The Continuing Evolution of 24th Street: Centuries of Change

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Photo courtesy San Francisco Police Department Records, San Francisco Public Library


In his day, Jaime Maldonado says, his father was an interloper, too. When the elder Maldonado opened La Victoria Bakery on 24th Street in 1951, the neighborhood was mostly Italian and Irish; La Victoria displaced Murphy's Pharmacy. Mr. Murphy went out of business, but the bakery and the Catholic church down the block helped turn the area into a thriving Mexican neighborhood.

"It was like someone put a giant neon sign above us: 'Aquí están los pinches Mexicanos'," jokes Maldonado, 44, an exuberant man with a sly sense of humor.

Photo courtesy of San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library
Erick Arguello, head of the Lower 24th Street Merchant’s Association, in his “makeshift office” at L’s Caffe on 24th Street.
Anna Latino
Erick Arguello, head of the Lower 24th Street Merchant’s Association, in his “makeshift office” at L’s Caffe on 24th Street.

Focusing on the neighborhood's history of transformation seems to help keep Maldonado, who has run La Victoria since 1992, upbeat about the erosion of the Latino business district his father helped forge along the strip of 24th Street east of the BART station.

The street has long been home to a mix of mom-and-pop restaurants, hair salons, and bodegas. The latest round of changes began quietly several years ago, as a few sleek coffee shops and restaurants popped up. But in recent months, they have become the norm rather than the exception, as 24th Street looks a lot less like the quieter cousin to gritty Mission Street and a lot more like a second Valencia Street, with its array of high-end boutiques and trendy eateries.

Those changes were abundant in 2012: Gourmet sandwich shop Pig & Pie opened where record store Discolandia had enjoyed a 30-year reign as a Latino cultural hub. Another of the street's oldest businesses, Roosevelt Tamale Parlor, changed ownership for the second time in five years. Taquería El Tonayense was evicted, giving rise to a Jewish deli, Wise Sons, which proved an instant success. A gritty Latino bar abutting the BART station was reborn as a well-lit café. A liquor store became a juice bar. A narrow store jammed with Catholic votive candles and statues shut its doors, and an arty out-of-print bookstore opened where the Purple Haze smoke shop used to be.

Long-empty spaces on the street are being filled, leaving it with fewer vacancies than any other commercial district in town, according to Erick Arguello, head of the Lower 24th Street Merchant's Association, an all-volunteer group. And rents are climbing. An unmemorable vacancy near Potrero Avenue recently bore a handwritten For Rent sign asking $3,500 a month. Arguello says prospectors have asked some businesses when their leases expire.

The street changed in fits and starts for years, but the pace of change seems to be accelerating in a way that has many Latino business owners scared.

"It's a time of lots of opportunity," Maldonado says stubbornly. But he knows that if La Victoria is to survive, he's going to have to place big bets on major changes.


How to perceive those changes depends on the stretch of time one considers. Jason Nazzal, who owns Sidewalk Juice, grew up working at his father's store, Valencia Whole Foods at 21st and Valencia streets.

"I saw Valencia 20 years ago, and it's a totally different neighborhood there now. I felt like the same thing was going to happen here," he says over the whir of blenders in his new 24th Street shop.

Changes to 24th Street began to snowball in the second half of 2012, but they've been building for some time. Those entrepreneurs thinking in the long-term have been watching and waiting.

Chris Dixon, a 42-year-old with dark-rimmed glasses, first moved to the Mission during the dot-com boom. Early on, he didn't feel safe walking alone at night in some areas. But two years ago, he opened a tiny record shop on 24th Street near South Van Ness with expectations that the street's commercial tenor would change.

Pig & Pie owner Miles Pickering, a tidy man in his 40s, also settled near 24th Street in the late 1990s.

"It was clear that it was coming, but I've been completely blown away by how fast things have changed," he says.

Meanwhile, some of the same businesses that presaged Valencia Street's gentrification in the 1990s have led 24th Street's transformation. Modern Times Books arrived in 2011, when the co-op could no longer afford the rent on Valencia. Alley Cat Books, a sister to Valencia's Dog Eared Books, followed last fall, taking over a long-shuttered smoke shop owned by the same landlord. Sidewalk Juice expanded from its original location just off Valencia on 21st Street to open its doors last summer.

Valencia Street now commands commercial rents high enough to force out the boutiques that took over during the dot-com boom. Currents, one of the first boutiques to open on Valencia in the early '90s, just closed due to a rent increase. Rents are so high that the Valencia Corridor Merchants Association has asked the city for a moratorium on full-service restaurants, which often outbid other businesses.

Because retail spaces on Mission Street have big footprints, designed to accommodate the department stores that made up the thriving Mission Miracle Mile in the 1950s, the spillover of boutiques and restaurants funnels down 24th Street. Wise Sons came to 24th Street in large part because the partners couldn't afford to rent on Valencia, says co-owner Evan Bloom.

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11 comments
carlos.chavarinjr
carlos.chavarinjr

Great article,  Jaime Maldonado  said it best when stating, "I get sad that Latinos in my generation aren't more progressive and proactive in terms of understanding that things are going to cost to make things better."  This is exactly how I feel!  I thank you for including it in this article.

skemptastic
skemptastic

I've heard that the swim is first so fewer people drown (as in, you'd be much more likely to drown if you swam last, after being exhausted from biking and running). Very sad news about Ehlinger, at any rate.

