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Walking down 24th Street today, it is evident that the Mission has changed drastically over the last decade. While the neighborhood has been heavily gentrified by wealthy developers and oblivious newcomers, the strength of the community remains in its people. It’s the artists, activists and families that form the fabric of 24th Street, which holds the community together.
Linda G. Wilson and Cindy De Losa are two such community members, who are working to preserve the memories of what was once here and what continues to remain.
In their upcoming co-exhibition titled “Back in the Day: A Collective Memory of 24th Street,” which debuts at the Juan R. Fuentes Gallery at Acción Latina on Aug. 12, Wilson and De Losa present a complimentary two-part show depicting the life, people and changes on 24th Street since 2007. The exhibition will showcase a collection of about 40 photographs of the 24th Street corridor and about 15 pieces of unique “shadow box art,” which are miniature diorama displays of 24th Street businesses and storefronts that incorporate various “Homies” figurines.
The project was born in 2006 when Wilson—the longtime photo archivist for El Tecolote—issued a call to action for local photographers to photograph the 14 blocks between Valencia Street and Potrero Avenue. Wilson would regularly attend meetings held by the late community organizer and activist Eric Quezada (who died of cancer in 2011) where talks about gentrification were just beginning. It was through those conversations that the idea to document the neighborhood’s rapid changes came about.
“This was a group project,” said Wilson.“We decided that people would particularly look for street signs and addresses because it’s important historically.”
Twenty photographers responded to Wilson’s call and the project took flight. Over the course of 2006 and 2007, Wilson and her team of photographers captured the memories of all 14 blocks—everything from community folks to businesses and storefronts that have long since closed.
Wilson launched this project in an effort to combat and document the changes on 24th Street, which were becoming more prominent.
“People just couldn’t believe it was happening. It was awful,” said Wilson. “We started seeing a lot of empty buildings. People’s rent had been quadrupled, but no one came in. There seemed to be this feeling that people were buying big pieces of land in the Mission. The restaurants on 24th Street would change every four or five months. That was one of the worst things you saw, especially for the people who lived up above [the businesses].”
Self-proclaimed “OG Homegirl” and visual artist Cindy De Losa, a third-generation San Franciscan and long-time member of the 24th Street community, had her own way of resisting that change. De Losa has crafted hundreds of dioramas using “Homies” figurines—created by Richmond Chicano artist David Gonzales—that capture places that represent “home” to De Losa in her project titled “Homes for Homies.”
“David Gonzales made those little homies to represent the people,” De Losa said. “Our people. Nobody’s ever done that and in the places that we love.”
These dioramas are significant because they not only represent moments in time that may only be re-lived through photos, but they incorporate characters that represent the people who make up the community.
“It’s kind of like my life,” De Losa said. “I also did North Beach because all of San Francisco is my neighborhood. They are all of the things I did growing up.”
24th Street has been an extensive part of De Losa’s work. She has created replicas of iconic Mission District sites including La Palma Mexicatessen, Acción Latina, and Discolandia, the latter of which no longer exists. Yet despite those that have vanished, there are survivors.
The goal of Wilson and De Losa, who initially embarked on their individual projects to document their home but have now come together, is to truly preserve the nostalgic places that still is the heart of the Mission.
“Back in the Day: A Collective Memory of 24th Street” opens Saturday, Aug. 12 at Acción Latina’s Juan R. Fuentes Gallery located at 2958 24th Street, San Francisco. The opening reception is from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. and the exhibition runs through Sept. 29, 2017. Contributing photographers include: Sahara Borga, Marilyn Duran, Juan Antonio Echevarria, Talia Herman, C.L Lane, Jorge Lopez, Vero Manjo, Evelyn Mejva, Daniel Montes, Mabel Negrete, Keith Norris, Roxanne Perez, Sarah Powell, Francisco Ramos, Rebecca Ruiz, Steven Simoneti, Norma D. Solorzano, Alfonso Texidor, and Linda G. Wilson