The quiet block of Treat Avenue between 21st and 22nd streets seems like your typical residential thoroughfare. Unless you look closely, you could miss a piece of San Francisco history hidden among the colorful Victorians, drab block buildings and bay windows.
But there it is: A faded mural depicting neighborhood kids, an iconic recording studio and characters from the San Francisco Mime Troupe, which has resided at 855 Treat Ave. since 1965, chipped and obscured by trees.
Mission muralist Juana Alicia Araiza hopes to revitalize her 1985 mural, “Para Las Rosas,” next summer, and has already raised some of the funds and support for a full restoration.
“It’s a spark of joy on the street, and it tells a story,” said Ellen Callas, a member of the San Francisco Mime Troupe collective and its current general manager. “Pictures tell stories, and it’s important to tell the story of the culture … in the Mission, before it’s erased.”
This mural tells quite a story: Of the legends who recorded in the building that once housed Fantasy Records, of the Mime Troupe’s theatrical activism and of individual community members who grew up in this neighborhood.
Jorge Vega was only six or seven when Araiza painted him and his family members on the building across from his childhood home.
“It was pretty cool at the time; I mean, who doesn’t wanna be on a mural?” said Vega, who is now in his 40s and lives in the East Bay. The mural was named after his mother, Rosa, who visited Araiza as she worked, bringing her Salvadoran pupusas, tamales and flowers.
“I had a really bureaucratic name for the mural at the time … some bullshit, some dumb name,” Araiza told Mission Local this month. But one day, Rosa brought her some roses, and Araiza decided to dedicate the mural to her and her family that fled the U.S.-backed war in El Salvador.
Vega remembers an “exclusive little neighborhood” of families from every corner of Latin America, and the excitement he and his neighbors felt at being permanently represented in the mural. And Araiza plans to keep them there — but also, to update their portraits into those of adults.
The Mime Troupe became notorious in the mid 1960s for its guerrilla theatre and political commentary. Various performances by its members are also depicted on the wall.
“All of our work is about the people, the workers, the class struggle,” Callas said. Preserving the mural, in a way, will help counter “the risk of being homogenized and pasteurized.”
The piece also features an homage to the original inhabitant of the space: Fantasy Records, a label established in 1949 that recorded the likes of Creedence Clearwater Revival, jazz musician Vince Guaraldi and Beat poet Alan Ginsberg.
“If you’re in the building at night, you feel the presence of the greats,” Callas said. “It kind of just hangs in the air. Juana managed to capture that in the mural.”
California and U.S. poet laureate Juan Felipe Herrera evokes memories of third grade and Harrison Street in a poem about the mural. “… Paul Desmond is tapping his left blue suede shoe, melting sax,” Herrera writes, “vermilion blues spilling maraca zandunga jazz heat on Treat Street spinning the scaffolding and Juanalicia’s sketches into the air.”
Araiza, 68 and a longtime muralist, said the idea for the mural came to her in a sudden epiphany, in a dream or a vision. Now, decades later, she says her skills have developed and, she thinks, gotten “a little wilder.”
Araiza is responsible for some of the most well-known works in the Mission: La Llorona’s Sacred Waters on the side of a taqueria at 24th and York streets; she was a collaborator on the Maestrapeace mural on the Women’s Building on 18th Street; and she recently won a competition to create a piece for a wall in the revamped Mission branch of the San Francisco Public Libraary.
Already, she has started to work on “Para Las Rosas,” starting with a “pilot restoration” earlier this year of the comedian Lenny Bruce, who recorded with Fantasy Records. Developments in art technology will enable a lasting restoration, Araiza said, with ultraviolet protection and a wax coating to simplify the removal of inevitable tagging.
“Though not formally recognized as a city landmark, the mural’s restoration will help commemorate a cultural landmark,” said Kerri Young, a spokesperson for San Francisco Heritage, which is helping with community organizing. The project, Young said, will promote the mural’s legacy to “new audiences and longtime residents alike, and help bring new vitality to an often-overlooked block of the Mission.”
Araiza also intends to add other important figures, including artist Yolanda López, who died this fall, and Chicano poet Francisco Alarcón.
To get the job done, Araiza applied for $60,000 in funding from the city through the 2022 Community Challenge Grant. Grantees will be announced in the spring. Already, more than $15,000 for the match requirement has been raised.
In the spring, with the Brava Theater as her fiscal agent, Araiza will work on crowdsourcing the rest she needs to make the new mural a reality next summer.
In grim times, Callas said, “Para Las Rosas” is “a reminder that you have a voice.”
To contribute to the restoration of “Para Las Rosas,” contact the San Francisco Mime Troupe, the Brava Theater, or click here.