Is the San Francisco music scene dying?
While we may be debating the future of music in the Bay Area, we should still celebrate the glorious days of our song-filled past with a dosage of nostalgia. In this week's Tourism for Locals, we won't only be taking a stroll down musical memory lane, but acknowledge the local importance of a community gathering spot that was synonymous with the “Golden Age” of San Francisco music. Let's put our records on and explore the world of a music store and institution that closed after a 40 year legacy.
Welcome to Discolandia!
[jump] The year was 1957, Sputnik was launched and the The Little Rock Nine were receiving backlash for integrating to an all-white high school in Arkansas; yes, these were monumental events but on a local scale, a 14-year-old refugee girl from Cuba arrived in San Francisco, and would change the way Latin music was produced and purchased in California.
Silvia Rodriguez is originally from Santa Clara, Cuba and grew up listening to the classical rhythms of salsa, merengue, and bachata. Her mother, Hilda Pagan, arrived in San Francisco in 1955 to establish herself and brought over the rest of the familiy, including Silivia, three years later so as to flee the Cuban revolution and Fidel Castro's eventual rise to power on the island nation.
Rodriguez didn't have a interest in school, but had a passion for music and entrepernuiship. According to a feature in El Tecolote, in the mid '60s, she worked at La Moderna Poesia, also known as La Casa Sanchez, one of the few Latin music stores in San Francisco. She was employed there for approximately five years before starting her own music venture.
After several stores were opened and closed, the '80s proved to be a monumental decade for Rodriguez. In 1982, Discolandia: La Casa de Los Discos, opened at the intersection of 24th and Harrison streets and is where the remains of the former music mecca stand today.
At that time there were only three stores in the Mission that sold music: “Musica Latina” on 26th Street, “American Music” on 20th Street and “Discolandia” on 24th Street. Discolandia also rented classic Mexican films starring Pedro Infante, Jorge Negrete and Maria Felix. It was one of the first stores to offer films for rent.
The store carried all the classics and contemporary hits of Latin American music in various playing formats (vinyl, cassette, CD, etc.) and in way that kept exiled Latin Americans connected to their countries of origin through music. However, Discolandia not only attracted locals to browse the stacks and sip on Cuban coffee with foam, but also the iconic stars themselves would enter the music haven; those who walked through the orange tinted doors included Tito Puente, Pedro Fernandez, Ismael Miranda, Juan Gabriel, Oscar D’León, and the Queen of Salsa herself, Celia Cruz.
Despite the local fame and becoming a symbol of the Mission District, sales began to decline starting in 2004 with the advent of the iPod and MP3 music downloads. Business really took a hit in 2008 with the explosion of Internet music sales, the ubiquity of pirated music, and the downward economy — the music-store landscape changed completely. Citing desires to retire and lack of profit, Rodriguez closed her 40-year-old business on Jan. 16, 2011.
In 2012, Pig and Pie opened inside the former record store space serving homemade sausages, fruit pies, and ice cream. After much protest by the neighborhood community, the owners promised not to remove the iconic signage from the former tenant. They added an awning below the Discolandia lettering, and therefore preserved the exterior of San Francisco's music past.
Other homages to the glory days of Discolandia include a a cameo appearance in a South Van Ness and 24th Street mural above the House of Brakes and acting as the set in a small, eponymous indie narrative documentary.
So next time you find yourself in the Mission, and walk by this store front, head inside and grab a treat and listen to any popular salsa song in homage to the musical days of yesteryear.
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