Redstone Building Tenants History 1969-2015
The San Francisco Labor Temple was re-named the Redstone Building by Peter Blasko in 1968 when he purchased the property for $250,000 from the San Francisco Labor Temple Hall Association. In a rather sardonic hello to the new owner, Blasko would face a strike by the local janitors union soon after the sale. He held onto the property for less than 3 years with the goal of converting it to a hotel, but sold it to a prominent East Bay pioneer family foundation called MK Blake Estate. Seven unions and the Vietnam War related Alliance for Peace stayed as tenants after its sale with Local 262 of the United Furniture Workers lasting until 1972.
Keeping a labor perspective, the main auditorium where the city’s rank and file met for decades was leased to California’s Employment Development Division as the Mission’s unemployment office. The auditorium had its wood floors covered and the 15 foot high ceilings reduced to 8 Feet with a drop ceiling. The 7,000 square foot hall would be sub-divided into 16 cubby-holes, two large and seven smaller public areas for the Mission’s unem-ployment office that operated between 1971 and 1981. Urban legend has it that part of the Sym-bionese Liberation Army’s ransom demand, a food give away for Patty Hearst, took place at the building in 1975.
One of the seminal events for the North Mission was Mayor Alioto’s plan tear down the city’s 2nd largest shopping district known as the Miracle Mile along Mission Street as a way to force the mostly Latino community out. The plan included a massive 4 square block BART transit center at the corner of 16th and Mission, which meant the demolition of the Redstone. The Mission, which was in the cross-hairs of city developers since the 1940’s stopped the plan, setting the tone for the building as a Latino community center.
MK Blake relied on the state unemployment office as their anchor tenant, slowly filling up the building with moderate sized social ser-vice agencies. The 2nd largest tenant, Catholic Services, now called Catholic Charities took over nearly half of the 2nd floor in 1972. In 1973, Arriba Juntos started several job training programs in conjunction with Catholic Social Services. They were followed by another large tenant, the Mission Mental Health Center that took two former union halls and the 2nd floor dental office in suite 216. One of the country’s first independent foster care programs, Jackie Foster Care Inc. (Est. 1949) made the building its home. Family Resources Development Agency, which managed community homes for mentally challenged children across the Bay Area, took over suite 314. The local Brewer’s Union used it as their offices. It’s now the offices for the city’s cab union. Women, Inc. got its start as a batter women’s shelter program in the late 1970’s.
There were two credit unions, with the Mission Area Federal Credit Union (MAFCU) moving in by the mid 1970’s, and staying for 30 years. MAFCU suffered a serious embezzlement crisis in the late 90’s but survive. They opened up the nation’s first youth credit program, which still operates today. MAFCU would expand to a larger building in 2008, but be taken over by a big North Carolina credit union in 2011.
The Magic Sandwich shop started doing business in 1973 until Chile Lindo took the space over in 1981. During its labor days, the space was a cigar or barber shop. An interesting architectural firm called Redstone & Ottoman was in the building from 1978 to 1984. The Abalone Alliance, which organized the largest anti-nuclear direct action in US history, arrived in 1982, followed by two other anti-nuclear groups. Its archives are still at the building in 2015 even though the group closed in 1985.
Soon after the unemployment office left, the auditorium was taken by three Filipino-American organizations, with Filipino senior citizens doing the Foxtrot in the mornings to live bands or old records. One of these groups, the Fil-Am Employment & Training Center was at the building until 2010, when its last director Norma Tecson passed away.
The bloody revolutions across Latin America in the early 1980’s came to the Redstone in a big way. By the mid 1980’s Catholic Charities was secretly part of the Underground Railroad to protect Latinos from mass murder in Central America. Many groups like Neighbor to Neighbor were doing solidarity work.
Theater Rhinoceros would spend nearly $300,000 to fix up Excelsior Hall to turn the 2,000 square foot space into the first and oldest gay theater anywhere. They used union actors during their 30 year stay at the building. Other early arts orga-izations included the Film Arts Foundation, the SF Actors Ensemble, 415 Records, and Bay Area Video Coalition.
With the onset of the AIDS crisis, both the Bay Area chapter and national offices of Physicians for Human Rights setup activities at the building. Sadly its entire staff passed away from AIDS.
In 1978, the teachers at San Francisco City College voted to unionize, setting up local 2121 of the American Federation of Teachers. By 1982 they were in suite 305, later moving to 319 where they stayed until 1994.
