|The Redstone Building|
|Type||offices and community center|
|Location||2926-48 16th Street|
|Structural system||Steel-reinforced brick facade|
|Floor area||50,000 square feet (4,600 m2)|
|Design and construction|
|Main contractor||New Wing – Moore & Roberts|
The Redstone Building, also known as the Redstone Labor Temple (and formerly called "The San Francisco Labor Temple"), was constructed and operated by the San Francisco Labor Council Hall Associates. Initial planning started in 1910, with most construction work done during 1914. Its primary tenant was the San Francisco Labor Council, including 22 labor union offices as well as meeting halls. The building was a hub of union organizing and work activities and a "primary center for the city's historic labor community for over half a century."
The Redstone building played a significant role in the 1917 United Railroads Streetcar Strike as well as the San Francisco maritime strike that led to the 1934 San Francisco General Strike. The Redstone Building has been designated San Francisco's 238th landmark.
Context and history
The Redstone is located at 2940 16th Street between South Van Ness, formerly Howard Street, and Capp. The building is situated on the very edge of what used to be an industrial zone, with large industrial facilities like the U.S. Steel facility, now a MUNI facility. The city also built a large armory two blocks away as part of the city's politically divisive labor history.
The North Mission District was a working-class neighborhood from around 1870 up until the 1960s. The neighborhood continues to have a large number of ornate Victorian houses nearby. The North Mission was built and mostly populated by Irish Americans, but also included a Greek community as well. Early neighbors included Woodward Gardens and an Insane asylum on Howard and 15th.
The Redstone building is within a few blocks of the Mission San Francisco de Asís, the Victoria Theater, Rainbow Grocery Cooperative, which was originally the Mack Truck company, that was then replaced by a regional St Vincent DePaul center, and Roxie Theaters in the Mission District. What is currently a Walgreens store used to be a boxing arena.
San Francisco Labor Temple
The San Francisco Labor Temple was dedicated on September 7, 1914 by former San Francisco mayor and head of the local Building Trades Council P.H. McCarthy. The cornerstone was set by A.J Gallagaher. The San Francisco Labor Council held a grand opening for the Labor Temple on February 27, 1915. The SF Labor Council newspaper, the Labor Clarion, described the building on the front page of its newspaper on February 26, 1915. The article described the building interior and gave details such as the $150,000 construction cost. The building included 22 office spaces, a number of large halls, and the 70-by-62-foot (21 by 19 m) main auditorium. The building would have its own medical and dental clinic. One of the first steel frame buildings erected in San Francisco, the building is steel reinforced with a brick facade on two sides and masonry on the other. A new wing to the building was added in 1939 at a cost of $92,000.
The Labor Temple was the longtime home of the many important city unions including the Labor Council, the Clarion newspaper and the Union Labor Party which had early success in electing two different Mayors of San Francisco. The building also helped take part in Tom Mooney's defense campaign as well as many strikes and political campaigns.
A May 1916 Union Directory had 54 unions using the building for their meetings. The bakers and bakery wagon drivers, the bindery women, blacksmiths, butchers, carriage and wagon workers, cigar makers, coopers, horseshoers, ice and milk wagon drivers, janitors, sail makers, and tailors all met at the Labor Temple.
1934 General Strike
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The most significant historical event at the Labor Temple took place in July 1934 when the longshoremen and maritime workers led San Francisco workers in the momentous General Strike that changed the labor movement forever. The waterfront workers lived on the fringes of society in conditions that, even for those times, were abominable. The longshoremen had to pay for their jobs on the dock; the seafarers were little more than slaves on the ships. They wanted no more than any worker wants: dignity on the job and off, justice, a living wage. They were willing to strike because their conditions were so bad, they had almost nothing to lose.
The longshoremen and seamen had been out on strike for about three months without much success, few other unions had joined them in sympathy, but the strikers hung on. The shipping companies were determined to bring the strikers to their knees and stop the strike. They had hired armed guards as well as San Francisco police to do their dirty work. For several days there had been fighting on Rincon Hill. On July 5, just outside the strike kitchen at 113 Steuart, an unnamed policeman fired into a crowd of longshoremen and their sympathizers, shooting several of them. Two died. The deaths of Howard Sperry and Nick Bordoise stunned the public. This infamous day in San Francisco labor history became known as “Bloody Thursday” and galvanized the rest of the unions to support the struggle.
