Norwegian high-pitched roofs, Dutch gables, Russian Orthodox domes, Spanish colonial facades — scores of newcomers have visited upon San Francisco’s skyline the architecture of their homelands. These were built by immigrants, for immigrants, and evinced authentic culture.
In contrast, it is downright disingenuous when an institution dons an ethnic pastiche of whatever culture happens to be in the neighborhood at the time. CCSF’s infill building on Valencia at 22nd, for example, is just such an ingratiating nod to the hispanic culture prominent in the Mission since the 1970’s.
In post-quake Chinatown in 1906, white architects were hired by Chinese Americans to contrive new buildings in an oriental style to draw visitors and support the economy. Pseudo-hispanic edifaces in the Mission however, harbor little of the latino population they were designed to celebrate, since rising rents have driven most from the neighborhood.
I imagine, given San Francisco’s tourist-oriented economy, that city hall may do what it can to keep Carnaval, Cinque de Mayo, and other Latino celebrations in the Mission. Sprinkling new public buildings with trappings from as rich a heritage as Latin Americans bring may be well-intended, but it will leave us with only the most superficial scraps of the culture when gentrification has displaced all those to whom it meant anything.