The tenor of the building changed when the maintenance man for the previous 17 years, Henry Hawke passed away in 1988. Soon after, the Fil-Am groups left the auditorium and growing drug issues in the neighborhood necessitated the hiring of a security guard that doubled labor costs. Not being able to find an inexpensive replacement for Henry, and with Bradford the manager also on the verge of retiring, MK Blake sold the Redstone in 1989.
The Redstone’s new owner, David Kimmel would take over soon after the massive Oct-ober 1989 earthquake. With a number of other properties in Santa Cruz also damaged, Kimmel declared bankruptcy. His own in-vestors reorganized into Ahekian and Company, in a desperate attempt to refinance the building, but abandoned the property in late June of 1992. The Redstone was put into receivership, with a company called Brighton Pacific that held control for two months until Kimmel’s brother in-law; David Lucchesi took control of the property at a court ordered fire sale. Lucchesi has held onto the Redstone Building since that date. Kimmel also cut a deal with another property owner, using the Redstone as collateral for $515,000. He eventually stopped payments that ended up in court, going all the way to the US Supreme Court by 2009.
The 1989 Loma-Prieta Earthquake would do moderate damages to the building. The worst damages occurred in the back of the building where a brick extension to the auditorium required demolition. A contractor, connected with Theater Rhinoceros removed the structure, along with all of the main ventilation systems that were attached to it. However, Kimmel failed to pay the contractor after the first phase of demolition, leaving the 20’ by 40’ area exposed to the weather, besides the entire steel fire escape propped up by wood.
In December of 1990, the city experienced the coldest winter on record with temperatures drop-ping below freezing during the day. Without the ventilation systems the building’s boiler was not permitted to operate. Tenants, led by Mission Legal Defense demanded that the vents be reconnected or a lawsuit would be filed. The owner got heat back on.
In addition, the building’s ancient 15’x10′ water tower on the roof had cracked and was leaning precariously off the roof towards the neighbor’s house. The tank was manually cut it into 50 pieces, each weighing over 60 pounds, and taken to the street level by hand. The work took three weeks to complete. The worker that made the bid estimated it at $500. It would end up costing that much just for the metal cutting blades. This resulted in the two workers making nothing on a job that would have cost over $5,000 to complete.
The ownership transfer took place just as a coalition of Latino organizations called the Mission Armory Foundation (MAF), led by Mission Legal Defense was seeking funding to create a media and cultural center at the long abandoned Armory on 14th and Mission. The Foundation was unaware of the fire sale, or it could have made a powerful bid to take control of the Redstone as San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos had won a $1.3 million HUD grant for them. The money arrived shortly after the $1.00 Redstone fire sale was completed. The foundation quickly realized that the grant was nearly $6 million short of the amount needed to repair the Armory. They bid on the Redstone, but were turned down by the new owner.
The operators of the Mission Mental Health Center, a tenant since 1972, decided to leave in late 1993 after its funding was reduced. The program had been serving dozens of local mentally handicapped residents, leaving them wandering the neigh-borhood for years. Just a few months later, a local newspaper put a picture of the Redstone Building on its cover suggesting that the property did not meet the city’s new seismic requirements. Catholic Charities broke its lease and left in May of 1994 before it was confirmed that the article was incorrect, leaving almost the entire 2nd floor vacant. Then the Family Resource Development Agency also fell, ending the building’s era as a center for moderately sized social services in the North Mission.
Within months of Catholic Charities departure, a group of women started the Luna Sea Theater in what was called Federation Hall. It had been the Mission Mental Health Center’s dining hall and the local Culinary Worker’s hiring hall 30 years earlier. Long lines of Latin families seeking services on the 2nd floor would be replaced by long lines of women going to Luna Sea performances for the next decade. Next door to them Teatro de la Esperanza would open up a Latino theater in the former Centennial Hall, while “The Lab” which was founded in 1984 by a group of art students from the Center for Interdisciplinary and Experimental Arts at San Francis-co State University tore down the auditorium’s 8 foot ceilings, and split the space in half to start producing experimental music, and art. Two Filipino dance groups would also take up residence during this blistering pace.
Soon after city college teachers left, the Labor Video Project and Hard Hat Magazine took up tenancy, along with the local Taxi Driver’s union. They were followed by two IWW locals and the SF Living Wage Coalition. Even former members of the painters local 4 considered offices.
