Deep in the Mission District on 24th street between York and Bryant is a small children’s park nestled between two businesses–Five Markets Groceries and La Mexicana Bakery. The park includes small play areas for young children, a water fountain, seating spaces, and on the edifices of the neighboring structures are a series of colorful murals. One of these murals that decorates the surface of a three story building is called “Fantasy World for Children.” It was painted by some very important women in the history of the Mission.
A Miniature Park for 24th Street
The park is one of many of its kind in San Francisco called “Mini Parks.” The history of these parks, all 44 of them, are a cornerstone of the city’s philanthropic and community spirit, exemplified by its plethora of community leaders and city administrators. The origins of the parks came out of the same time period that cultivated the women who painted the remarkable mural on the 24th Street Mini Park.
The idea for the parks was proposed by Mayor Joseph Alioto in 1968 when he suggested the spaces to Stewart Udall, who was US Secretary of the Interior. The parks were be to designed to offer safe and friendly areas for families with small children to enjoy in often growing and congested urban neighborhoods within the city.
Under the proposal, San Francisco and the Federal Government would each fund half the cost the original 20 to 25 parks. The first four parks were located in Hunters Point, Western Addition, Bernal Heights, and the Mission District on Capp Street.
By the beginning of the 1970s the ideas behind these parks was proposed for another site in the Mission on 24th Street. There was an opportunity. There was a 50′ by 100′ vacant lot on the street by the corner of York where a bakery burned down. The city purchased the lot for $41,500 and began building the park, which would offer a wood arbor with playground equipment for small children, a sand box, a lawn area, and a big tree offering shade from the Mission midday sun.
A Movement of Art by a Collective of Women
During this same period, something else was forming inside the Mission—an art movement that would define and differentiate the Mission District from the other neighborhoods in the city. A Latino cultural movement in the United States during the 1960s and 1970s began to produce a prolific body writers and painters– writers like Rudolfo Anaya and Ernesto Galarza, along with painters like Rudy Cuellar and Louie González. During the same period a mostly male muralist movement had already begun painting in the Mission. This movement would help shape the flavor and personality of the Inner Mission.
This is when the four women who became known as La Mujeres Muralistas were commissioned to create what would become known as “Latinoamerica,” an amazing mural achievement in the Inner Mission that was unfortunately destroyed in the 1980s. The women broke a barrier for the predominately male-centric Mexican Mural movement. Consisting of an all women art collective, these artists would become pioneers in expressing their solely female vision on what murals should offer. Moving away from themes of politics and violence, La Mujeres Muralistas focused instead more on Chicano and Latin America cultural traditions and history.
“In the work we did, culture was emphasized and the best compliments came from our community,” Patricia Rodriguez said in an interview with the blogsite Eternal Queens, “We were talking to our own community, our own families. Women would come and say ‘You know I’ve been here working in the hotels and cleaning houses all my life and nobody’s ever thought about us. Thank you for depicting our culture.”
Patricia Rodriquez grew up in Texas, moving to San Francisco in 1966 to attend Merritt College and attain an art degree. She was soon introduced to the art movements of the city, which she had a modest background and knowledge. Later, Rodriquez was accepted into the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI) through a scholarship where she would meet her friend and cofounder of La Mujeres Muralistas. Garciela Carrillo, who was born and raised in Los Angeles and came to the city to attend San Jose State. She eventually found herself in SFAI on a scholarship like Patricia. Moving into together in a place in the Mission, both artist began to construct their idea of a women’s mural art movement and focus on consummating it into action. Consuelo Mendez, the only non-native member who was born in Caracas, Venezuela, and Irene Perez, the youngest member of the collective, soon joined.
Consuelo’s background in art came from her father who was a painter. She was influenced by Cesar Rengifo and studied medicine at Rice University before entering into an art degree at SFAI. Irene Perez was from a migrant farm worker family in East Oakland. She started out studying commercial art but soon found herself attending SFAI after meeting the muralist, Michael Rios.
The Fantasy on 24th Street
Meanwhile by 1975 the 24th Street Mini Park was in terrible condition, the need for artwork at the site drew Perez’s mentor Michael Rios to request a mural from the City of San Francisco. The park was suffering from neglect as the space began to be blighted with liquor bottles and dog poop. Rios went to city hall and made a proposal for the mural project in part of a collective community effort to revitalize the park and ensure that it was clean and accessible for families. Rios acquired the funding and invited the La Mujeres Muralistas to create a new mural specifically for the park.
The mural stands three stories tall in full color—40’x20′, politec acrylic on wood. The scene depicts a tropical fantasy that is in direct contrast with the urban reality that surrounds it. There is a lake in the center of a tropical forest. An erect volcano sits in the background. In the lake, an indigenous fisherman prepares to spear his prey while two other indigenous men carry away a snake and boy in the trees watches all of them. Throughout the scene jungle animals roam. A monkey watches the audience in a tree, a jaguar climbs a vine, a turtle lies besides a peacock in on a log floating on the lake, and something resembling brontosaurs watches the fishermen. Up above, an indigenous god by the side of the volcano blows his breadth down on the lake while a goddess with a plumed hat stands solemnly on the other side of the volcano.
“We went to work on our design, thinking of our audiences” Patricia Rodriguez said in an essay titled Mujeres Muralistas that she wrote and was published in the book Ten Years That Shook the City: San Francisco 1968-1978, “Children with their parents or grandparents enjoying a warm sunny day in the park adorned with colorful murals depicting fantasy and beauty. This vision was a stark contrast to the Vietnam War mural the men painted before they changed it to a large image of Quetzalcoatl with kids climbing all over it.”
“Fantasy World for Children” would be the collectives final surviving piece. After decades since its completion, the mural has slowly eroded and is in need of restoration. The park still attracts families with children and is well maintain. The tree still provides shade during the noon Sun’s reign as traffic throughout 24th Street passes and life continues. La Mujeres Muralistas would move on to continue work separately. The mural at 24th Street Mini Park would be their final work together. The contribution to the park is unimaginable. Sharing space with other murals, “Fantasy World for Children” stands out for its positive peaceful vision—an envisioning of harmony of the material world with the magical world where both people, animals, and gods live in unison.
Want to Visit? Here is a map to get you started:
Further Reading About La Mujeres Muralistas:
- Mujeres Muralistas Blogsite
- Hombres Y Mujeres Muralistas On A Mission: Painting Latino Identities In 1970s San Francisco
- Latinoamerica by Mujeres Muralistas
- Ten Years That Shook the City: San Francisco 1968-1978: “Mujeres Muralistas”
- Creative Collectives: Chicana Painters Working in Community: “We Offer You Colors We Make”
- Interview with Patricia Rodriquez of Las Mujeres Muralistas