Last week, the Board of Supervisors declined to vote on an appeal of an eight-story, 75-unit project that is to replace a laundromat at 2918 Mission St. Instead, the vote will take place once a study answers the question of whether the building is a historic resource. It will take at least four months.
District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen, in whose district the project would rise, moved to table the project “to determine its potential significance as a historic resource.”
It did not take long for the pro-housing YIMBY (Yes-in-my-back-yard) camp to descend with fire and fury.
“Oh good, the Board of Supervisors just voted to delay a 75-unit housing project for 4-5 months to see if the 1991 parking lot & laundromat on-site is historic b/c neighborhood groups used the land once upon a time,” tweeted YIMBY staffer (and former Mission Local reporter) Joe Rivano Barros. “It was submitted in 2014 & now won’t get a hearing till summer.”
“This is not a good way to run a city,” tweeted Matthew Yglesias, a New York-based Vox.com writer, citing Rivano Barros’s tweet.
The San Francisco Business Times ran an article titled: “’This is why housing is expensive in San Francisco:’ A Mission project will be delayed for months as the city studies a laundromat.”
Not exactly. It’s the tenant history. In fact, from 1971 to roughly the mid-’80s, the building was something of an incubator for local organizations, some of which exist — and, in fact, thrive — today.
The building was home to Mission Model Neighborhood Corporation, Mission Hiring Hall, Mission Education and Legal Defense, Mission Child Care Consortium, Mission Housing Development Corporation, and Central Accounting.
All of them were offshoots of the Mission Coalition Organization, or MCO, which, in the words of Ramon Barbieri, once the executive director at the Mission Model Neighborhoods Corporation, was a “political powerhouse.”
Some might even argue that the mostly-market-rate project — whose affordable component is about half the city’s requirement of 18 to 20 percent, thanks to a state loophole — is the epitome of the unchecked speculation and redevelopment the MCO had fought to ward off.
But the question remains: Is the building worth saving because of that urban irony or its former tenants?
“Anything that needed to be organized in the Mission at that time, happened there,” said Barbieri of the building.
Barbieri said he remembers when his and the other organizations moved into the building in 1971. Earlier, they had worked out of a temporary office on Shotwell Street.
The Model Neighborhood Corporation wanted to buy it, he said, but did not have enough cash in its coffers. “So the best thing we could do was remodel the place,” he said. “We made a deal with the [landlord] for very cheap rent to remodel it, and we got permission from the city to use money to do so.”
He also said it was a gathering place for artist and musicians. “There was a group of ladies, Mujeres Muralistas,” he said. “We gave them permission to put up a mural.”
Patricia Rodriguez was one of the “mujeres” in that group.
The mural that she and other muralistas created has since been painted over, but Rodriguez said that erasure sparked a movement to protect city murals.
“When Mission Model Cities moved out, the laundry moved in, and they erased it — it was a shock,” she said. “There were no laws then. We rallied the group of artists with Precita Eyes, and we made sure the art commission was protecting the murals. Now they’re protected.”
Mario Cabrera worked at Central Accounting, which did the books for organizations in the building. “It provided so many opportunities for people,” he said of the center where he worked from 1974 to 1977.
“When I got here (from Venezuela), I was lucky to get a job at the Model Cities building, and that helped me pay for bachelor’s and master’s degrees,” he said.
On an average day, he said, the center was very much abuzz with activity and a sense of solidarity. “There was a conviction that we were doing something great for our community,” he said. “We were creating unity among the Latin Americans.”
However, all of this history was difficult to notice during a recent stroll through the Wash Club. Several people milled around, minding their own business, glancing periodically at a small flat-screen TV playing Spanish music videos.
The whole place was an anachronism, although not of the period in question. Its washing machines and arcade games — Pac Man, Street Fighter, Metal Slug 3, and a claw machine — surely belonged in some kind of museum, but not one dedicated to community organizing in Mission in the ‘70s.
One patron, Kevin, said it was his first time there, and he had only come because he had a haircut next door and wanted to kill two birds with one stone.
Another man with dreadlocks was folding his clothes. He didn’t want to comment because he was just passing through.
Elizabeth, 20, said she was unaware of the building’s history, but she said the building carried some personal history for her. “I used to come here as a kid,” she said, noting that she grew up in Bernal Heights. “My parents used to take us here on Saturday and Sunday.”
Just that afternoon, her mom had told her the laundromat was slated to come down. “I would miss it, it’s sad,” she said. “But it is what it is — San Francisco is not the same as when we were kids.”
She was impressed when told about the building’s history. “Maybe they could make it into a community resource,” she said.
Told that it would become housing, she asked if it would be affordable. When informed that it would be 11 percent affordable, she said: “Then, no. We don’t want more development that doesn’t have the community at heart.”
Cabrera, the accountant, Rodriguez, the muralist and Barbieri of the Model Neighborhoods, thought wiping the building off the map for market-rate housing would be tragic.
However, Mike Miller, the lead organizer with the Mission Coalition Organization in its earliest days, who literally wrote the book on the movement, showed no attachment to the building.
“I have no reason to think that building is a historic resource,” he said in an email. “The activities that took place within it are historically important, but that’s not about the building.”