The next day (July 6) was the regular Friday night session of the San Francisco Labor Council. The Council members packed the auditorium in the Labor Temple; hundreds more spectators jammed the halls and overflowed onto 16th Street. A growing demand for a general strike was on the minds of the rank and file members. Fourteen unions had already taken action supporting a general strike and others were planning action. Harry Bridges was in attendance and asked for immediate action on an International Longshoreman's Association (ILA) resolution underscoring its position that the question of union hiring halls “cannot possibly be submitted to arbitration.” The resolution was approved without dissent as was a second resolution condemning Governor Merriam for calling out the state militia. This resolution urged a peace based on ‘simple justice and not military force.” At this meeting the S.F. Labor Council set up a Strike Strategy Committee to, in the words of the ILA Strike Bulletin, “make plans of a strike that will stop every industry in the city.” The bulletin noted, too, that the council had endorsed the ILA's refusal to arbitrate the closed shop. Bridges declared, “This is no longer the ILA’s fight alone. Thursday’s bloody rioting has crystallized labor’s attention on the conditions under which the ILA works and labor is demanding concerted action. The Labor Council is definitely behind the marine strike.”
On July 9, a funeral procession bearing the bodies of the two slain unionists walked down Market Street. Estimates range from 15,000 to 50,000 in the procession. Thousands more lined the sidewalks. Fearing that sight of police on the streets would incite workers further, City Hall agreed that the strikers would be in charge of crowd control. There was no talking, no sound except a quiet funeral dirge, and the tramp of feet, but the air was electric with that sound. Their deaths – and that march – forged the solidarity that became the West Coast General Strike. The march ended at 17th and Valencia at the mortuary, just two blocks away from the Labor Temple. No doubt many mourners walked over to the Temple afterward to be together. To try to make some sense of what was happening. To decide what to do next.
Although a number of unions, including the Teamsters, had already decided to strike by July 12, the Labor Council's Strike Committee had not yet formally acted. It was in the auditorium of the Labor Temple where the vote was taken that sent the 175 unions of the SF Labor Council out on strike in support of the Longshoremen and Seafarers. The new General Strike Committee had already written up the motion. You would recognize many of the names on that strike committee: Jack Shelly, A. Noriega, Mike Casey, and of course, Harry Bridges. The strike vote meeting was held on Saturday, July 14, with the strike to commence on Monday, July 16, at 8 am. The S.F. Chronicle of July 15 reported the strike decision inside the Labor Temple in a colorful description: “Amid scenes of wildest conditions, with hundreds of delegates shouting and scores of others in a condition approaching hysteria, labor made the most momentous decision in many years. Throngs mulled about the Labor Temple at Sixteenth and Capp streets during four hours…” Finally, a hod carrier by the name of Joe Murphy made the motion.
The historic San Francisco General Strike went on for four days, ending July 19, 1934. The strike was a success, opening the way to end the longshoremen's and maritime workers’ strikes but extending beyond their demands to change the relationship between worker and boss forever. The maritime workers won the most contested issue, hiring halls with a union selected job dispatcher. Longshoremen won a six-hour day and 30-hour workweek while seamen won an eight-hour day. The solidarity with their brothers on the docks shown by the General Strike in San Francisco was heard around America in the midst of the Great Depression. Labor historian David Selvin called it a “new day” when workers acted from a new awareness of common grievances and common purpose, a newly recognized class identity that inspired workers nationwide.
The building was a major social gathering area for the North Mission with two banquet halls in the basement and its first floor Assembly Hall that included pool tables. Fees from its pool tables and licensed slot machines helped cover the cost of running the building, which had 21 employees in 1955. The Hall Association was forced to close the Assembly hall's slot machine operations in the early 1950s due to a national crackdown on gambling and unions. Working people started abandoning the Mission for the suburbs, causing a general decline of the building and the neighborhood. The San Francisco Labor Council considered selling the building as early as 1955 but decided to renovate instead. The Labor Council took out a $275,000 loan to bring the building up to code, including a new front entrance. The basement was turned into a number of smaller office spaces, while the Assembly Hall and the Auditorium next door were combined into a single space for larger meetings. There were damages to the exterior from the 1957 San Francisco earthquake that struck the city, the largest since the 1906 earthquake.
The 1950s brought with it the McCarthy era and a renewed Red Scare focusing on unions as well as Hollywood. It culminated in the HUAC hearings and blacklists.
Transition into a community center
On April 5, 1966 Dow Wilson, the secretary of the Brotherhood of Painters, Decorators and Paperhangers' San Francisco Local 4 was killed around the corner from the building in a corruption dispute. His murder led to the building being sold to Peter Blasko for $228,000. The sale helped SFLC pay off their outstanding loan. They continued to lease space as did other unions after the murder of Wilson. Blasko later sold the property to the M.K Blake Estate which held the building until 1989. By this time the building had become a community center.
