John Nuno in front of St. Peters on 24th Street.

In my search for long-time Mission residents, I didn’t have to go far. John Nuno, who was born in North Beach in 1943 and moved to the Mission in 1955, has lived behind my house on York Street my entire life. (I’m 25.)

He lived temporarily on 18th Street, between Mission & Valencia, but by the age of 25 he had moved to York, between 24th and 25th Streets.

Nuno turns out to be a walking/talking Mission District Encyclopedia. One block into a stroll through the Mission, he pointed out Ricci’s Market. That, he said, was once a family-owned Italian delicatessen where he purchased all his cold cuts. Then the building was sold to a Middle Eastern family, who turned the deli into a liquor store. Today, he goes to Lucca’s on Valencia.

Once a family -owned Italian delicatessen. Photo by Daniel Mondragón

Most of Nuno’s time away from the Mission was spent in the service. In 1962, he was drafted and served two years, just before the Vietnam War; during that time, he married and began his family. Later he volunteered at St. Peter’s Catholic Church, serving as  president of the parents’ committee.

My mother, who’s in her late 40s, recalls being chaperoned by Nuno on field trips from kindergarten to second grade. “I always wanted to be in his groups,” she says. “He was the coolest parent and all my classmates loved him.”

Unlike many Mission old timers, Nuno has a comparatively sanguine view of the area’s transformation. “Not all of the change has been for the bad,” he asserts, adding that 24th Street “has really cleaned up.”

Younger people born-and-bred in the Mission are upset because they’re priced out of the housing market where they grew up, he notes. “In our cultures, the Latino and European cultures such as Irish and Italian, we are all accustomed to living near family.”

He said that his children, like me, cannot afford the rent in the city. As a result, a lot of adult children are living with their parents well into their thirties.

When I was a kid, I would see grown men still living in their parents’ or grandparents’ garage or cellar. “That’ll never be me,” I used to think. Evidently I am not a good prophet. Not only has this been my living situation but I don’t see many alternatives in the near future. As a photographer, I have plenty of demand for my work but it’s not well paid.

Nuno, for his part, takes a longer view of gentrification in the Mission. In his time, he’s seen the population shift from mostly Irish and Italian to Mexican and then Central American. Nuno’s father was of Mexican descent. The difference this time is the amount of money involved.

“This has always been a blue-collar neighborhood,” he said. Mission residents worked at local food producers like Best Foods on Bryant. “The problem that I see now is that the young people moving in are very well paid. There are a lot less jobs in the city that are blue-collar because the ‘techie’ jobs outnumber them disproportionately.

“We have a lot of the younger people saying, ‘Hey, you’re destroying my neighborhood,’ but really it’s just a new group of people coming in. This has always happened in San Francisco, especially the Mission, but we see a lot of excitement around it today because, whereas before it wasn’t so much about money, today it’s all about it.”

WAlking the neighborhood with John Nuno. Photo by Daniel Mondragon

For those of us who are young, Nuno advises being politically active. “The biggest changes come from a single voice,” he says. “It is our civil duty especially to raise your voice on matters that need attention. Otherwise, no one says anything and nothing changes.”

Nuno said the gang activity and violence prevalent in the early 80’s until the mid 90’s was ultimately quashed by members of the community standing up and demanding change. “It’s not squealing or snitching,” he says. “As a resident you can file reports anonymously and that’s what we need. The residents are the ones who changed the Mission. We demanded more police and eventually they heard us.”

For me, it was a welcome perspective. If the culture of the neighborhood I was born and raised in ever disappeared, I would be devastated. It’s hard to say how many Hispanic homeowners there are in the Mission District but there are four on my block alone and two rent out their property. My own family includes a few homeowners with multiple properties in San Francisco and none are interested in selling.

My grandmother, for instance, owns two homes and a restaurant and constantly receives offers from developers. My mother translates each letter but her answer is always, “Muchas gracias pero no.” (Thank you very much, but no.)

Nuno, whose home is easily worth over a million dollars, also says he’s not interested in selling. Nor does he think the Mission will ever be completely gentrified. “I see the Mission being the same Mission twenty years from now,” he says.

“Our culture is simply too rich” to vanish, he adds. “Of course, change is inevitable. But the Mission will always be ‘La Mission.’”

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13 Comments

  1. This profile of John Nuno was full of info I didn’t know. He’s someone I’d like to have coffee with sometime and pick his brain about what should be done now about the changing Mission neighborhood, and the greedy nonprofits always looking out for more City funding. Keep providing us with news that is fair, balanced and entertaining.

    1. I totally agree. The amount of history he has about the neighborhood is priceless. Would love to know if he has old pictures from the area.

  2. This story brought nice memories. I still remember Ricci delicatessen, and the Best Foods Building on Bryant St. I’ve also lived here all my life 58 yrs. young! I remember before Pujab came in on 24th. The Magnavox Store was at that corner. Bryant/24th.

