It’s been a big week for 348 Precita Avenue, the multi-unit building on Precita Park that’s long been home to the Precita Eyes mural studio. 348 Precita is for sale, and Precita Eyes hopes to avoid possible eviction by deterring would-be buyers from bidding on the property. (For more backstory, read Bernalwood’s item about this from Monday.)
Here at week’s end, let’s catch up on where thing stand.
Neighbor Ledia dropped by Precita Eyes during a Protest Art Class for kids on Tuesday, where she learned more about Precta Eyes, their history in Precita Park, their other property holdings, and their (at times confusing) arrangement with the Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA). Neighbor Ledia tells Bernalwood:
Went to the free art class and talked to Precita Eyes today: Now I understand.
So Precita Eyes wants the owners [of 348 Precita] to accept MEDAs offer to buy the building, which has 3 residential units plus the commercial Precita Eyes space, for $1 million.
It’s obviously “worth” more. MEDA would then be the owner/landlord, with the possibly of current tenants being able to buy their spaces in some way.
348 is the original Precita Eyes space. Precita Eyes has been around since 1977, and in this space since 1982. In 1998, [Precita Eyes founder Susan Cervantes] bought the Precita Eyes space on 24th St., so the organization also has that.
The goal of the free art class/gathering is to discourage offers on the building, other than MEDA’s lowball offer.
This provides helpful context. Precita Eyes uses 348 Precita as a satellite facility, and in the comments to Monday’s post, several Bernal neighbors noted that the studio at 348 is rarely occupied. (As a neighbor, Bernalwood can confirm this.) The Precita Eyes branch at 2981 24th Street is the organization’s main office, but we did not know (and Mission Local confirms) that Precita Eyes actually owns the 24th Street building. That means the future of Precita Eyes on 24th Street is secure.
Of course, there are two sides to every transaction, and in the comments to Bernalwood’s Monday post, a member of the family that’s selling 348 Precita shared some details (which are merged here for clarity):
My name is Michael Silva. I am not the owner of 348 Precita (certainly not the only owner), but only the trustee of my late mom’s estate.
I am a member of the family that owns this property. Our presence in SF dates back to before the 1906 earthquake (they camped out in the park during the repairs). It has been in our family for a hundred years. Look up August &Minnie Schmidt in the 1915 online directory.
1915 San Francisco Directory, via Bernalwood
One of the owners is the 83 year old granddaughter of August and Minnie. Another is a great-grandson who worked all his life in SF until he had to retire under medical disability, and who has had multiple surgeries to help the back injuries he suffered while working as a printer. His entire life savings consists of $11,000.
These are the owners to whom Precita Eyes is trying to dictate sale terms. This is the one and only commercial property the family owns, in SF or anywhere else. We are not “big investors” by any stretch of the imagination.
I am actually just the Trustee of my mom’s estate (born in SF in 1932). She and her twin sister co-owned the property until she passed away a few years ago. Now my mom’s estate, along with her twin sister, are trying to sell the property. And Precita Eyes is trying to make sure we do not receive fair market value for a property that has been in our family for at least 100 years.
What Precita Eyes is trying to do is to force the family to sell to them, on their terms and on their terms alone, and obviously below market value (or else they would just submit their bid along with any other potential buyers). Who thinks this is moral behavior on their part?
This sets up a curious dynamic. In a town where one’s standing on questions of housing policy and social entitlement often correlates to how long you’ve lived here, the story of 348 Precita now contrasts a nonprofit arts organization that’s been in Bernal for 30+ years with a multigenerational family that’s been in Bernal for 100.
Last Tuesday, there was a open house at at 348 Precita for potential buyers to view the property. Precita Eyes put signs in the windows, brought in some local kids for an ad hoc protest art class, invited a few journalists from around town to drop by, and launched their campaign to ward off potential bidders.
Sarah Hotchkiss from KQED Arts was there:
As toddlers covered in tempera paint plastered their hand prints all over sheets of paper, community members surrounded the building holding their own pieces of paper, printed with the message, “Please do not BUY this building!! This is a community space!”
The organization staged the protest after landlords posted a brand-new For Sale sign on the studio center’s exterior the week before. Though Precita Eyes owns its arts and visitors center at 2981 24th St, they have rented the 348 Precita Ave space since 1977.
While impending doom lingers in the air, the building’s residents are not without hope. The Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA), with advice from the San Francisco Community Land Trust (SFCLT), plans to make a bid on the property, which, if successful, will safeguard Precita Eyes and the residential tenants against eviction by forming a cooperative.
The dispatch from Mission Local’s reporter captured the kabuki-like flavor of the scene, as the participants performed familiar roles:
“We’re hoping to dissuade other prospective buyers from outbidding MEDA,” explained Nancy Pili Hernández, a Precita Eyes muralist.
Several prospective buyers came and went without comment. Some stopped to talk with the activists and neighbors standing outside. In some cases, the exchanges became heated. Pili Hernández said one potential buyer became incensed when a woman approached him asking his intentions for the building. Pili Hernández said the man told the woman he would put in an offer for $2 million and evict her.
That’s the kind of possibility that makes Randy Odell, an upstairs resident of 30 years, uneasy.
“It’s no fun having your home threatened.” Odell said. “When you have no right to keep people from coming in and looking at your home, and sussing out the value, it’s very hard to keep my dignity.”
Other potential buyers took a more diplomatic approach.
Micheal Zook, a San Francisco native and former building manager who was once evicted from a building he lived and worked in for 20 years, now works as a realtor but was considering the building as a potential home for himself, his wife and his children. He talked at length with community organizers about the property and how displacement could be avoided.
So what happens next?
Although the drama of 348 Precita is playing out in 2015, this story is really a flashback to the proto-gentrification tensions of 1970s Bernal Heights, when a young generation of activist Baby Boomers arrived and set out to transform Bernal in their own image, sometimes to the dismay of the older, blue-collar families who already lived here.
Back then, however, San Francisco’s population was in decline, and Bernal Heights was considered a faded part of town. Homes were cheap, rents were cheaper, Precita Park was rough, and Bernal was a funky bohemian backwater. Today, San Francisco’s population has grown by almost 200,000 since 1980, Bernal is a prime location, Precita Park is a four-star destination, countercultural lifestyles are difficult to afford, and the median home price in the neighborhood hovers around $1.4 million. A big property like 348 Precita could obviously fetch more.
But should it? Will it? We’ll find out soon; Mike Silva tells Bernalwood the last bids for the property are coming in today.
PHOTOS: Top, Precita Eyes studio by Telstar Logistics