A long-standing and beloved institution is under threat, the community rallies to save it, and victory or failure follows. This is a cycle that San Francisco — the Mission, in particular — is accustomed to. But Galería de la Raza doesn’t quite fit into either scenario.
The Latinx arts gallery that helped sustain the international Chicano civil rights movement already knew it had to leave its 46-year-old home at 2858 24th St., on the corner of Bryant Street, if it wanted a permanent place in San Francisco. So Executive Director Ani Rivera preemptively entered talks a few years ago to be housed alongside other nonprofits on Folsom and 16th streets through the Mission Economic Development Agency and the Tenderloin Neighborhood Corporation.
“We knew that that wasn’t going to be a permanent option,” Rivera says of the 24th Street location. “Our focus is continuing to build out and negotiate around the permanent site.”
But the need for that space came sooner than expected. For years, Galería leaders — including renowned artist René Yañez, who died last year — had sought a longer-term lease, rather than exist month-to-month, and even offered $500,000 in capital improvements in order to get one in 2015. The landlords declined, instead hitting the gallery with June 2018 notice that rent would be doubled. To offset the cost, they relocated to the significantly smaller Studio 24 space next door for the same rate they were paying before.
Negotiations to secure a two-year lease, to keep them in place until they could set up a permanent place, sputtered. In October, the 48-year-old Galería was forced out.
Rivera is happy to report that the new spot at 1470 Valencia St. is home — albeit a smaller, interim one. Moving and preserving the archives was a significant task, and people are still finding their way to the new spot, where Galería de la Raza’s mission of cultural affirmation continues through programming and exhibits.
“Uprooting and rerooting ourselves has taken a toll and taken some time,” Rivera says. “It has been a moment of introspection, of making sure that while we’re uprooting, we’re moving forward.”
That path eventually takes them to a component of the 143-unit fully affordable housing building development at 990 Folsom Street around December 2020. On Friday, Galería will celebrate its groundbreaking there at 4 p.m. and encourages others to attend.
Whatever comes to replace it is unlikely to fill the Galería’s shoes, not that new tenants appear to be moving in anytime soon. The ghost of the bustling gallery remains, visible through the graffiti-streaked windows, its name still painted in yellow on the main wall’s navy blue backdrop.
A historical landmark designation is underway, despite the building’s owner, Lily Ng, objecting that her ability to manage the property would be restricted. Per the Historic Preservation Commission’s approved recommendation in April, the Board of Supervisors will soon take up the final landmark designation for the space, including the mural frame and exterior building details. It’s early in the process, but Rivera pictures a plaque in the sidewalk to permanently mark the corner’s history of Galería de la Raza.
“As a community, as a people, the most powerful thing we have is our histories and our legacies,” Rivera says. “The ideas, the works, that came out of that corner shapes our community not just on a local but global perspective. We don’t want that to be forgotten, we want it to continue to be celebrated.”
By June, Rivera says they expect to be settled into the interim space and host an open house while keeping a close watch on the landmark status as an eternal commemoration on 24th Street. Rivera herself hasn’t been back to that familiar corner, save for driving by. It’s still too painful, she says.
“I think it’s important that we let the wound heal and breathe,” Rivera says. “We’re happy to have a home.”
Galería de la Raza, 1470 Valencia St., galeriadelaraza.org