Bay Area/ San Francisco/ Arts & Culture
Published on May 02, 2023
Plans afoot to return Diego Rivera mural to City College, make it visible from the streetImage via SFMOMA

It’s been a long and complicated history for Diego Rivera’s 1940 mural “Pan-American Unity,” the painter’s largest single standing mural at 22 feet high and 74 feet wide. Rivera painted it for the 1940 Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island, and it was meant to live permanently at the Pflueger Library, which famed architect Timothy Pflueger was building for San Francisco Junior College (now called City College of San Francisco). But Plueger died, the mural stayed in storage on Treasure Island, and never made its way to City College until the early 1960s. 

Then in 2021, the ten-panel mural was painstakingly moved to the SFMOMA as City College had hoped to break ground on a new performing arts center that was supposed to be the mural’s new permanent home. The SFMOMA exhibition has won plenty of rave reviews, but we haven’t heard anything in years about the mural moving back to its original intended City College home.

Until Tuesday, when we heard exciting news from a very unexpected place. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors Land Use and Transportation committee was considering a totally unrelated measure to name a street after the late Mayor Ed Lee as part of the upcoming Balboa Reservoir housing development next to City College in Ingleside (they voted yes, the street renaming will go to the full Board of Supervisors for consideration). But Supervisor Myrna Melgar happened to mention “a new performing arts center that will be built by City College that will hopefully house the Pan American Unity mural that is right now on loan at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.”

Image: City College of San Francisco


In addition to that great news, Melgar noted that the relocated mural “will be visible from the street” and will reside quite appropriately, “at the corner of Frida Kahlo and Diego Streets.” Renderings of the mural’s new location are seen above and below.

Image: City College of San Francisco

Hoodline did some digging and found a December 2022 article from the City College newspaper The Guardsman showing the City College development had been approved. “That’s going to be the centerpiece of the campus,” Vice president of the City College Board of Trustees John Rizzo told the paper. “It’s going to have a glass front, so from the street you can see the Diego Rivera mural.”

Board of Trustees President Brigitte Davila added that the building would be equipped with “special glass” to prevent the mural from fading, and “whether you’re inside the building or outside, you’ll be able to see this absolutely incredible piece of art that City College owns.” 

The SFMOMA website says the mural will remain at SFMOMA until “March 2024,” and it will likely be there even longer. Because the big question mark in all of this is the precarious financial position of City College, which is having trouble even keeping the heat on in classrooms. While the larger City College project has broken ground, this particular building where the mural would be housed has not. That mural is not coming back to the Ingleside-Balboa Park neighborhood unless there’s a building there for it, so none of this is a done deal.

But if the building is built and the mural returns, as Supervisor Melgar noted, it would sit near the corner of a new street called Diego Lane and the renamed Frida Kahlo Way, as a homage to the frequent collaborators who made so much art history.