Where it all began. A lil’ collage of my childhood home — it’s painted lime green now, but it’s still there. The prints are done by my Pops, Daniel K. Gordon, pictured in front of The Pub, where he bartended. Bottom right is my mother in the glasses — hella memories on this block.
The little city by the bay. Home to the Irish coffee and the fortune cookie. Where summer exists in September, bicycles rule the streets, and the best views of the city can be found by riding the bus (the 33-Stanyan to be exact). As Jack Kerouac declares on page one of The Subterraneans, the real denizens of San Francisco “are hip without being slick, they are intelligent without being corny, they are intellectual as hell.”
My mother birthed me at home like a champ — her placenta planted with a rose bush in our backyard at Masonic and Geary. My dad practiced under local legend Peter Voulkos, and was a master printer at Aurobora Press: our home was rife with the evidence and other SF swag (art and sculpture filled rooms as did friends and family). He bartended at The Pub, a throwback speakeasy located on the corner. The definition of an SF Subterranean, however, was my late mother. A cocktail waitress at the Nikko Hotel, she had a green thumb and a love for Jerry Garcia. A fantastic cook, she exposed me to the wonders of San Francisco comída..
In 1999 we were evicted. I was twelve. The house I grew up in had more than doubled in value, leaving us priced out of our home and hometown, and I felt pushed into an alternate reality. We moved to Oakland, then Berkeley, but thanks to the homie network, my dad and I returned to the city a few years later.
About three years ago, I found myself constantly bashing SF and the present-day gold rush. Each week, another OG establishment seemed to shut its doors, and I became exhausted by the shift, but also inspired to seek out and celebrate what still resides. In this time I founded an arts collective with a couple friends, hosting guerrilla art shows in our apartments to create a non-traditional gallery space, getting to the core of the city by gathering people in one place for the sake of creativity.
I’ve been shooting photography for fifteen years and helped establish the photography program at School of the Arts High School at the McAteer campus. Recently, I began remixing my photos and collaging them with bursts of color. I will continue to document the city how I want to remember it, preserving its flava and residents through film.
San Francisco, San Pancho, Frisco, The Sco, The City, SF, The Bay, The Yay Area — I hate that I love it so much. This city is not mine, or yours, it is for no one and everyone alike. But this is my SF story. Yee!
Note: All photos and collages by Melissa Sáenz Gordon or taken from her family archive.
The Fog Blanket, a.k.a. Karl the Fog, is the mascot we never wanted but miss when it’s not around.
My Myspace user name was “Mel on the 71,” a nod to the 71-Haight I rode on the regular. That transfer was from the day I graduated high school. Notice that a FastPass was $45 in 2004 – it’s $86 now.
Neighborhoods: SF is a small city and is notorious for micro-hoods.
Architecture: Dentals, bay windows, and sunbursts. The Painted Ladies are a tourist attraction for a reason.
Divisadero: This boulevard used to be lined with BBQ joints, but now it’s coffee shops. Fillmore Street rivaled Market as the center of commerce back in the 1940s.
Harput’s on Fillmore: Where deadstock went to LIVE.
Marlena’s hosted a Saturday night drag show every week until its closing.
Tourists: I always wanted to be on The Real World, but living in SF sometimes feels like a reality show.
Karaoke, 2016, mixed media. For a solid year, I would go to Jack’s Bar every Thursday and sing karaoke, we all did. Jack’s is now closed, but karaoke still thrives here in SF. The image above was taken in Japantown.
Monday night karaoke at The Knockout.
Halloween is kind of a big deal here. #CostumesOnHaight
Bike is life here in SF. When Muni didn’t arrive one day, I picked up a bicycle and never looked back. I’ve experienced a handful of accidents, I’ve organized races, and I’ve soaked up the world around me by bici.
We learn at a young age here that if you don’t like something, protest.
Oscar Grant was fatally shot by a BART officer at Fruitvale station on January 1, 2009. This was taken at the protest days after.
Día de los Muertos: A beautiful tradition in the Mission District, thanks to the Latino community that resides there.
The last couple years, Día de los Muertos has been celebrating the city that once was.
I love grocery shopping. I’m spoiled by the abundance, the freshness, the California sabor.
Each market has regional and international ingredients for its local community.
When your ride’s your pride: Christmas 2015, the Bonanza Restaurant hosted a toy drive and car show. Cars and clubs from around the Bay Area celebrated the holidays and car culture. Pictured above: Vallejo estílo.
This beautiful mural celebrating Carnival was restored and the neighborhood celebrated. 24th Street and South Van Ness, 2015.
Shoes for the Entire Fam, 2016, oil and mixed media.
This is my block: Mission and Cesar Chavez.
Factory 2-U, Mission and 22nd.
99¢, Mission and 18th. This building has been vacant forever, I’ve heard rumors it’s slated to be a bakery/café. Aye dios mio.
The b-side of Giant Value, which was demolished and replaced with the Vida luxury condos in 2013.
Whether you’re ballin’, or ballin’ on a budget, there’s always time for oro en La Mission.
Besitos at 2336 Mission Street.
La Reína Panadería, 24th and Folsom.
The Mission is burning. Mission Market burned down in 2015 — it was rent controlled and housed a flower market, pupusería, dentist’s office, and numerous shops. It also happens to be located next to the new luxury condos that replaced Giant Value.
Trump piñatas are a hot commodity in La Mission.
Writing’s on the Wall – how SF provides its social commentary.
Our urban canvas.
The Bay Bridge dismemberment. Took fifteen years to rebound from Loma Prieta!
That commuter life.
24th Street Bart station: where the 1970s never died.
Burger Boogaloo 2014, Oakland.
Fur Ball Collective = Christy, Alicia, and me. Our response to change in the city: create an arts collective, host our friends, continue to create.
Nena’s, 2016, mixed media. Stills from the Mission, Tenderloin, Bayview, Bernal Heights. A legit SF mixtape of images.
A remix of sites and sounds from The Bay. One of my all-time favorite vistas: the distance between West Oakland Bart and the Transbay Tube.