LibertyHiller
LibertyHiller

Late to the party, but...  One small detail: St. Peter's was NOT the first Catholic parish built for the Irish community of SF. That honor belongs to St. Patrick's in SOMA, which is about 16 years older.

eddie.ferrusquia
eddie.ferrusquia like.author.displayName 1 Like

Great article on gentrification in the Mission District.You say “evolution of 24th Street”, I say socio-economic Darwinism.As a Latino and exile of my once-beloved neighborhood, I generally sense in my people a great deal of defeatism towards gentrification that would have been unimaginable just 40 years ago at the height of the Chicano Power movement.Whatever the hell happened to us since then is beyond me, but if it’s anybody’s fault that Latinos are being shoved into the armpits of California (no offense, Stockton) it’s probably us.

But before us Latinos all stock up on Speed Stick, allow me to leave a few words of wisdom to the new (read: mostly white) residents of the Mission:

Dear hipsters and yuppies: (Is there a difference, really?  I’m not being sarcastic; we really don’t know.  We just call you yupsters for the sake of clarity.)

Every time you walk down our streets at night, point and snap photos in our store windows while we’re working late, and go “oooh”, and “aaaah”, and “hahaha, isn’t that funny”, it’s actually fucking obnoxious.  The Mission is not a zoo and Latinos actually resent being treated like exhibits in our own neighborhood.  (“See the endangered Chicano in its native habitat before it's extinct!)  When the class-cleansing that started with Willie Brown has finally finished its work in San Francisco and there’s not a single one of us left, then you can open the exhibit.  Maybe breed a few of us in captivity.  Turn the place into a wax museum.  Preserve the traces we left behind so that future generations can discover who we were.  (“Look, they left paintings on the walls!”)

You might think we don't understand when you make fun of us, but chances are we do.  (BTW, they’re called quinceañera dresses, they're supposed to be big and colorful, and they're designed for 15 year old Latinas, not a gaggle of snickering, siddidy, 30-something white girls already way past their prime.  Sorry ladies, you couldn't rock those dresses if you tried.  If you find them overly ornate and ostentatious, why don’t you slip into something more your style, like a tasteful Scandinavian-inspired evening gown, or a bedsheet with straps?)

As much as we all love organic patchouli burgers, not all of us can afford to eat at upscale “foodie” joints.  Latinos for the most part find it counterproductive to impress first dates with conspicuous displays of wealth – we save that for the wedding.  Nor do we feel the need to wow her with our extensive knowledge of the esoteric world of kelp-based Sri Lankan cuisine.  You’d be surprised what we can do with pupusas and a sexy Spanish accent.  Don’t you yupsters have your fill of pretentiousness in the art scene?  Now you gotta be bougie about food?  How about just thanking God for something to eat in a city where hundreds of homeless go hungry every day?  But I’ll tell you what: you stop judging us for walking around with a Popeye’s drink, and we won’t make fun of your knit sweaters and corny old-timey mustaches.  Anymore.

Some things are just better left to the pros.  There’s something not quite right when November creeps upon us and the only people not actually marching at Day of the Dead are Mexicans.  It’s because we now know how black people felt when Elvis came along.  Day of the Dead is a sacred Mexican tradition, not a Halloween after-party.  Those of us who observe Day of the Dead have a connection rooted in hundreds of years of Aztec and Mexican culture that gives us the right to honor our ancestors in this way.  The only connection yupsters have to Day of the Dead is a pasty, almost skeletal complexion.

You can have Cinco de Mayo, though.  It’s BEEN played out for a minute now and really, it’s all about the booze anyway.

Truth is, whatever armpit we Latinos end up shoved into, we’ll always bring the Mission with us.  By the time we’ve all made the move to the unholy perimeter around the Bay Area, we will have brought with us drink, tacos, music, dance, murals, horchata, bachata, chancletas, women, men, rolling r’s, poetry, culture, and cholos.  In short, we will infuse LIFE into those barren wastelands of 100 degree summers and meth.  We turn armpits into cleavage!  Pretty soon the Mission will be the new armpit of San Francisco and yupsters will once again be on the prowl for a new trendy area to gentrify.  But as much as you yupsters won’t be able to resist telling all your friends about the scene in Watsonville and decide you want to “slum it up” for the weekend, please, this time do us all favor and stay home.  Don’t come running to our new hood when you’ve turned yours into Whitebreadistan and it’s no longer cool anymore.  Latinos know all about what happens to our neighborhoods when they become “hip”, and we hate packing.

- Ed  (Mexicanus Chicanicus)

gringo.salad
gringo.salad

@eddie.ferrusquia Latinos who bought real estate in the Mission are doing great - either from the increased commercial rents they now receive or from the sale of their properties.

tomkirvin
tomkirvin

Neighborhoods change over time. Just as Latinos moved into the Irish/Italian neighborhood and built 24th St. as we know it now, others will move into the Latino neighborhood and establish their cultures.

HIstory
HIstory

@tomkirvin  The Irish and Italians left on their own for the American dream in the suburbs.  Track homes were being built by the thousands and where cheap after world war two. They left not just from the Mission but from the Castro and other parts of the City. Housing in the city was abundant and inexpensive at one point.

Today people are being pushed out by developers, investors, realtors. They are being evicted for higher rents. Ellis Acts are on the rise again with the promise to move in and they don't or have family move in until they could rent again at higher rents. Tenants and business's are being harassed and bullied. The murals that made our neighborhood colorful are now being deemed ugly and removed.

Its a big difference.

tomkirvin
tomkirvin

@HIstory @tomkirvin My Mexican family left the Mission on their own, too, for the suburbs. I watched it happen in the '50s and '60s. I came back. You cannot legislatively create a neighborhood and certainly you should not do so by race or ethnicity. Neighborhoods evolve. They go away and return as something else.

eddie.ferrusquia
eddie.ferrusquia like.author.displayName 1 Like

@tomkirvin - the key difference this time around is that while the Irish and Italians moved out of their own accord (white flight into the suburbs), Latinos are being displaced by good old fashioned capitalism.

 
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