The Mission

About the Program

From the ancient tulle grasses and quiet salt water marshes of Dolores Creek, to the raucous sounds of Carnaval parading along modern paved streets, the rich and varied history of San Francisco's oldest neighborhood, the Mission District, will be brought to life this month in The Mission, part one of the new KQED series Neighborhoods: The Hidden Cities of San Francisco. In future programs, KQED will take an hour-long look at each of the distinct neighborhoods that make up "America's favorite city."

Narrated by award-winning author Isabel Allende, The Mission uncovers the common threads that run from its origins as a Native American village, through its many successive incarnations: Spanish mission settlement; Mexican ranchland; Gold Rush boomtown; earthquake refugee camp; and finally, home to immigrants of all stripes, especially Irish and Latinos. As narrator Allende says in the opening of the film, "If you look closely, you can see a picture of what American has been . . . and where it may be headed."

The story of The Mission begins with the Ohlone Indians, who lived in harmony with the area's abundant wildlife for some 2,000 years. Their life on Dolores Creek is imagined through a re-created Ohlone village and the stunning period paintings of Louis Choris. When the Franciscan friars arrived in 1776, they tried to convert the Ohlone into Christian subjects of the Spanish Empire, but the Mission system crumbled as the Indian population severely declined, and the land came under the control of Mexican ranchers, who called themselves "Californios." The brief heyday of the Californios in Yerba Buena, later re-named San Francisco, is evoked through dramatic recreations, archival images and diary accounts.

With the Gold Rush came the next wave of settlers: fortune-seeking European immigrants, most of them from the eastern United States. In the wake of the Gold Rush, it would be these people who would develop the dense urban neighborhood we're familiar with today. As seen through period photographs, the Mission became home to a broad spectrum of races and classes, from affluent businessmen (like sugar baron Claus Spreckels) to hard working blacksmiths. It was during this era that the district's extraordinary Victorian architecture took shape.

The great earthquake and fire of 1906 spared the Mission for the most part, yet its effects on the neighborhood were profound. Refugees from the rest of the city poured in, many of them seeking shelter at the refugee camp in Dolores Park, and a great number settled in the area permanently. Thus, by 1920, the neighborhood had taken on a denser, more working class, and particularly Irish flavor. Early newsreels, photographs, and first-hand accounts take the viewer back to the early part of the century, where a walk down 24th Street leads to St. Peter's Church and its renowned pastor, Father Peter Yorke, outspoken friend of the labor and the working men of the neighborhood.

World War II would be the catalyst for the latest, ongoing wave of settlement in the Mission. During the War, immigrants from all over Latin America came to San Francisco to take advantage of the many jobs that were available. During the post-War boom, the Irish and other groups that grew up in the Mission started moving west of Twin Peaks and to the suburbs, and Latino families moved in. By the 1960s, the Latin identity of the Mission was firmly established, and it has become a political and cultural center for the fastest-growing minority group in the United States. Interviews with artists and activists, including Mexican Museum director Marie Acosta-Colon, painter Rupert Garcia, and musician Carlos Santana help bring the story to the present day.

Over the course of the hour, viewers will be amazed at the rich variety of the Mission District over time: sunny afternoons watching baseball at Seal Stadium, where Joe DiMaggio got his start in the pros; the eclectic amusements of Woodward's Gardens, a favorite of kids and adults alike during the latter half of the 19th century; neighborhood sons who rose to become Mayor of the whole city, from "Sonny" Jim Rolph to Frank Jordan; and the experiences one can enjoy today, from the solemn joy of a First Communion at St. Peter's Church, to sizzling samba danced to nightly at Cesar's Latin Palace, to the colorful mural that graces the Women's Building on 18th Street.

"In preserving and presenting the stories of San Francisco's communities, such as the Mission, we hope this program will not only entertain, but promote cultural understanding and celebrate our shared commonalities," says series Executive Producer Peter Stein.

The Mission, part one of the series Neighborhoods: The Hidden Cities of San Francisco, is produced and written by Pam Rorke Levy. The Executive Producer is Peter L. Stein. The Associate Producer is David Condon. The Editor is Maureen Gosling.

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