The Mission District which used to be predominantly Irish and working class had been shifting towards a predominantly Latino community. By the early 1980s the building would be leased to mostly Latino organizations with a couple labor organizations, the local chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, which represented teachers at San Francisco City College and ABSCME Local 1650 CUCE.
Theater Rhinoceros: 1981–2009
Theatre Rhinoceros or The Rhino, was established in 1977 to produce original LGBT live theater to explore "the ordinary and extraordinary aspects of our queer community" moved into the Redstone in 1981. The Rhino was the first gay theatre to receive funding from the National Endowment for the Arts and is the "world’s oldest and longest-running queer theatre" and was the Redstone's 2nd oldest and largest tenant producing "an unparalleled amount of original work" shown in The Rhino's two theaters. The Rhino's marquee and box office were at the Redstone's north entrance. After 5 years of major rent increases Rhino left the building on June 30, 2009.
After the 1988 death of Henry Hawke, who had been doing the maintenance and co-manager, M.K. Blake Estate sold the building to David Kimmel. Just as the sale was completed, the October 1989 earthquake struck the city, damaging an old add-on closet on the north wing of the building. The damaged section as well as an old water tower were removed. Kimmel who also had properties in downtown Santa Cruz went into bankruptcy due to damages to all of his properties. Brad Ahekian, attempted to reorganize Kimmel's properties but failed and abandoned the property in July 1992. The building went into court-ordered receivership that was held by Brighton Pacific. It was then picked up in September 1992 by David Luchessi, an investor of Kimmel's.
On March 1, 1996, The Lab began its move into the Redstone Building from its original location at 1805 and 1807 Divisadero Street, where, since 1984 it had run a black-box theater, art gallery and working facilities for artists: SoundLab, DesignLab, PrintLab and PhotoLab. The new Redstone space was too costly, so a floor-to-ceiling wall was built that reduced the overall space by 1/3. It is the same 3,000 sq ft footprint The Lab occupies today. Early projects include the mural project, sound-proofing, and The Lab's signature visual, sound, music and performance programming.
The Clarion Alley Mural Project (CAMP), named after their first mural project on Clarion Alley (between 17th and 18th Streets near Mission Street) and The LAB announced the mural project to the tenants on April 19, 1996 after getting tentative support from the Redstone Building Manager. The LAB was awarded a grant from the Mayor's Office to cover artist fees and expenses for the mural project, and for the design and installation of a handicapped lift, to allow access to the entertainment venues The Lab and Theater Rhinoceros.
CAMP members spent several months researching the history of the building at San Francisco State University's Labor Archives. They followed this up with surveys to all of the Redstone Building tenants, followed by several meetings, including the first one with tenants on June 19, 1996. Working color sketches were supposed to be presented to tenants on September 3, 1996, but delayed until October 25, 1996. The sketches were then taken to the Building owner who gave permission to begin painting the murals. The initial phase of the CAMP project was made up of nine artists: Carolyn Castano, John Fadeff, Susan Greene (a Redstone tenant), Barry McGee, Ruby Neri, Sebastiani Pastor, Rigo '96, Lilly Rodriguez, Chuck Sperry and Project Director Aaron Noble. The project outreach coordinator was Mary Newson with the Lab's Laura Brun coordinating the administration of the city grant, which was part of the original $1.8 million Mission Armory Foundation money that was broken up by Mayor Brown and given to arts groups across the city.
The lobby and first floor of the Redstone's walls are covered by the CAMP murals, covering the building's labor, Filipino, Latino and gay history that "reflect the building’s history and many uses" and are "commemorating key labor actions like the (1934) strike and picket by the Chinese Garment Workers Union and the formation of the Bindery Women's Union."
Six of the completed Red Stone Building murals depict the activities of the labor unions in the building (from 1914 to 1966). Chuck Sperry recreated the scene of a Labor Council planning meeting for the landmark 1934 General Strike, while Aaron Noble's piece illustrates two important moments in the City's labor history—when the corrupt union official Ben Rasnick was thrown out of the Red Stone Building by Dow Wilson; and, later, when Wilson was murdered by shotgun fire on April 5, 1966.
Other labor-themed murals in the building are Isis Rodriguez's illustration of the Bindery Women's Local 125, which occupied the building in the early 1920s; Sebastiana Pastor's depicting the organization of the Chinese Ladies Garment Workers Union Local 341 in 1938; Ruby Neri (with Alicia McCarthy)'s personal work (in ball-point pen) on the theme of sign painting—an oblique tribute to Sign Painters' Local 510, which sanctioned the project; and Susan Greene's rendering of the Service Employees International Union's hotel and department store strike of 1941.
