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The overlooked and forgotten murals of San Francisco

There's more to the mural scene than just the Mission

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Over 450 murals decorate the Mission district. SoMa boasts over 130, and nearly 100 festoon the Tenderloin. Building-side murals are part of San Francisco's history, culture, and attitude.

But there's more to the mural tradition than just the Mission. Almost every neighborhood has at least one mural to call its own (or did, before it was sadly lost to time), even if you've never noticed. Here are a few of the city's more obscure parapet portraits, fixed to surfaces in neighborhoods where you're probably not on the lookout for them.

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There's no title and no artist cited for this chill looking whale tucked onto the fading back of a Visitacion Valley building at the spot where Delta Street temporarily becomes a footpath. His one eye peers at you down on the street corner, knowing all and seeing all but keeping it all to himself.

Gateway to the Pacific Basin

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A mosaic rather than a mural, this one on the side of the Chase Bank dates to 1977 and is the work of two California artists and one British one. There are five pairs of working people, each representing one of the agricultural hubs of the Pacific, from Japan to California.

El Toreador

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Sirron Norris' El Toreador isn't exactly hidden, of course. But its prominent placement right up over the door of the El Toreador restaurant might lead you to overlook it as signage the first time you walk by. Norris' work in West Portal turned out to be even more prominent than he'd like in 2015, when he discovered that local realtors were using it sans permission in a calendar.

Noah and His Ark

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The Mothers Building on zoo grounds was onece a women's shelter, decorated in the late '30s by New Deal arts agency the Federal Art Project and artists Dorothy Pucinelli and Helen Forbes. Sadly, it's in bad shape these days, and opportunities to get inside the building (now an event space) don't come along as often as they should.

David Chiu Mayoral Mural

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Pac Heights would scarcely have a mural presence at all if not for Las Vegas-based artist Dray's oddly titled David Chiu Mayoral Mural. The building was briefly the headquarters of Chiu's mayoral bid in 2011, of which this piece is the only lasting legacy.

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San Francisco artist Leon Loucheur usually specializes in "deconstructed" animals, but fortunately kept his bird on this Argonne Elementary School stairwell more or less intact, presumably for the benefit of the kids.

Positively Fourth Street

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In 1974, artist John Wehrle was teaching art classes as the de Young for the "princely sum of $648 per month." He and John Rumply decorated the museum's old facade with several painted panels like this one. A few years on, "Positively Fourth" migrated to Fort Mason, and sadly is no longer with us.

Educate to Liberate

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Miranda Bergman's political art, of course, decorates much of the Mission, but you can find this piece north of the Panhandle at the CCSF campus, painted on the side of a low wall beneath a chain fence.

Beach Chalet Murals

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The WPA murals at the Beach Chalet are quite famous. Even so, thousands of people visit the site every year without actually going on to take a look at them, or even overlook the scenes of everyday life circa the Great Depression when they do.

What Do You Think?

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This one's a collaboration between Precita Eyes and Caltrans, and yet it's largely hidden underneath a freeway in Glen Park.

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Another Lochter piece, this tattooed shark cruises along parallel to the freeway on a stretch of Sunnyside wall.

To Dogpatch With Love

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Chip Thomas (an Arizona doctor by day) got carte blanche to erect one of his giant wheat paste portraits on the side of a Dogpatch building. The figures you'll see there are two generations of Dogpatch neighbors.

Allegory of California

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This was the first of three Diego Rivera murals in San Francisco (the other two are at City College and the SF Arts Institute), and, in a way, the weirdest, painted as it was inside what was at the time a stock exchange and is now a dining club for one percenters. It's not really forgotten, of course, and yet, many locals have never popped into the building to actually see it.

Paintings on a Wall

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Yes, "Paintings on a Wall." Sometimes, it really is just that simple.

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Untitled

There's no title and no artist cited for this chill looking whale tucked onto the fading back of a Visitacion Valley building at the spot where Delta Street temporarily becomes a footpath. His one eye peers at you down on the street corner, knowing all and seeing all but keeping it all to himself.

Gateway to the Pacific Basin

A mosaic rather than a mural, this one on the side of the Chase Bank dates to 1977 and is the work of two California artists and one British one. There are five pairs of working people, each representing one of the agricultural hubs of the Pacific, from Japan to California.

El Toreador

Sirron Norris' El Toreador isn't exactly hidden, of course. But its prominent placement right up over the door of the El Toreador restaurant might lead you to overlook it as signage the first time you walk by. Norris' work in West Portal turned out to be even more prominent than he'd like in 2015, when he discovered that local realtors were using it sans permission in a calendar.

Noah and His Ark

The Mothers Building on zoo grounds was onece a women's shelter, decorated in the late '30s by New Deal arts agency the Federal Art Project and artists Dorothy Pucinelli and Helen Forbes. Sadly, it's in bad shape these days, and opportunities to get inside the building (now an event space) don't come along as often as they should.

David Chiu Mayoral Mural

Pac Heights would scarcely have a mural presence at all if not for Las Vegas-based artist Dray's oddly titled David Chiu Mayoral Mural. The building was briefly the headquarters of Chiu's mayoral bid in 2011, of which this piece is the only lasting legacy.

Untitled

San Francisco artist Leon Loucheur usually specializes in "deconstructed" animals, but fortunately kept his bird on this Argonne Elementary School stairwell more or less intact, presumably for the benefit of the kids.

Positively Fourth Street

In 1974, artist John Wehrle was teaching art classes as the de Young for the "princely sum of $648 per month." He and John Rumply decorated the museum's old facade with several painted panels like this one. A few years on, "Positively Fourth" migrated to Fort Mason, and sadly is no longer with us.

Educate to Liberate

Miranda Bergman's political art, of course, decorates much of the Mission, but you can find this piece north of the Panhandle at the CCSF campus, painted on the side of a low wall beneath a chain fence.

Beach Chalet Murals

The WPA murals at the Beach Chalet are quite famous. Even so, thousands of people visit the site every year without actually going on to take a look at them, or even overlook the scenes of everyday life circa the Great Depression when they do.

What Do You Think?

This one's a collaboration between Precita Eyes and Caltrans, and yet it's largely hidden underneath a freeway in Glen Park.

Untitled

Another Lochter piece, this tattooed shark cruises along parallel to the freeway on a stretch of Sunnyside wall.

To Dogpatch With Love

Chip Thomas (an Arizona doctor by day) got carte blanche to erect one of his giant wheat paste portraits on the side of a Dogpatch building. The figures you'll see there are two generations of Dogpatch neighbors.

Allegory of California

This was the first of three Diego Rivera murals in San Francisco (the other two are at City College and the SF Arts Institute), and, in a way, the weirdest, painted as it was inside what was at the time a stock exchange and is now a dining club for one percenters. It's not really forgotten, of course, and yet, many locals have never popped into the building to actually see it.

Paintings on a Wall

Yes, "Paintings on a Wall." Sometimes, it really is just that simple.