Murals Proposed for Sutrito Tower Utility Building on Bernal Hill

sutritomurals3

A proposal is currently making the rounds to paint murals on the walls of the bunker-like utility building that sits inside the Sutrito Tower complex atop Bernal Hill. Under the current proposal, Precita Eyes Muralists would create four murals on each side of the building.

Omar Masry from the City’s Planning Department is circulating details about the proposal:

  • The radio tower and building are privately operated by American Tower Corporation (ATC). The Planning Department has been working with other City agencies (Public Safety, Department of Technology) and ATC on improvements to the site such as repairing fencing, adding landscaping (no trees well outside of the fence line are affected), a water tank (using recycled water), security (primarily motion-based) lighting, removing any abandoned antennas, and so on.
  • The tower features antennas for both commercial users, as well as those used by the City to communicate with police and firefighters in the neighborhood. So, improving security here is important, and we would appreciate your assistance in being an extra set of eyes for any suspicious activity, trespassing, or vandalism.
  • ATC is considering hosting a mural by a local artist group, Precita Eyes, on the walls of the building. Please see attached.
  • Please feel free to let me know your thoughts, or to contact Susan with Precita Eyes Muralists directly.
  • Because the building is privately owned, the mural is not subject to City review.

Precita Eyes has done conceptual drawings for each of the four proposed murals, with a narrative written to explain what the murals represent:

Bernal Heights Tower Medicine Wheel Mural Project Narrative

The initial concept of this project was inspired by the building’s natural surroundings, and its alignment with the cardinal directions, corresponding to the Ohlone (Aboriginal peoples of the greater Bay Area) medicine wheel. The four colors of the wheel represent all our relations, and declare peace for each other and the creatures found in the wild. Because it is a telecommunications tower, included are crystal mineral formations and geometric shapes to compliment ground built from surrounding native plants and trees.

The brief descriptions to follow reflects the properties and essences of each cardinal direction, which serves as the base color for each wall.

Yellow- East
Sutritosouth
Represents the male energy and direction of the rising sun and fire. Animals present are the San Francisco Garter Snake and the Tule Elk.

Black- West
Sutritowest
Also known as the direction of the feminine aspects seen as turtle, the continent known as Turtle Island stretching from North to South America. The word Tonantzin seen in the sky means Mother Earth in Nahuatl, the ancient language of the Mexica. Also important are the sacred waters and relationship with Metzli (The Moon), the death of one day (represented by the Flicker bird) leading to the next along with a pair of Great Blue Herons. The Lotus Flower and Native sage are also visualized.

Red- South
Sutrtoreast Held by the youth, essence of will and discipline, symbolized by the hummingbird. The wild curiosity of the Raccoon’s and Coyote’s trickster spirit is ever present in our modern day environment. The Black Widow web represents our collective web and security on the far left side connecting to an abstract version of native mother bird nesting.

White- North
Sutritornorth
The north side serves as an homage to our past, present and future relations and the word ancestors is read within the wings of a Golden Eagle with silhouetted figures underneath enjoying the sights and tranquility of Bernal Heights.

Leading Design Artists:

Max Marttila
Eli Lippert
Fred Alvarado
Dno Deladingo
Suaro Cervantes

Ok, got all that?

Here’s my personal $0.02: Putting murals on the walls of the Sutrito Tower utility building is a great idea, and long overdue. Yet Precita Eyes is already very, very well represented in our neighborhood. To name just a few, Precita Eyes did the piece on the front of the Bernal Heights library. Precita Eyes did the mural on the Precita Neighborhood Center, on Precita near Alabama. Precita Eyes did the murals on Leonard Flynn School, facing Precita Park. Precita Eyes has a mural on the Walgreens, on the northwest corner of Mission and Cesar Chavez. Precita Eyes has also been tapped to do a 9-story mural on the side of the subsidized housing project for senior citizens on Shotwell near Cesar Chavez.  Most of these are terrific pieces, but there’s no need for us to live in a mural monoculture, especially when there are a so many artists (young and old) who live in Bernal Heights, and who could bring an alternative perspective to this iconic. high-profile site. This is an excellent opportunity for us to diversify our public art and celebrate a broader range of Bernal talent. Why not give someone else a chance? Please, American Tower Corporation?

Of course, your opinion may differ. If you’d like to share your feedback on the current proposal, you can comment below or email Omar Masry from the Planning Department at omar.masry@sfgov.org.

