Category Archives: Mission Dolores

Recreating the Mission Dolores Mural in a New Setting

Mission Dolores mural detail, courtesy of Ben Wood

In 1791, local Ohlone artists painted a 20′ x 22′ mural on a wall of the sanctuary at Mission Dolores. Currently, however, that mural is hidden behind a massive 1796 reredos, or wooden altar. In 2004, artist Ben Wood and archeologist Eric Blind devised a means to digitally photograph a 5′ x 22′ portion of the mural without moving the altar – a project that earned them the 2004 Governor’s Historic Preservation Award. Now, Wood is overseeing a project to recreate that portion of the mural in a public setting a few blocks away.

Wood consulted Annice Jacoby’s 2009 publication, Street Art San Francisco: Mission Muralismo, and found the names of artists Megan Wilson and  Jet Martinez – both of whom have been active in the Clarion Alley Mural Project. Martinez was interested Wood’s proposal to recreate the Mission Dolores mural, and had already been in communication with Jeremy Shaw, Executive Director of the Mission Community Market, about the possibility of creating a mural on the wall of Mission Market at 85 Bartlett Street (between 21st and 22nd Streets). The Mission Community Market (MCM) is a nonprofit that began in 2010 as part of the San Francisco Planning Department’s Mission District Streetscape Plan. It organizes a weekly open-air farmer’s market at Bartlett and 22nd Streets that also provides a venue for local Mission businesses and arts and youth organizations. Shaw had been meeting with neighborhood business owners about the possibility of putting murals on the walls around the MCM. Martinez, Wood and Shaw felt that a recreation of the Mission Dolores mural would be an appropriate beginning for a larger mural project in the area. The owner of Mission Market was amenable to having the mural painted on the outside of his store; and through Megan Wilson, Ben Wood met two other local artists – Bunnie Reiss and Ezra Eismont – who, along with Martinez, signed on to paint the mural.

Wood has invited Mission Dolores staff to collaborate on an interpretive panel that would accompany the mural, in the hopes of highlighting the stewardship and programming at Mission Dolores in relation to its historic resources. Wood has also consulted with Charlene Sul, Chair of the Advisory Council for The Confederation of Ohlone Peoples about the project. More recently, Wood has been in conversation with Sul’s son, Anthony, about the possibility of his participation in the painting of the mural. Through these and other Native contacts, Wood has been soliciting input about the mural’s creation, presentation, and interpretation.

Wood has created a video about the project to assist in his goal of raising $8,300 by April 4. For additional information about the project, please visit the Mission Dolores Mural website.

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Haunted by “Vertigo”

Hecksher Gallery, Legion of Honor, 2010 photo by Drew Bourn

In Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 San Francisco noir thriller, Vertigo, retired police detective Scottie Ferguson (Jimmy Stewart) investigates Madeleine Elster (Kim Novak) – a woman with a mysterious connection to San Francisco’s past. A twist of the plot results in Scottie himself becoming obsessed with the past, and the story moves forward by exploring the risks involved in investigating  – and re-creating – history.

During the course of Scottie’s investigations, he trails Madeleine to locations around the city, including the Mission Dolores cemetery, the George and Marie Hecksher Gallery in the Palace of the Legion of Honor, and the Henry J. Fortmann Mansion that used to stand on the northwest corner of Eddy and Gough Streets. By following Madeleine, Alfred Hitchcock and his Director of Photography, Robert Burks, were able to include a considerable number of on-location shoots. That was still somewhat novel for the Hollywood studios; shooting almost entirely on set had been the norm for 1940s San Francisco film noir such as John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon.

According to Ruthe Stein’s August 29, 2010 article for The San Francisco Chronicle, actress Kim Novak  appears to be as haunted by the past as the character she played in Vertigo. Novak retired from the film industry in the 1960s, and now lives in Oregon. Yet Stein reports that Novak has returned to San Francisco for decades, assuming a disguise to visit the places that her character Madeleine visited in Vertigo.  Furthermore, Stein quotes Novak as saying that she notices others making similar visits, observing that “they do little things that Madeleine does, like they are reliving the scenes.”