    1. That store was the United TV and they originally sold Zenith TV’s. Ricci made their fresh raviolis around the corner from the store in a garage on York. Safeway was on the corner of 24th & Potrero where the big apartment building now stands. The Mission is always changing.

  3. Great profile, interesting thing is that many of these working class people who were able to get on the housing ladder early on, are now in effect asset rich and probably to the point where they are now millionaires. Not a bad deal for them. The people who are really hurting are always going to be those that don’t own, enjoy the luxury of rent control and don’t earn a crap load of money.

    I have no idea how this city is going to sustain a service industry workforce when the average 1 bedroom costs $3400. Based on the “One Thirds” rule in order to sustain an apartment that costs that much, you should have a Net Income (after tax) of $122,000. I don’t know too many servers, bartenders, cooks, chefs etc that make that kind of money and therefore unless they can figure out better deal on rent, this city won’t be able to attract those workers.

    I’m not an economist but curious if anyone knows any studies that will explain what happens to an economy when that happens?

  4. Great article. One thing that we need to add to the equation (that is important) is that the enhancements made to 24th came form the work Calle 24 has done during the last 17 years. So it came from the inside. Many of the completed project are listed on our page http://www.calle24sf.org. Calle 24 lead the complete capitol improvements of Mini Park. Had lights installed on 24th and are continuing to look for funds to complete. Mural restorations. Complete repaving of 24th and curb repairs for the whole corridor. Brought the Cesar Chaves Festival to 24th. We have been working closely with merchants and non-profits to stablize the merchants be providing legal assistance, small loans and ADA improvements. We are currently focusing to make sure we preserve our small mom and pop businesses and non-profits that create the local art and culture that makes 24th St. special. We also have been designated a Latino Cultural District.

  5. I read a lot of handwringing over the ave rent of a 1 bedroom but when I first moved to SF when I was 21 back in the mid-90s a 1 bedroom or studio was over a thousand dollars and that seemed crazy out of reach. So me and all my friends (students and hospitality workers – think Muddy Waters in the Mission) lived in 3 bedroom flats where we each had a room for about $500-600 each (for those of you old enough there was that apartment/roommate place off of Haight street in upper Haight with all the binders you flipped through long before CL put them out of business). Its the same thing now. Most young people in SF don’t live alone because they can’t afford but a 2-3 bedroom in the Haight is around 4-5K so each pays around $1,500-1,900 which is affordable if you work part-time as a waiter/bartender/Uber driver. Most young people in expensive cities spend more than 1/3 of their income on rent. That was true in SF 20 years ago and will be true 20 years from now. Basically, I guess I am saying I think most of the sky if falling sentiment is failing to really look at the history of SF.

    1. Hey Old Timer,

      Thanks for your perspective, it’s really interesting to hear that. I’ve often heard that places like The Mission has always been a place where different working class demographics would come in and there was always someone complaining about the new demographic. I think the difference about this one, is that they have money and are having an impact on the economic status of the working class that are not asset rich.

      But really, I can only talk about the 10 years I’ve been here. When I first moved here you could get a 2 bedroom for around $2500 a month pretty easy, and back then THAT was expensive. There was a slight tech boom and bust around that time but also around that time you could get a 100% mortgage so it moved a lot of people into the buying market and therefore there was less pressure on the rental market.

      Now however, my salary hasn’t changed a hell of a lot in 10 years and the 1 bedroom I rent on the open market would actually be at least 33% month more than I pay now. I’ve looked at 2 bedrooms and they are TWICE what they were when I first moved here, the exact same properties!

      I guess what I’m saying is that I feel that certainly this has always been an expensive city, but over 10 years rents have outpaced any salary increases (nobody I know has had their salaries double in the last 10 years) and thus causing a larger divide. But that’s just a gut feeling, I don’t really have any specific data that supports that.

      Thanks again for your input, it’s really interesting to hear a different perspective that looks at the same topic over a longer period of time that is probably more balanced.

    2. I was looking for a place in SF in late 1994. We got a place that was 2.5 bedrooms, in the middle of the Richmond District for $900pm for the apartment. That was a pretty standard price. I think the problem then wasn’t so much price, but availability.

  6. I have such great memories of moving to San Francisco in late 70’s and living like a queen on 300 dollars a month. 60 dollars rent. 11 dollars fast pass and burritos in mission $1.25. At the time in the lower fillmore there was gentrification driving out long time residents as well…life is dynamic and there is always change! I now feel so mostalgic over my great 25 years in the city!!!

  7. I was born and raised in the mission 24th. I have so many memories growing up there. I went to Mission High and transferred to John O’Connell. I also belonged to the youth group Horizons back in 1971-72 I think they were located at the corner of 18th Harrison….so long ago!!! My very first job was at South Van Ness convalescent hospital, I was 14yrs. old. I have a lot of great memories from Horizons. I would love to chat with someone from that era.

    Marcia

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