PHOTO: Aerial view of Bernal Hill from Telstar Logistics

45 thoughts on “Murals Proposed for Sutrito Tower Utility Building on Bernal Hill

  1. I think Precita Eyes have had a good run with murals throughout the neighborhood and have represented Louis Cervantes’s legacy since the 70’s. I agree with @Bernalwood that we need to open up the conversation to other artists and designs to reflect other cultures, ideas and ideals in our community. Maybe the community that have to look at it every day should get the opportunity to vote on submissions by different artists and have them decide?

  2. I agree that Precita Eyes has had its day. I haven’t seen anything interesting from them in a while, and the mural on Walgreens is just plain embarrassing. I would encourage them to look at other artists.

    • +1, It’s just too bad that the artist who did the mural on Walgreens didn’t intentionally represent the transgender community. I guess all visibility is good visibility, right?

    • I thought I was the only one tired of Precita Eyes murals. A juried competition would be a great idea, hopefully drawing entries from some of the excellent art schools and art departments in colleges and universities in the Bay Area.

  3. The reality is there has been graffiti on those walls for years, so any artist or group would need to have some respect (and a lot of graffiti resistant coating) or the murals will quickly be tagged.

  4. As long as it’s not agitprop, I’m ok with Precita Eyes or another muralist doing the work.

    Less than ten years ago, there were so many breaches in the fencing my son and his friends would sneak in just to play around. More robust security along with beatification is welcome, even if it’s long overdue.

  5. I think Precita Eyes does great work for our community. In fact, they are a part of our community. I enjoy seeing their artwork around. While I’m not opposed to letting other folks have an opportunity to put forth ideas, I don’t think we should shut down Precita Eyes just because they’re prolific – they’re fulfilling their mission, which is admirable.

  6. How many of these tired, 1980’s era looking murals do we need? Bernal deserves a lot better than murals that look like something from the side of a suburban middle school.What about creating something new and different that reflects the positive changes the neighborhood has gone through the past decade?

  7. Can we talk about the “security lighting”? WTF?

    There has been new lighting atop the hill in the past few months. The configurations keep changing. But overall there has been a lot of new, obtrusive, useless lighting that really detracts from the park at night. I really, really hate it — and I’m up there late at night walking my dog 100+ nights a year, so its personal for me.

    If it were motion activated, it would be a significant improvement. But really, what good does any lighting do up there? It will not deter anyone wanting to get in the fence for whatever juvenile reason they have for jumping it. Its just a nuisance, plain and simple. Useless light pollution impacting neighbors and anyone seeking the quiet, dark peacefulness of the park at night. Even a friend who lives on the slopes above Noe Valley has commented about how unwelcome the new lights are; that Bernal was always cool at night as an oasis of dark, open space.

    I really hope the lights can be removed, or at least be made less intrusive and polluting

  8. I have respect for Precita Eyes, but I absolutely LOVE the work of Mona Caron! It would be an honor to have her work on Sutrito!

  9. Absolutely love the idea of murals, and of letting some new artists in on the scene. We are so lucky to have so many talented artists in our midst.

    • I agree. In fact, I reached out to Omar Masry to complain about the lighting and suggest reconfiguring the facility to restore most of the area to the park. He replied with a lot of relevant information on that score:

      From Omar:

      Since the site is privately operated (outcome of a court case between AT&T, the previous operator, and the City) our control of the site (including the ability to hypothetically get the building removed) is a bit more limited, compared to a site the City owns and manages, like the two towers at Twin Peaks (www.sf-planning.org/twinpeaks) .

      1. We did request ATC to use motion sensor based lights. This has been the subject of a lot of conversation actually. They have recently had a security guard up there at night, so the lights stayed on while he was there too. I have conveyed the concern over lighting to ATC.

      2. The main changes were to improve the fence, add landscaping (and recycled water tank), security lighting, legalize existing antennas, add fence toppers, remove abandoned antennas, remove other junk, and verify the tower complies with Radio-Frequency rules (it does) established by the FCC. The current building permit is intended to remedy Planning Code violations at the site.

      3. The bunker is still of (limited) use to ATC. One challenge is that the site (long lines relays using microwaves) was designed to be manned at nearly all times. It is not nowadays, and it’s surrounded by a public park.

      4. While this site has “cellular” antennas, it also hosts antennas typically used for wider range coverage, include police and fire radios. Those systems aren’t typically placed on three or four story buildings as is common for “cellular (technically PCS); but instead placed on hilltops or tall Downtown buildings.

      5. There is a ceiling on the number of antennas/dishes allowed at the tower, but ATC hasn’t approached that limit. I haven’t seen an interest by other PCS carriers (AT&T Mobility, Sprint, or Verizon) to collocate here. NextNav (experimental location finding network) has a pending building permit (2 foot tall antenna that is about 3 inches wide and supporting electronic equipment).

