Iconic Mission district transforming into a true melting pot

Do not say the Mission is full of fixed-gear bike-riding hipsters. And don’t say the Mission is full of Norteño gangbangers. At least not in front of La Victoria Bakery owner Jaime Maldonado (even as he admits there may be a nugget of truth to both).

For charts detailing the changing demographics of the Mission district, click on the photo to the right.

“The absurdities of black-and-white are what really [tick] me off,” Maldonado said during a recent interview at his Mexican panaderia.

Maldonado’s bakery reflects the contradictions of the Mission. Inside the 60-year-old bakery and cafe, tiles imported from Mexico line the floors and conchitas are for sale, giving credence to La Victoria’s slogan: “So authentic, you’ll think twice about drinking the water.” Yet not exactly: There’s chorizo in the buttermilk biscuits, prickly-pear filling in the beignets, and more than a dose of “Nuevo Mision” in this part of the lower 24th Street corridor, the historic heart of Latino San Francisco.

To the west, toward the 24th Street BART station and the clean streets and boutiques on Valencia Street, are bars like Shotwell’s and The Attic, frequented by a young, mostly white crowd, many of whom ride company shuttles every day to high-paying tech jobs in the South Bay. Those shuttles traverse gang territory as they rumble toward the highway past day laborers lined up on Cesar Chavez Street.

Welcome to the Mission district, where a 22-year-old cook at upscale Hog and Rocks restaurant was shot and killed by a gang member in a case of mistaken identity, and where just a block away homes sell for four times more what they did 15 years ago. On 24th Street, Sonoran soul-food staples such as carnitas and carne asada bring all walks of people to the taquerias, while next door, foodies line up to buy artisanal ice cream flavors such as foie gras and peanut butter curry at Humphry Slocombe.

These commingling cultural contrasts are at least part of what makes the Mission one of The City’s most popular and fascinating places.

“The key word for me is coexistence — somehow, these diverse communities are able to coexist,” said Supervisor David Campos, who represents the area. And this goes for even the moneyed newcomers snapping up the $700,000 condos. “They’re coming to live in the Mission,” Campos said, “not to change it.”

Though they are changing the Mission’s demographics. The 2000 census found 25,869 people reporting as Latino out of 44,028 total residents in the “Inner Mission” — the area east of Valencia Street and west of Potrero Avenue, and north of Cesar Chavez and south of Duboce Avenue. In 2010, there were 20,045 Latinos out of 41,662 total residents — a 22.5 percent decline.

There are some for whom the Mission’s transformation never ceases to amaze, those for whom a glimpse into the past recalls the days when traveling across 17th Street from Valencia to South Van Ness Avenue would require a taxicab ride, rather than running the gauntlet of drug dealing and prostitution on Mission Street. “That was ground zero,” said SOM Bar owner Peter Glikshtern, who bravely opened a nightspot at 16th and South Van Ness in the ’90s, when a 75-degree day almost always meant “a shooting on that corner.”

It was the element of danger that once attracted artists, musicians and other thrill-seekers to colonize the Mission alongside the working-class Latino families seeking cheap lodgings. But while there have been notable slayings such as the shooting murder of the Hog and Rocks cook, this is not the Mission of 20 years ago. Even the public housing is now gentrified: The once-loathsome Valencia Gardens has been rebuilt and is now praised as a national model.

Mission Police Station Capt. Greg Corrales recalled when walking down Valencia as a patrolman meant “taking your life into your hands.” Now, Corrales said he has seen every category of crime drop over the past year.

The downtick in violence is a good thing. Nobody wants to live in a war zone, Glikshtern noted. But it reflects a gentrifying neighborhood — one that is becoming too expensive for many who used to call the Mission home, and has seen events such as the Clarion Aley block party shut down by persnickety newcomers.

Yet “there’s a certain resilience to those of us who have been here for a while,” said activist and block party organizer Antonio Roman Alcala, who’s lived in the Mission for most of his 28 years.

Maybe that’s because they recognize that the Mission has always been in flux. Maldonado does — his father put 24th Street’s first espresso machine into his panaderia in the 1950s, when he took over the space that used to be Murphy’s Drugstore, and was the first Mexican merchant in a neighborhood of Irish and Italian carpenters and union workers. “The change here is constant — has been constant,” Maldonado said. “Everybody assimilates.”

Día de los condos in booming area

Back in 1997, real estate agent Paula Gold-Nocella remembers cautioning a client against buying a pair of flats on Capp Street near 24th.

“I told her, ‘What are you doing? You can’t live there alone,’” recalled Gold-Nocella, the chief broker at real estate firm Vanguard Properties.

The buyer didn’t listen — and good thing for her. The 1,800-square-foot flats she bought for $400,000 total in 1997 are today worth $900,000 apiece, Gold-Nocella said.

It’s a seller’s market in the Mission, with young technology workers snapping up expensive properties.

“It’s young, single people moving in,” Gold-Nocella said. “And they have no problem living next to Latino families.”

They do have a problem with money — that is, if they don’t have any.

“The Mission is definitely in demand right now,” said Zephyr Realtor Danielle Lazier, who maintains SFHotlist.com. “We’re having another tech renaissance.”

Despite the down economy, the real estate market is booming for rentals and sales. A one-bedroom apartment rents for an average of $1,900 in the Mission, with a two-bedroom fetching $2,600, according to Janan New of the San Francisco Apartment Association.

“It is really awful to be a renter right now,” real estate agent Eric Geleynes said. This means that those who can afford to do so buy, and the most popular properties are condominiums, according to Geleynes, who maintains listings — and stats — on Missionvalues.com.

Properties are on the market for an average of two weeks before fetching an average of $720,000, according to Geleynes. The attraction of the Mission is obvious, Lazier said.

“San Franciscans are obsessed with success, obsessed with food, and obsessed with technology,” Lazier said. “You have all that within biking and walking distance [in the Mission] — and you have great weather.”

Small wonder, then, that buyers are obsessed with the Mission. The question may be what took them so long.

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