San Francisco Treasure #29: The Women's Building

Feminism and Rigoberto Menchu, writ large by local muralist Juana Alicia and her team. Some still miss the evicted Irish Republican bar, the Dovre Club, that once inhabited the building’s corner.” – Rebecca Solnit, Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas

The Women’s Building in the Mission neighborhood of San Francisco is a treasure – inside and out. Outside, the Maestraepeace mural boldly reaches out from two facades to passerbys and admirers. Inside, local women find resources and refuge with the variety of non-profit organizations that serve them.

Women's Building San Francisco

Using the building as a canvas, the Women’s Building Mural Project is a history museum to women and the spirit of humanity they represent.

On the Eighteenth Street facade, five stories up a lotus-positioned woman representing the goddess of light holds her hands high above a six-month fetus resting in her belly. Rays of light shine down from her hands casting diagonal marks that flow down the side of the building. Meeting the streams halfway are wavy patterns winding upward like vines, reaching on their own strength.

Women's Building San Francisco

The painted patterns represent the cultures in traditional textile patterns from around the world: Ukrainian, Native American, Chicano, Aboriginal, Tibetan…the national heritages painted delicately to resemble the cultures they represent. Lining these patterns are 500 women’s names. Names like Sally Ride, Frida Kahlo and Amelia Earhart. At the keystone position above the doorway is the name of my mother’s generational revolutionary – Gloria Steinem.  The muralists names, Juana Aleica, Miranda Bergeman, Edythe Boone, Susan Kelk Cervantes, Meera Desai, Yvonne Littleton, and Irene Perez are located in the corner on the building front. In 1994, they and 70 volunteers worked collectively for over a year to complete this San Francisco treasure.

It’s on the Lapidge street façade where I felt a charge while looking up – the boldness of female faces and symbols struck me at my core and shattered goosebumps down my arms. Maestrapeace means “Women, Teacher of Peace” but the imagery and women presented were higher energy, more vibrant than peaceful. On high is the likeness of Rigoberta Menchu, a Guatemalan freedom fighter and Nobel Laureate; her hands resting near the third story windows. She clutches two divine female symbols, both with faces thrusting towards the blue sky: Yemayah the African goddess representing the symbol of waters, life and maternity to life and Coyolxaukqui, the Aztec Goddess of the Moon.

Women's Building San Francisco

On the first and second stories of this façade, tradition, sprit, revolution, and creativity are represented in portraits like Georgia O’Keefe and Jocelyn Elders, Quanyin, the goddess of compassion, an Indian woman painting a traditional fabric, and female political prisoners jailed for their beliefs.  Nuita Teitelboim, a Warsaw Ghetto Resistance Fighter holds one hand up to stop fascism. Nearby Hana Ashrawi, a Palestinian diplomat is shown seated next to a drummer from Mali. Seeing this, I felt the change that these women represented throughout history. I felt in the presence of magnificence the way some feel when visiting the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.

Women's Building San Francisco

Amidst this powerful display, there’s one man represented – finding him on the wall was like a “Where’s Waldo?” game. He’s Delexis Boone, a muralist’s son, painted as a representation and hope for future men to treat women with equality.

Inside, the building coordinator Orguidia Gomez greets visitors. She was friendly and open, pride on her face when describing all the services within the building available to women. “I think it’s a treasure because it’s the only place in San Francisco houses ten different organized focused on helping women…It’s all about helping women,” she shared.

Women's Building San Francisco

Women in need of legal, employment, recovery, family, and rescue services can find assistance and resources to educate and empower.  Upon entry, the mural from outside continues up the stairway, more women’s names whispering their presence. Fliers wallpaper the bulletin board: yoga and meditation classes, a wellness program, and rock climbing with GirlVentures. The tenant list represents all areas of assisting and empowering women:

  • The Cooperative Restraining Order Clinic
  • The Riley Center Community Office for battered women,
  • San Francisco Women Against Rape
  • Global Service Corps
  • Code Pink
  • Girls on the Run
  • GirlVentures
  • Women United and Active
  • Immigration Center for Women and Children
  • Head Start Child development Center
  • Parents for Public Schools

Ms. Gomez explained, “We help about 250-300 women a week.” It’s here that future revolutionaries are in action, preserving their place as warriors, caretakers, and leaders on future mural projects.

This building represents why San Francisco will always be a vibrant and thriving city. While the rest of the country, including my home state of Wisconsin, methodically guts Planned Parenthood and social programs, there is this thriving Women’s Building in San Francisco, making women’s lives and the world a better place.

The Women’s Building Resources

Visiting the Women’s Building

  • The address is 3543 18th Street, San Francisco, California 94110.
    Their phone number is 415-431-1180
  • From Downtown San Francisco, take the 49 bus and walk two blocks towards Dolores Park or take the J train and walk next to the park for about 4 blocks.
  • Several San Francisco culinary treasures are located within two blocks of the building: Delfina’s for pizza, Bakery Tartine for pastries to die for, and Bi-Rite ice cream for delicious concoctions.
  • There are many murals in the Mission neighborhood. Recommend a guided walk to see them all.

Why the Women’s Building? It’s a San Francisco treasure.

Find out about my treasure map project.

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