  10. I would prefer to see the buildings painted in an abstract pattern that’s impossible to successfully graffiti. It’s definitely not the right place for murals. People go to the top of the hill for the view, not to see murals painted on utilitarian structures.

  11. Thank you, Precita Eyes, for taking the initiative to instigate this project with the private property owner. There is no need for anyone to stir up opposition to, or calls for revision of, this non-city sponsored project. Other muralists are welcome to put in the hard work of securing sites to help beatify the neighborhood — and it does indeed require a lot of hard work to make a project like this happen.

    To those who have different aesthetic taste than that expressed by Precita Eyes, please be respectful of the organization’s historic place in the community, and of the community of longstanding neighborhood residents that is represented in Precita Eye’s work. When it comes to public art, I always keep in mind that no art is ever to everyone’s taste, and that some art is almost always better than no art.

  12. Sounds like ATC owns the facilities, including the walls the murals will be on, and has chosen Precita Eyes to create the murals and that the city and bernal residents don’t get to tell them what to do or vote on various choices. In other situations where the city and/or bernal residents have had opinions about the uses of private property, this blog and the commenters have taken a very different tone, referring to folks as NIMBYs, etc. I think it’s great that ATC and Precita Eyes got together and are doing these murals and the idea of asking them to start over and put it to a vote seems intrusive.

  13. I agree with you, Todd, on seeking diversity in mural artists. Although the proposals by Precita Eyes are interesting and lovely, the themes and visual motifs are repetitive of much of PE’s work. It would be great if the owner of the towers would solicit proposals from other artists. Since it’s a private company, perhaps the politics often associated with anyone trying to do anything in association with city property can be avoided.

  14. Agree with previous comments that murals fade quickly and look run down within a couple of years. What about a tile mosaic? They look ageless long after installation.

    Suggest we have two votes: (1) mural or tile mosaic, (2) competition for the best proposal.

  15. I’m disappointed in the un-neighborly tone of many comments here. And Todd, I agree with Michael–It’s the mission of Precita Eyes to produce murals –I’m perplexed by your reasoning.

  16. Facts are that Precita Eyes generated a lot of discontent by aggressively imposing themselves
    into the process that went on about art or no art on the library during the renovation. Look at what we got! Such a shame. Perhaps the tower owners don’t know much about Bernal history or other artist possibilities, and it is easiest for them to go with what is in front of them. They will need to hear about
    options other than Precita Eyes if people want something different to happen.

  17. I suggest the fences just be painted in a “BernaI-camouflage” scheme so that they blend in more with the hilltop, rather than becoming even more obtrusive. It isn’t the right setting for murals. There’s already the “Power Puff Girls Pink Shark Nightmare” house mural glaring back when you take in the view.

    But since there’ll be murals anyway…

    I don’t think its disrespectful or un-neighborly to agree with the OP and commenters who propose that other muralists besides Precita Eyes be considered. Variety is the spice of life and all. (Just not the PPGPSN artist please.)

    FYI: There are CC cameras all around the facility which are live and monitored at the DEC building on Turk Street. Police are dispatched occasionally.

  18. It’s private property, they can hire whoever they want. They’re not subject to public process.

    Isn’t that the motto of this blog?

  19. Another chime-in for someone other than Precita Eyes to do the mural– they are so ubiquitous, low-quality and similar that they just all blend together into tempera poster paint blight. (My true vote, though, would go to tearing the building and fence down and letting it go natural.)

  20. Completely agree that we should have other artists represented, I could see this get opened to high school students.

    As it relates to the images, Bernal Hill is used in several ways and I would imagine the images should be representative. For example, this is an area when pet owners take their dogs to walk and meet other dogs.

  21. I appreciate Precita Eyes acknowledging the land and the creatures that call/have called it home, as well as others whose meaning elevate symbolism of the mural. I love that Precita Eyes’ understands the orientation of the hill. If you’ve never noticed the effects of the orientation the hill, take a look at the ferns on the north facing road cut versus the small, tight bunch grasses above the house foundations on the south side. Anyone who truly acknowledges or honors the intricacies of nature in this city gets my respect. As much as Precita Eyes celebrates our natural and human history in this piece, I celebrate Precita Eyes’ intentions with this mural. I hope ATC sticks with them, despite the awkward comments on this blog.

  22. The artists and youth who designed the murals are from San Francisco and some were born and raised in bernal heights! I think it’s awesome that Precita Eyes gives Local artists a chance to shine on what I think will be an inspiring and beautiful mural for future young and emerging artists.

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