Residents say a corner of the Mission District has become a “little quieter and less friendly,” after the sudden loss of a beloved member of the community last month.
“He was the street, he was the guy,” said neighbor Charles Spaeth.
Serafin Saavedra, with his handmade bench held together with political statements and pieces of art, has been a fixture in the Mission community for more than a decade.
Friends and family say if Saavedra, 57, wasn’t walking his cat to the local grocer, he could be found outside his house on 23rd Street, telling jokes, philosophizing and turning strangers into friends with his booming baritone voice and larger than life sense of generosity.
“He would literally take his shirt off his back if anyone needed anything. If people liked what he had he would give it, he was just like that,” said Maria Rodriguez, Saavedra’s younger sister.
This all came to an abrupt end on April 19 when Saavedra was brutally attacked in broad daylight at the bustling intersection of 24th and Mission streets.
Police said he was having a friendly conversation with a local flower vendor when a man suddenly attacked him from behind, leaving Saavedra with a broken hand, a fractured rib and lacerations and injuries to his face and shoulders.
Saavedra was taken to a hospital, where he died two days later on April 21, making his death the 11th homicide of the year in San Francisco.
Since then, the City’s homicide count has grown to 14.
So far police have made no arrests and have not been able to determine a motive for the attack, according to a spokesperson.
Saavedra was two years old when his family came from Mexico and settled in the Mission District 55 years ago. He attended Mission High School and worked in the Bay Area over the years in maintenance, as a mechanic, a tow truck driver and welder.
Spaeth, who lived across from Saavedra for 15 years, saw him as such a fixture in the local landscape that he painted an abstract watercolor of Saavedra, posted up on his bench, his light brown and black cat waiting between his black boots.
The last chapter of Saavedra’s life was not easy, according to friends and family.
Two years earlier Saavedra had lost his girlfriend to a terminal illness, while struggling with stage four liver cancer himself. Neighbors say he started living a “little rough,” and for a brief time struggled with homelessness.
However, despite his personal challenges, Saavedra remained a beloved figure of the community and to some a symbol of things the neighborhood is losing.
“The guy wasn’t a saint, but that was what was so cool about him, he was just a genuine person,” said neighbor Nancy Byrne. “I mean, like Serafin, one of the things the neighborhood had going for it was that it wasn’t pretentious….it’s lost that.”
Josie Ramirez, a close friend of Saavedra, said she felt blessed that three years ago Saavedra “ran out of his garage one day to say hello.” Though they had never met, Saavedra had seen her walking in the neighborhood and decided to reach out.
“He brought me in and introduced me to his family and friends. I never would have known them without him,” Ramirez said. “Now they treat me like family, every single one of them.”
The death of Saavedra for many is the loss of an individual who was willing to reach out to the familiar faces he saw daily on the street, turning a neighborhood into a community.
Byrne said a strong relationships between residents is essential to survive the changes happening in the Mission, because “over here it doesn’t matter if your house goes for a million bucks or if you are surviving on social security, this is still the trenches, this is still the bottom and we need to bring people together, like he did.”