Virtually nothing that happens in the 1500 block of McKinnon Avenue escapes the notice of a small band of longtime residents who vigorously defend their slice of the Bayview. For more than 25 years, the street's fortunes have been watched over by one of the oldest, most vigilant neighborhood organizations in the city — the McKinnon Block Club.
The club has chased out bad neighbors, closed down crack houses, and wrangled stop signs from the city. The 20 or so dues-paying members gather monthly in somebody's living room to review the state of their block.
So residents are still having a hard time believing that somehow, while they weren't watching, the neighborhood lost control of one of its oldest, most enduring touchstones.
The Chrispus Attucks Club, founded in 1949, had long served as a meeting place and community center for the neighborhood. The Attucks Club owned a house on the corner of McKinnon and Mendel avenues, and over the years tens of thousands of dollars were spent fixing up the place.
But membership in the Attucks Club had dwindled in recent years, and the two-story brick and wood house was used less and less. Finally, this April, two of the four Chrispus Attucks board members died. The remaining two, Mignionette Patterson and Dorothy Chisholm — neither of whom live in the Bayview — officially dissolved the club and donated the building to the Glide Memorial Foundation, an arm of the Rev. Cecil Williams' Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in the Tenderloin.
Neighbors on McKinnon say they had no idea ownership of the building had changed until the house's longtime caretaker moved out. Since then, the old Attucks clubhouse has sat empty and unused, trash piling up in its yard, while Glide Memorial decides what to do with the property.
To no surprise, the McKinnon Block Club is not about to let some downtown organization set up shop in its little corner of the world unless the block club can at least have some say in the matter. Not even Williams and Glide Memorial, the city's pre-eminent hub of religion and social welfare.
“We rather resent the idea of some downtown interest coming in and telling us what's best for us,” says McKinnon Block Club President Fred Alvarez. “We'd like to have some kind of control over the building because it's right here in our block club. It's a building that we've had some kind of historical connection to. We've put money into it.”
Glide initially planned to turn the house into a youth center, with programs including drug rehabilitation. Neighbors would rather see a child care center, police station, senior center, or shelter for battered women.
The battle was engaged even before Glide formally took title to the property. McKinnon Block Club members circulated a petition and began badgering government officials, trying to win back some say in what happens to the building. (The McKinnon Block Club is not incorporated in such a way that it could own the property.)
Last week, the entire issue landed in limbo when a $100,000 donation that Glide had planned to use for its youth programs fell through. Now, neighborhood residents are waiting to see what Williams comes up with next.
The controversy might be more easily resolved if the two sides were actually speaking to each other. While Glide ponders its next move, McKinnon residents fear part of their history is slipping away.
The corner house was built back in 1908, and belonged to the O'Day family until 1947, when, records show, the Bayview Southern Baptist Church took over as owner. In 1954, the house was given to a group called the Bay View Chrispus Attucks Club. At some point along the way, at least part of the house was turned into a kind of social hall, with a big kitchen and basement.
And although the Chrispus Attucks Club — named for the African-American man who was the first martyr in the American Revolution — was formed in 1949, its mission is appropriate 50 years later. Primarily, it aims to better the Bayview through youth activities, job opportunities, and “proper recreational facilities.”
In the early 1970s, city officials started to build low-income housing at Lane Circle, near the top of McKinnon Avenue. The McKinnon Block Club was none too pleased with this idea. To mollify the club's concerns, city officials handed over about $100,000 in Community Development Block Grant Funds to fix up the Chrispus Attucks clubhouse.
In 1976, McKinnon Block Club members recall, their club won a bicentennial neighborhood contest of some kind. The club decided to donate the prize money — between $15,000 and $25,000, depending on who's telling the story — for work on the Chrispus Attucks clubhouse. But no one seems to have memorialized this transaction with any sort of paperwork.
“They were gonna lose it or something like that,” remembers Greer Jackson, who founded the McKinnon Block Club and lives across from the Chrispus Attucks building. “We came into helping to save the building. We had won this money and someone suggested that it go toward putting the bricks around the building.”
The Attucks Club originally required its members to live in the Bayview District, but as time went by, that loosened up. Later revisions of the club's bylaws don't include any such mandate. Members were getting up in years, and moving away. Activity at the clubhouse slowed until finally it was confined to a handful of senior citizens. Sometimes they quilted. Sometimes they just visited.
Following a misunderstanding about insurance between the two groups a few years ago, the McKinnon Block Club began meeting at the Providence Baptist Church down the street, rather than at the Chrispus Attucks Club. Now the McKinnon Block Club prefers to convene in the living rooms of its members.
The estrangement, however, has not dampened the block club's resolve to re-tain some measure of control over the old clubhouse.
The group has hired a lawyer, and last month, about five of the McKinnon neighbors met with San Francisco Supervisor Amos Brown. They were armed with 13 signatures on a petition stating that the club wants the Chrispus Attucks clubhouse to “remain in the control and interest of the 94124 [zip code] area as originally chartered.”
A couple of weeks later, the group asked Brown to set up a meeting with Glide Memorial's Williams to discuss the issue. That hasn't happened, and while the building continues to sit empty, Brown seems to have gotten mired in research.
“We still have to determine who the current owner of the property is,” says Brown. “I don't know where they are in terms of that. The process is still going on to see what can be done about their property. It's being researched. There will be follow-up conversations with the people out there.”
County records still show the Chrispus Attucks Club as the legal owner of the building. But both Patterson, the Attucks Club secretary, and Williams confirm that it has been donated to Glide Memorial. Williams says he has no clue about the wishes of the McKinnon neighbors, who haven't ever contacted Glide directly.
“I don't know who they are,” Williams says of the McKinnon group. “I know a lot of people out there, but I don't know them. I have not met with them because we didn't get what I thought was coming for a program there.”
Glide had planned a program targeted at 18- to 25-year-olds, concentrating on job skills, mentoring, and rehabilitation. If Glide does not find another source of funds within the next two weeks, Williams says, he's likely to make the building available to some Bayview group willing to spruce up the property.
“We thought we had some money but it didn't come through,” Williams says. “I think I'm going to offer the building for use by someone else and let them go ahead and use the building for whatever they want.”
Of course, that's exactly what the McKinnon neighbors don't want to hear.