Mission District History

Note: Quality of Life is set in the Mission District, where it was filmed on location.

The Mission District of San Francisco is one of the most distinct neighborhoods in the city. Its uniqueness comes from a complex history which has resulted in a rich, diverse culture.

Named for the nearby Spanish mission San Francisco de Asis, also known as Mission Dolores, Spanish missionaries settled the area in 1776, partly due to the strange microclimate conditions that exist in the area, making it naturally warmer and sunnier than the rest of the San Francisco Peninsula. These Spanish roots were to run deep, and would become the foundation for a rich Latin heritage predominant in the Mission District.

Although the Mission District has been known for its Hispanic and Latino population, the Mission District is quite culturally diverse, as it has been a “stop-over” for many immigrants.

The California gold rush brought large immigrant populations of German, Irish, Scandinavian and Italian workers to California. Many stayed and and settled areas of the growing neighborhood. The area became known as a hard-working, blue-collar neighborhood.

This was amplified during the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, when hundreds of homes were burned by the ensuing fires north of the Mission. These displaced people moved deeper into the Mission and strengthened the blue-collar roots that is a notable feature of the district to this day.

Central Americans who had been hired to work on the Panama Canal in 1914 came back with their San Francisco based companies and settled the neighborhood, adding to the already rich cultural mix of Spanish, Mexican and European immigrants. The area continued to gain wide varieties of immigrant populations until about the 1950's, when the increasing Chicano/Latino population dominated the neighborhood.

Since the 1990's -- particularly during the fat "dot-com" years -- gentrification encroached on the unique neighborhood, pricing some locals out of the market. Attracted by the artistic and cultural flavor of the area, affluent white-collar professionals moved into parts of the Mission, inflating housing costs as they came.

The Mission has become known for its vibrant youth culture in recent years, sometimes described as “New Bohemian”. Hipsters and the avant-garde occupy many neighborhoods of the district. However, after the “dot-com” bubble burst the influx of affluence began to slow, and the neighborhood has managed to keep more of its vibrant, independent spirit.

In a city well-known for its touristy Cable Cars and Fisherman's Wharf, the Mission is a thriving community where real people live and real families do their thing. With its working class grit and anti-establishment art scene, the Mission represents a far more honest and more complex San Francisco than traditionally seen from the safety of the air-conditioned tourist buses.

In fact, the Mission is particularly well known for its art. During the 1960's and 1970's, increasing political movements made the Mission a center for Chicano and Latino right movements, which encouraged the spread of expressive art throughout the neighborhood, as seen on the varied and beautiful murals throughout the area.

The Mission District has long been famous for its walls many of which were created as part of the Chicano/Latino movements. For years, the Mission has also been renowned for its illegal street art. Graffiti has long been a part of San Francisco culture despite being a source of controversy for almost thirty years. Graffiti exploded during the 1980's and 1990's throughout the Mission District and San Francisco -- as it did in New York, Los Angeles and elsewhere. From simple tagging to quick throw-ups to intricate pieces, graffiti was all over the city.

But again, with the gentrification of San Francisco in the later 1990's, graffiti began to be criminalized in the harshest sense of the word. As upper class yuppies moved into the area, the free and independent thought that graffiti represented was stigmatized and labeled as "gang activities" -- with some writers facing serious prison time (as was true of one actor in Quality of Life).

Despite the crack-downs and the police harassment, graffiti writers continue to this day to create their pieces, and in doing so, add to the cultural and artistic legacy of the Mission District.

Quality of Life is set in the Mission District and most of the film was shot on location there.The lead actors and the director shared a small apartment there during production. Even the editing was done in the Mission.

By Lauren Anderson