The remaining six murals reflect later uses of the building. Two are historical: John Fadeff's piece evokes construction of the building's foundation, and Carolyn Castaño's depicts ballroom dancing in the former Filipino-American social club. Others reflect the building's current uses: an abstract piece by stencil artist Scott Williams for the entrance of the LAB, invoking a technological urban landscape; Barry McGee's illustration of immigrants floating to a new land; Rigo '97's "3/4 Water," celebrating the environmental organizations in the building; and Matt Day's small piece dedicated to the building's many alternative media organizations. Later, a mural honoring long-time building tenant Theater Rhinoceros was added to the project.
There is also a mural on the second-floor produced by the former Women's Luna Sea Theater Company.
The project was coordinated by the interdisciplinary artists group known as The LAB which produces art shows and events year round in the former labor temple's auditorium.
Redstone Tenants Association
The tenants of the Redstone started organizing and formed the Redstone Tenants Association (RTA) in 1999 to coordinate organizing around possibly buying the building and making general improvements to the large property as part of a general concern about gentrification of the neighborhood resulting in evictions and rising rents. San Francisco was experiencing a hot rental market with the dot-com boom that created high-paying technical jobs and, in the process, displaced both commercial and residential renters with evictions and skyrocketing rents. With the help of the Mission Economic Development Association (MEDA) the tenants obtained a grant to do their own economic analysis of the building with the intent to make a formal bid for purchase. A variety of entities were approached with the hope of finding a non-profit owner. The Redstone Tenants Association is now known as the Redstone Labor Temple Association and has 510(c)(3) status.
San Francisco Designated Landmark
The first grant the RTA obtained was for $2,000 from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which was used to start the process of obtaining historic landmark status for the building. The landmarking took from 2001 to 2004 to complete. The city formalized the building's historic status on July 14, 2004, assigning it number 238. It is the second labor-related historic landmark in San Francisco. Exactly three years to the date of gaining historic landmark status, the annual "Labor Fest" did the first mural tour of the building and surrounding neighborhood.
On July 31, 2004 the Redstone celebrated the landmark status that had been bestowed by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. The event included a proclamation from the Board as well as Walter Johnson, head of the SF Labor Council, who presented the plaque to the Redstone Building manager and Betty Traynor, RTA organizer. The event included musicians, poetry and historic information about the building, along with union members whose organizations once inhabited the former union hall.
GLBT Historical Society
The Redstone Building was the location of the first public archives and office of the Gay and Lesbian Historical Society (now known as the GLBT Historical Society), an internationally recognized museum, archives and research center for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender history. Founded in 1985, the organization was housed in a private home until 1990, when it moved into a basement space in the Redstone Building. After five years, the society moved out of the building and has subsequently been housed in larger spaces on Market Street and Mission Street in San Francisco.
As of the year 1999, the current building had nearly 50,000 square feet (4,600 m2) of tenant space housing over forty tenants and four theaters, including Theatre Rhinoceros, the oldest gay theater in the U.S. and the Redstone's largest tenant.
Today, its tenants include three theater ensembles: gay Theatre Rhinoceros, feminist Luna Sea, and the Latino El Teatro de la Esperanza. Other causes are evidenced by the groups' names: the Mission Area Federal Credit Union, the Filipino-American Employment and Training Center, the Industrial Workers of the World, the Homeless Children's Network, the Coalition on Homelessness, Hard Hat Magazine, the Eviction Defense Network, California Prison Focus, and on and on. "We call it a microcosm of the Mission and The City," said Elisabeth Beaird, the administrative director of The Lab, a visual and performance art gallery. "Almost every group is represented: Latino, activist causes, the arts, gays."
The building lost Woman's Luna Sea Project in 2005, Spirit Menders in July 2007, Mission Agenda in 2006, Cine Accion in 2006, Homes Not Borders in 2006, IndyBay in 2006, the Homeless Children's Network in August 2007, and the Mission Area Federal Credit Union in October 2007. Theater Rhino, the building's oldest and largest tenant, was forced to leave on June 30, 2009 due to large rent increases over the preceding years. The rest of the building's tenants have also experienced large rent increases in that time period. Following a protest, a new round of increases was blocked in the spring of 2009.
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- Eight hour day
- Harry Bridges
- Labour Day
- Landrum-Griffin Act
- List of San Francisco Designated Landmarks
- List of Registered Historic Places in San Francisco, California
- The LAB
- Workers Memorial Day
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