Palm trees were planted in the Mission District in early 1971 — a clear attempt by city leaders to give the struggling working-class neighborhood more of a Santa Barbara vibe.

By Peter Hartlaub

But the locals had their own makeover planned; one that didn’t involve pretending to be something that they were not. The first high-profile murals covered by the local media appeared that same year, beginning a history of public art that has defined the district.

The Chronicle’s first article about Mission District murals was a Thomas Albright art review on Nov. 18, 1971, celebrating new storefront murals by San Francisco artists Robert Crumb and Spain Rodriguez. Albright returned in 1974 to cover the introduction of three even more epic pieces, all panoramic public art created by teams of Latino artists.

The most impressive work was designed by Jesus Campusano — an L-shape mural filled with subversive imagery built in a very unexpected place.

“By far the most extraordinary of these works is a 90-foot-long mural executed by a team of eight artists,” Albright wrote. “No less extraordinary is the fact that it was commissioned by, and hangs above the teller windows of, the 23rd and Mission branch of the Bank of America.”

The Bank of America mural featured a melting pot of Latino figures, including Native Americans in traditional dress, Mission High students, BART construction workers, street gang members and a doctor cutting the umbilical cord of a baby.

The other 1974 murals were equally ambitious. Michael Rios designed a mural with Aztec jungle themes at a mini-park near 24th and Bryant streets. And four Latina women, calling themselves the Mujeres Muralistas, painted a surreal scene with horses, gods and cartoonish figures on a parking-lot wall near Mission and 26th streets.

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