Starting with a small, 8’ by 10’ basement space in 1990, Willie Walker and the LGBT Historic Society, also known as San Francisco’s “queer Smithsonian” would literally take over the entire west wing of the basement in just a few years and have to move to larger accommodations by 1995. Two prominent gay artists Jim Winters, and Marc Huestis, Outlook magazine and the Sister’s of Per-petual Indulgence moved into the building.
The SF Sex Information hotline and the Haight Ashbury Switchboard rented two small spaces in the building. Then California Prison Focus came to work on prison rights advocacy, followed by Mission Agenda that worked on giving a voice to Single Room Occupancy hotel residents in the city. While the Mobile Assistance Patrol vans would pickup homeless people and help them get into services. We also had Phreda Clinic that tested street walkers, at and two other UC related survey projects, an ongoing annual city wide Health Fair, a student’s no smoking campaign, a foot clinic and an acupuncturist.
The Lab would get two important grants, one for the Redstone’s Mural (see mural history) and the other, with the help of Theater Rhinoceros, to build a handicap lift between the lobby and the first floor. The lift would make the two theaters on the first floor accessible to wheel chairs, but sadly require a prominent part of the main mural to be removed where the lift was installed.
Political activity at the Redstone would take off as activist groups like Mission Agenda do weekly food give-a-ways, besides launching Chris Daley’s successful run for the board of supervisors. The building even had its own pirate radio station that ran for nearly a year until the FCC ordered it closed. Another group was the Art & Revolution community that produced signs and large puppets for protests. One of the first Indymedia projects in the country also found its home that included an online podcasting news service. The former dental offices on the 2nd floor became the home for Whispered Media, Indymedia, SmartMeme and Collision Course.
Starting with the election of Frank Jordan as mayor, the building and the North Mission came under attack when he opened up a drop off point for San Quentin convicts around the corner at Mission Hotel. Crime rates went through the ceiling just as the North Mission was recovering from a national recession, a new round of development wars and a devastating crack cocaine epidemic from the late 1980’s. This time it would be heroin gangs that took a huge toll with a Theater Rhino-ceros guest being killed. Only after the hold-up of a board of supervisor’s staff person in 2001 did the city force the police to clean up the North Mission, arresting nearly 30 dealers a day for over a month.
Then the dot.com and the fake live-work de-velopment invasion hit the neighborhood hard with artists and small non-profits taking the brunt of the attacks as rents skyrocketed. The Redstone tenants played a role in the anti-displacement struggle, even making it into the daily newspapers when a Dallas Millionaire made a bid to buy the building and turn it into a dot.com data center in September 1999.
A number of major repair expenses for the boiler, elevator and roof all started to drive up rents at the building. The building quickly organized to oppose the sale and the increased rents. The Redstone Tenants Association (RTA) was reborn again from the heating crisis of 1991, this time with a bigger agenda, to buy the building.
One of the first actions taken by the RTA was to start the process of gaining historic land-mark status. Thanks to years of work by the RTA’s president Betty Traynor and former head of Academic Research Information Systems we finally achieved historic land-mark status on January 16th, 2004. The tenants would throw a big celebration for the event with Walter Johnson, the Secretary Treasurer of the Labor Council getting on his knees to thank Betty and the RTA for the 2nd labor building to ever achieve historic status in San Francisco.
The RTA also received a $40,000 grant to investigate a possible purchase of the building. After months of work that included finding a large Arts organization out of Minnesota to finance the project, a market rate bid of $3.5 million was made for the property, but ignored by the owner. We learned after the fact that he was demanding a price triple the bid, and triple what Kimmel paid a decade earlier. Tenants even explored the idea of the city buying the building but turned the option down as it would have driven most of the tenants out of the building.
With the failure of the bid to purchase the building, tenants started to leave the building as it became clear that developers wanted the community center’s role quashed. Theater Rhinoceros had its rent tripled in just three years to $7,500 a month, forcing them to leave the building. Then our long time anchor tenants the MAFCU credit union, Luna Sea Theater, the Homeless Children’s Network, the Fil-Am Training Center and most of the activist groups left due increased rents.
Once again, the building would have to rebuild just as the country was hit with the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression of 1934. Its current staff that has run the building since 1990 is starting to age, and has serious health problems. With the new wave of gentrification going on, finding non-profit organizations has been almost impossible, due to increased costs, especially since 2013 when major repairs on the elevator and boiler took place.
The building is now 100 years old. May it live on for another century as a community center here in for the North Mission