I regularly visit and take pictures of locations that had been shot for Vertigo. I’m not surprised by Novak’s claim that others visit these locations, as well. Some, such as Hank Donat, CitySleuth of ReelSF, and the web team at Worldwide Guide to Movie Locations, have posted their photographs on their websites. Perhaps among the most ambitious of those visiting and photographing sites from Vertigo have been Jeff Kraft and Aaron Leventhal, who have featured their work in their 2002 publication, Footsteps in the Fog: Alfred Hitchock’s San Francisco. The website of their publisher, Santa Monica Press, includes some images and content from their work.

One recent example of Vertigo’s continued reach into the present came when the Lembi Group hired Los Angeles-based Thomas Schoos Design, Inc. to renovate 940 Sutter Street (which appeared as the Empire Hotel in Vertigo), re-opening the property in 2009 as the Hotel Vertigo. The new hotel even featured suites named The Gavin, The Scottie, The Carlotta, The Midge and The Madeleine, after characters in the film. As Sarah Duxbury reported in a May 21, 2010 article in The San Francisco Business Times, however, the Hotel Vertigo has since been foreclosed, and was purchased in an auction by the Centerline Capital Group.

The Hotel Vertigo may become a part of San Francisco’s past. Even if that were to happen, however, it may live on as one of many sites to which Vertigo enthusiasts return again and again – including, perhaps, an incognito Kim Novak.

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“Indigenous Renewal” – Commemorating Native American Activism

Alcatraz Welcome, 2009 photo by Jackie Sutherland.

On the evenings of Wednesday, November 25 and Thursday, November 26, a series of film and still images will be projected onto Coit Tower to mark the 40th anniversary of the occupation of Alacatraz Island by a coalition of Native American activists. The project, called “Indigenous Renewal: Alcatraz Occupation Remembrance + Ohlone Presence Celebrated,”  represents a collaboration of San Francisco-based artists Ben Wood and David Mark.  Neil Maclean, as part of the Ohlone Profiles Project, also invited a number of other contributions from local native supporters and some Ohlone. In conjunction with the projection on Coit Tower, a running commentary about the images will be broadcast on KPOO San Francisco 89.5 FM.

On November 20, 1969, a coalition of Native Americans – many of them college students – took over Alacatraz Island in San Francisco Bay in an unarmed occupation that would last until June 10, 1971. At its height on Thanksgiving, 1969, as many as approximately 400 Native activists occupied the island. Alcatraz had been abandoned as a federal prison facility since 1963, and although the U.S. Coast Guard established a blockade of the island at the beginning of the occupation and the FBI were poised to land, the federal government withheld action until the numbers of activists dwindled to about 15 in 1971. The inital occupying party, calling itself Indians of All Tribes, demanded that Alcatraz be developed as a Native cultural center, including programs such as a museum and a center for Native studies. More broadly, the activists drew attention to a wide range of Native issues related to sovereignty, repatriation and civil rights.

Ben Wood described to me the variety of sources from which he selected footage and images that will be projected on Coit Tower. These include images of the occupation that archivist Alex Cherian of the San Francisco State University Special Collections & Archives helped Wood to find. Eric Blind, Presidio Trust Archaeologist, provided imagery related to his work in repatriating Native artifacts. Andrew Galvan, the curator at the Mission Dolores and himself an Ohlone, made it possible for Wood to shoot footage of the 1790s Ohlone mural hidden behind the reredos in the Mission.  In addition to these cultural heritage professionals, Neil Maclean built relationships with a wide net of Ohlone and other Native people and their allies throughout the Bay Area, who provided additional imagery and participated in the project.  The resulting collection of images had also been used on by these artists on previous projects involving projections on Coit Tower in 2004, 2006 and 2008.  Among the content that will be projected this year will be:

  • Alcatraz Is Not an Island, by James Fortier
  • Rendezvouz with Alcatraz, by Ben Wood & David Mark
  • Welcome to Ohlone Territory, by Marlo Mckenzie and Neil Maclean
  • Ohlone Families, by Charlene Sul and Anthony Sul
  • San Bruno Mountain, by Keith Moreau and Sam Ellis Moreau
  • Native America Segments, by Lorenzo

“Indigenous Renweal” will take place on Wednesday, November 25 and again on Thanksgiving, Thursday, November 26, from dusk until the following morning. Wood and Mark have recommended Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 31, and Washington Square as locations from which the images can be seen. Running commentary about the images from Ohlone and other Native participants in the project will be able to be heard on KPOO San Francisco 89.5 FM. For more information about the project and the artists, please go to Coit Live or Ohlone Profiles.


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