The Laguna Honda Hospital Mural
(Cont'd from here)
(Cont'd from here)
Native flowers (mariposa lily, Douglas iris, rose hips) and the SF Department of Public Works goats.
The 600-foot mural follows the contours of a retaining wall at the base of a steep hill. It's next to impossible to get a full panoramic view of the mural and not get hit by a car. Just walking alongside it takes a good 15 minutes.
This is the Laguna Honda Hospital mural, completed in February by a team of Precita Eyes artists and community members. At its base, the mural opens onto the world of the Ohlone before the arrival of Spanish settlers, then traverses the history of the site from the Rancho San Miguel land grant, the first municipal poorhouse and hospital, the tunnel and trains that connect the west side neighborhoods of Twins Peaks, Sutro Tower, the Midtown Terrace, West Portal and Forest Hill, and, in the horizon, downtown San Francisco, the Pacific Ocean, and the future.
The mural's exuberant floral and fauna are already celebrated, with one of its herons on the cover of Bay Nature magazine, a tribute to the scientific rigor of its imagery.
"The job of an artist is to visualize a story," says lead muralist Elaine Chu, who partnered with her Precita Eyes colleague Yuka Ezoe on the project. Both are star collaborators with Precita Eyes Muralists, with Ezoe heading its education program and Chu playing a coordinating role. In addition to their prolific output with Precita Eyes, both are sought-after artists with their own mural enterprises. (Chu is half of Twin Walls Mural Company is half of Bahama Kangaroo.)
The Laguna Honda mural has been "a journey of research, funding, community building, chipping walls and nonstop painting in the heat and cold," says Chu. It began when the hospital commissioned Precita Eyes to paint a mural marking its 150th anniversary, celebrated in 2016, and its legacy of care to San Franciscans in need.
Initial funding came from the Tides, Zellerbach Family and Fleishhacker foundations. The second and third stages were funded by SF District 7 participatory budgeting grants, with local residents voting it as their favorite project.
"We were lucky to have met Supervisor Norman Yee at a Midtown Terrace neighborhood block party," says Chu. "He loved our mural idea and encouraged us to apply. So we gave it a try."
For Ezoe, "entering into a new neighborhood with no murals made it hard at first to get approval," says Ezoe. "But once the community saw how a neighborhood is brightened by a mural, they were supportive. District 7 residents twice voted to extend the mural. We think we've unlocked the door for more murals to beautify this part of the city."
The artists took advantage of the lengthy process to complete the mural in three unhurried stages and "do all the research we needed to make sure our design accurately depicted the local landscape and history," says Chu.
Despite its scenic and public health prominence, few people appreciate the hospital as an architectural gem. The main entryway once housed WPA murals. By studying old photos, Chu and Ezoe took inspiration from the Spanish Revival-style pavilion and its Mediterranean tiles.
This hilltop was the site of San Francisco's first charitable institution, an almshouse, which opened in the Gold Rush. After the 1906 earthquake, it became the Relief House, dedicated in 1909 by President Theodore Roosevelt. Today, the Laguna Honda Hospital and Rehabilitation Center specializes in long-term and hospice care. "We learned so much about the staff and patients and the wonderful care the hospital provides," says Chu. "Working with them over the past five years, we've become part of the Laguna Honda family."
Chu and Ezoe held brainstorming workshops with the hospital community and the neighborhood associations of Midtown Terrace, Forest Hill and West Twin Peaks to translate ideas into images and initial sketches. Hundreds of people, from toddlers to elderly, added their brush strokes to the wall.
Mural-making with Kiry Luc, Ezra Stanley and lead artists Elaine Chu and Yuka Ezoe.
"We'd be painting and drivers would cheer us on from their cars," says Ezoe. "People walking along the road would stop to take photos."
"The design process with hospital staff, patients and neighbors was great fun," says Chu. Scores of school children and parents attended community paint days, and West Portal Elementary School parent Paige Patterson even secured funding for a side project: a large mural at the school, painted by 100 students and parents.
The Precita Eyes team spent hours doing library research and interviewing historians about the waterways, animals and plants inhabiting the site before urban development. For their recreation of the Ohlone world, they sought the insights of traditional basket weaver Linda Yamane.
Once the painting got underway, many people stepped up to contribute their own research. Among them was neighborhood naturalist Greg Gaar.
"One of the best parts of being a muralist is that you're constantly learning," says Chu.
For the Precita Eyes team, the greatest challenge was the length of the wall. Chu remembers that "when Susan Cervantes, director of Precita Eyes Muralists, went to measure the wall for the first time, I was shocked."
"Luckily we had lots of images to draw from. It was fun to play with scale in the mural, like painting the large monarch butterflies and bees. It's great for viewers to see and enjoy nature on a big scale like that. Sometimes we don't pay attention to a tiny flower. But with a big mural, we aim to educate people to look at nature more closely."
"We sought to share the beauty we found here with the hospital's neighbors and the commuters who pass by everyday."
"Laguna Honda was a dream location to paint a mural and it really ended up feeling like a second home to us," says Chu. "We were so lucky to have been at this wall for so long, to get to know the neighborhood and develop relationships that mean so much to us."
"It's a hard wall to say goodbye to."