PG&E Mural Dedication
By Carol A. Nunnelly
On April 10, 2015, Tenderloin merchants, community leaders and Academy of Art University students gathered to celebrate the installation of a collection of mural panels depicting the history of the neighborhood. The 13 vibrant murals on a PG&E substation at the corner of Eddy and Larkin in San Francisco were created under the direction of School of Fine Art Executive Director Craig Nelson with full-time faculty member Carol Nunnelly. These striking works serve to brighten the corner and bring new visual interest to the building.
Stabilizing the area and halting the spread of crime was a goal of this project. It emerged from a class called Mural Painting, offered both online and on campus during spring and fall semesters. The class gives students an opportunity to learn the business side of mural production and how to paint large-scale works, teaching real-world skills and preparing students for careers as artists
Nelson says he started the class with the idea that students can benefit from working on projects that teach them how to produce art for a living. “It’s a chance for the students to collaborate and learn how to budget time and expenses,” he says. “We partner with a client who covers all expenses. We paint a mural during a 15-week semester, and manage time constraints to meet deadlines.”
The idea for the project came from Randy Shaw, executive director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, who met with Rebecca Delgado Rottman, vice president of Community & Government Relations at the Academy. Shaw explained that the Tenderloin neighborhood has 380 historic buildings listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and outlined his concept for a timeline with historical references to some of the noteworthy events, places and people from the Tenderloin’s colorful history.
Since various political and cultural forces have changed the landscape of the Tenderloin, the idea was to transform the PG&E substation into a neighborhood gallery without walls, using historic themes.
The Tenderloin has been home to several boxing gyms. Newman’s Gym, where Muhammad Ali once trained, is one of the more famous.
The Tenderloin was also a center of gay activism, including the Vanguard Street Sweep Protest of 1966. A group of gay youths who organized the protest is depicted in one mural panel.
The Grateful Dead recorded the album American Beauty at Wally Heider Recording Studios in the Tenderloin. Producer Wally Heider attracted many famous musicians to the studio, including Creedence Clearwater Revival; Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young; and Jefferson Airplane, all of whom recorded albums there.
Many jazz greats played at the Blackhawk Jazz Club.
Southeast Asian immigration to the Tenderloin led to stabilizing the neighborhood and the opening of new businesses that provide services for residents and infuse the neighborhood with new energy.
The Tenderloin is a place where families live. Many singles rent affordable housing in the neighborhood. Housing conversion, turning “run-down” buildings into affordable housing for the underprivileged, was the Tenderloin’s antidote to losing affordability and the family feeling. Offering counseling and social services for residents, Leroy Looper was the founder of Reality House West, located in the Cadillac Hotel. The original Cadillac was a “family friendly” hotel; Looper’s Reality House West offered a low cost residential hotel in the neighborhood.
The students also painted a tribute to the era of silent films. The fireproof film exchange buildings supplied movies and equipment for San Francisco’s theaters.
The Glide Foundation at the corner of Ellis and Taylor Streets has served as a rallying point for the area. Rev. Cecil Williams became pastor of Glide Memorial in 1963; his efforts to serve the poor are memorialized on a panel.
When the completed 13 panels were installed, positive comments began to emerge in the Tenderloin. Residents say they feel safer, the sidewalks are cleaner…a winning combination for a neighborhood that welcomes change and diversity.
Welcoming the Murals
The April 10 dedication celebration kicked off with a passionate speech from Academy Vice President Rottman, who welcomed the crowd and introduced the speakers to follow. Each one inspired the crowd with heartfelt stories.
The first speaker, Stephanie Isaacson, PG&E senior manager, San Francisco Division, talked about the commitment of PG&E to the neighborhood and how thrilled her organization is with the partnership and student contributions to the murals.
Jane Kim, District 6 supervisor, explained the many positive benefits for the Tenderloin that the new murals bring. She noted that the uplifting of this corner beautifies the neighborhood, builds a more vibrant community, reduces crime, and brings pride of ownership to residents of the district. It also sparks the interest of children in history and creates curiosity about the place they call home.
Randy Shaw of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, as the conceptual partner, supplied valuable references from his archives. Shaw’s vast knowledge of the history of the Tenderloin was a great help when the designs were conceived and executed. He recalled being part of two mural projects with the Academy of Art University, including one located at the corner of Mason and Eddie Street that depicts a historic postcard scene of San Francisco in 1910.
Captain Jason Cherniss, San Francisco Police Department chief, Tenderloin Station, spoke with passion about how pleased he is to see the neighborhood benefit from the murals. He mentioned driving by each morning and being excited to see the beauty of the artwork…and how in years past, this same corner was not as well kept as it is today.
Mohanned Nuru, Department of Public Works director, spoke eloquently about being thrilled that young people (the Academy students) care enough to spend their time and effort on such a worthy project.
Dr. Elisa Stephens, president of the Academy of Art University, acknowledged the student painters, calling out each of their names: Tim Andrews, Juan Ruiz, Derek Moore, Raquel Lupica, Kristoffer Liwanag, David Baker, Trinity Holsworth, Safi Kolozsvari, Michael Stapleton and Pam Marano. Stephens described the many murals that Academy students have created or restored in the Tenderloin and her association with Randy Shaw, as well as her family’s many commitments to the city over the years.
Carol Nunnelly spoke to art’s egalitarian nature—that art is for all and not a luxury. Nunnelly emphasized that the goal of this project was to establish a gallery without walls, accessible to the public.
Craig Nelson, executive director of the School of Fine Art, spoke of the challenge of creating 13 large paintings within a deadline. Beginning with blank panels and deciding on the themes and designs was only a small part of the challenge, he said.
The painting process and help received by the class from alumni and Fine Art painting Instructors was acknowledged, with text from Melinda Mettler, director of Online Student Relations; Beverly Lazor, online coordinator for the School of Fine Art; Tomutsu Takashima, Fine Art full-time faculty; and Cynthia Hamilton, Illustration graduate.
Finally, Camlo Looper—son of Leroy Looper, who is depicted in the mural with the Cadillac Hotel—spoke of having grown up in the Mission District. He recalled his father buying the Cadillac in ’70s and read a heartfelt poem about his father.
Like the murals themselves, the day’s events were deemed a huge success, making for a magical day of celebration.