San Francisco, CA
Mission San Francisco de Asís, popularly known as Mission Dolores, was founded in 1776 and moved to its current location on 16th and Dolores Streets in 1783. The founding of the Mission by Father Palou, a Spanish priest, marked the first time a population was displaced from the Mission. Before the Spanish arrived, Costanoan Indians inhabited the area, just one of about 62 tribes that pre-existed Mexican and Spanish rule. Records indicate that between 1833 and 1841, the Native American population in the Mission decreased from 400 to only 50. Through 1849, Mexican and Spanish ranches around Mission Dolores comprised the Mission district.
With the Gold Rush and transportation advances (San Francisco’s Municipal Railway, otherwise known as Muni, began carrying passengers in 1851), more residents and businesses came to the area, as the core of San Francisco grew outward. By 1890 the Mission was largely built up and the street and land-use patterns that still exist today were formed.
Following San Francisco’s 1906 earthquake and fire, large numbers of San Franciscans moved into the Mission from more damaged parts of the city. The Mission became home to a large number of working-class Irish and Italian families, and the neighborhood reached new heights of prosperity. Many of the Mission’s historic theaters, including the Majestic and the Grant, were built during this time.
In the 1950s and 1960s, another influx of immigrants came to the Mission, this time primarily from Central and South America. The Latino community flourished, with its center along Mission Street, for several decades. Around this time, many long-time Mission families moved to the suburbs using World War II GI and Federal Housing Authority loans to subsidize their moves.
The Mission San Francisco de Asís, or Mission Dolores, was built in 1782 and survived the famous 1906 earthquake. It is the oldest building in San Francisco.
Disinvestment in the Mission began to take its toll, and by the late 1960s, the Mission District was marked by a high crime rate relative to the rest of San Francisco. The Mission suffered from gang activity, prostitution and an aging housing stock. Despite the crime, the Mission’s Latino community continued to grow through the 1970s and 1980s, served by a large network of immigrant services, community organizations, and local businesses. A community of artists also began to develop in the Mission, attracted by cheap studio and warehouse space in the neighborhood’s northeast section.
Over the last ten years, California’s high-tech boom, centered in the Silicon Valley, began to affect San Francisco and the Mission. Throughout the city, housing prices and commercial rents skyrocketed. The Mission’s still relatively affordable housing became a magnet for a young, upwardly-mobile population attracted by the area’s affordability, transit access (the neighborhood has two BART stops and is well-served by MUNI buses), proximity to Downtown, and an increasingly hip nightlife scene. High-end restaurants and clubs began to price out local serving businesses and non-profits supporting the neighborhood’s immigrant population. Reports indicate that between 1997 and 1999, commercial rents increased 41 percent, compared to 15 percent in the city as a whole.
Many long-time Latino tenants were evicted as new housing developments raised property values, and landlords looked to capitalize on the growing popularity of the Mission by raising rents. The Mission’s immigrant population was particularly vulnerable to displacement and other gentrification pressures. A large number of recent immigrants were renters, and less familiar with tenant rights due to language or other cultural barriers.
In addition, live-work “loft” developments began to sprout up, a relatively cheap building type marketed to young urban homebuyers. Live-work development angered many long-time Mission residents, because, in addition to driving up housing costs, live-work developments are exempt from many residential regulations, including affordable housing requirements and public school fees. In addition, many Mission activists argued that live-work developments were illegally inhabited by businesses, particularly high-tech companies looking for affordable commercial space. The late 1990s saw a number of protests by the Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition (MAC), a loosely organized group of Mission residents, business owners, and activists, against new live-work developments and high-tech companies moving into the Mission.
However, by 2002, the gentrification pressure began to dissipate. As Nancy Charraga, a Latina storeowner explained, “it was as if someone pulled the plug.” The dot-com boom imploded, and commercial rents and housing prices began to stabilize. Vacant storefronts now litter some of the Mission’s main retail corridors, and vacancy rates are rising.
The long-term effects of the dot-com boom still need to be assessed, although recent Census data reveals that the Mission’s Latino population decreased only slightly, less than one percent, between 1990 and 2000. The informational maps in this section provide a preliminary look at the social and demographic changes that took place in the Mission from 1990 to 2000.
Kelley Kahn is an urban planner and writer living in Oakland, California.