects to opine on colors or themes or what’s appropriate or not, that mural would never have been done.”
Completed by a group of 16 artists in 1998, Precita Eyes Muralists Association’s “Culture of the Crossroads” wraps around the backside of the building with a kaleidoscopic display of Central American deities, tropical vegetation and a woman with flaming breasts.
The mural was a public relations coup for the fast food behemoth. Cervantes describes the mural as a “community treasure ever since,” and helped initial skeptics adopt the McDonald’s as a uniquely Mission mainstay. Now that the community is changing, so goes McDonald’s.