Poor News Network
“This is the place that saved lives and developed leadership and helped the community,” Guillermina Castellanos said. “I was going through domestic violence and I came here. This is the place where I developed my leadership to want to help immigrants and respect immigrant rights. This is the place of refuge. This place belongs to the immigrant community.” Guillermina Castellanos, Mike Casey, Roberto Hernandez, Luis from the AFL-CIO and many labor community members grew up in San Francisco and the Mission. A book could be written and easily filled with the many stories of the building, originally named the SF Labor Temple.
Since 1914, 2926 16th Street, between Capp and South Van Ness, has been the center of resources for workers, labor unions, immigrants, artists, theater, housing, women, and children’s services. The Redstone building is now in the hands of a wealth hoarding developer. Gone are the murals that tell the history of labor and women’s rights. Erased with a mediocre egg color of paint, the 2nd and 3rd floor’s walls are now completely blank. An artist’s rendition of the Chinese Ladies Garment Workers Union Local 341, 1938, is now a blank wall. Another poor and landless people’s base is gone and so is a rooted community center.
The ancestors of San Francisco’s working poor, labor unions, immigrants activists and artists, filled these hallways–three floors and two theaters. The walls were stories of discrimination, striking for equality and the right to protest. One wall covers the Emporium Capwell Black employees’ boycott in 1968. It ended up in the US Court of Appeals in 1972. Two men handed out leaflets urging customers to boycott the department store. “BOYCOTT IS ON” said the piece of paper. With a powerful report, the notice said, “For years at the Emporium, Black, Brown, Yellow and Red people have worked at the lowest jobs, at the lowest levels. The Emporium is a 20th century slave plantation. We welcome the support of our brothers and sisters from the churches, unions, sororities, fraternities, social clubs, Afro American Institute, WACO, the Black Panther Party and the Poor People’s Institute.”
The building housed labor unions that were part of the 1917 United Railroads Streetcar Strike and the maritime strike. This strike led to the memorable 1934 SF General Strike. When the Bindery Women Workers, Local 125 (mural on the entryway) merged with the men’s union of bookbinders, they significantly lost the power of equal voting rights, pay and worker rights.
Unfortunately I had never entered the doors of the Redstone Building during its heydays of the 1970’s-1990’s. Last year, when POOR MAGAZINE held theater workshops and produced a play called “Crushing Wheelchairs,” I walked into a treasure of art everywhere I looked. Posters and murals throughout the three floors of activity. Never a thought that it would vanish. Here are a few I managed to save on camera.