It’s been a while since rental bike stations became a part of San Francisco’s street scenery, symbolizing utilitarian orientation and ecological awareness of the locality. Although they are mostly located in areas with dense office buildings like downtown and SOMA (South of Market), they cover the Mission and a few other districts too.
When you’re in the Mission, you need a bicycle not just due to convenience, but because you’re inclined to get around on it. Central Mission is flat. It is not your typical San Francisco traveling route with frequent uphills and downhills — it’s smooth and easy. Also, there are many places where you can grab a cup of coffee and sit all afternoon without all the hustle and bustle. When you’re in the Mission, you feel like staying a bit longer than you planned. It’s a perfect escape from skyscrapers and monkey suits.
However, when you’re an outsider visiting the Mission or you’re one of the occupants of a yuppie share house near Noe Valley (West of the Mission district), you may be missing out on a chance to realize how life really is inside the rectangle.
A 2009 film La Mission vividly illustrates the Mission as a rough neighborhood, like a petite south central, once you step inside the neighborhood. Where economically struggling immigrants are having it tough, there’s always their own chapter of dark stories. No surprise there. The current San Francisco mayor, London Breed can tell us too - her Western Addition neighborhood is filled with violence and drugs. I’ve heard so many stories from Mission natives whose adolescence had no shortage of troubles.
The Mission is or was a relatively rough part of town. While that is true, the Mission also is an artsy barrio that produced so many art pieces and renowned artists. In the early ‘80s, a residence on Capp Street in the central Mission launched a project of in-house manufacturing of artworks involving so many successful San Franciscan alumni such as Ursula von Rydingsvard, Celia Álvarez Muñoz, and Hung Liu. Capp Street Project gave a slight noble twist that classed up the art of the Mission. Subsequently, new movements hit the town, leading the Mission to become home to the “Mission School” that is known for “street-style” such as graffiti and murals. Murals on Clarion Alley and Balmy Alley became tourist spots and let the world know of the Mission way of expression.
They show that the Mission School is in fact a crossroad between instinct driven cultural representations of the minority and theoretically motivated urban pop surrealism of the modern artists. They are not trying to be fashion rebels like hip hop singers that pose a stance of resistance against the majority at a young age, but the lifetime protagonists of history of the soil living under their own cultural authority and pursuing their own creative directions.
It reminds me of Carlos Santana who came straight out of the notorious Mission and possesses spiritual leadership and everlasting “class” in his music and personality. Non-Latino artists who rushed into the Mission during the last decade of the previous century were a sign that they knew, and they were attracted to the cultural code of Chicano in the Mission that would not change regardless of the times and political situations.
In the Mission district, several vinyl record shops are surviving today while most rental video shops have been disappearing one by one. In an artsy barrio where mariachi bands are still seen serenading the public, does nostalgia of the phonograph record have a place? I don’t know. But what I know is that they are in the Mission for a reason.
Pyramid Records stands amidst retail stores on 24th Street. Pyramid Records is, as rave reviews on social media show, a distinctively classy vinyl boutique with an original selection that is rare and unique, from French Variété to indie rock. If this was the true definition of a “record shop,” then all other places could be considered music grocery stores due to the fact that the owner’s personal tastes tend to not overly influence the products. Bob, the owner extraordinaire keeps the store clean and tidy, in such a style that the images of your typical record shop with piles of discounted items or displaced discs in ugly security hard case scattering everywhere don’t associate with him. The interior and facade don’t appear to be an extension of Mission School, but the spirit of a one-of-a-kind, trend-free business ownership committed to making a great multicultural environment that gets a Mission approval.
Thrillhouse Records on Mission Street, on the other hand, is covered in deco with more of the Mission School flavor. Large well-curated selections reflect a general non-mainstream popularity on punk/garage bands and psychedelic oldies, their ancestors. If Pyramid Records is “out there,” this place would be “out here,” having more connections with the reality of the local youth.
We are in a digital age where we download music online instead of buying at stores, and we download films through online providers rather than renting from a rental shop or even going to a theater. Due to the change in the system, Virgin Mega Store on Market Street, once the biggest music shop in the Bay Area, got kicked out for good. San Francisco’s counter culture icon, Lumiere went out of business, too.
Today, vinyl shops seem like a ridiculously old-fashioned relic — like ethanol fueled vehicles that refuse to die out. Up until this year, when Sony vowed to resume production starting early next year, nobody that I knew thought vinyl records would make a glorious comeback. As capitalism shows its systemic fatigue and people begin to question the material world, we are about to encounter a new enlightenment that finds value in old forgotten things without denying the benefits of technological innovations. The Vinyl Record Preservation Society could be the pioneer in a retro culture movement that may be coming to fruition in the next few years. In the Mission, where the Roxie, San Francisco’s oldest movie theater and cultural icon, oversees unyielding record shops — the gentle revolution of vinyl is possible.
Writer: Yasso Ando