Below Market Rate Housing Gets High End Sol LeWitt Artwork



While Oakland wades into a lawsuit against the city’s percent for art ordinance, a new piece of public art on a private development quietly went up in San Francisco’s mid-Market neighborhood and was unveiled Tuesday.

Wrapping around the north-east corner of 1400 Mission at the intersection of Jessie and 10th Streets, is a newly painted Sol LeWitt acrylic piece, Wall Drawing #1012. Installed on site by a team of seven over the course of four weeks, the five-color geometric design by the famed late conceptual artist originally graced the exterior of a Los Angeles pool house, before it was purchased by Tishman Speyer, the building’s developers.

Situated next door to the luxury apartment complex NEMA (not just a residential building but “a design-driven lifestyle pioneer,” according to its website) and across the street from Twitter HQ, 1400 Mission looks deceptively like another high-end housing development. But the nearly-finished 190-unit building is actually filled with below market rate housing.

The entrance of 1400 Mission. (Photo: Sarah Hotchkiss/KQED)

The entrance of 1400 Mission. (Photo: Sarah Hotchkiss/KQED)

Local nonprofits like the Mission Economic Development Agency and the San Francisco LGBT Community Center worked to place first-time homebuyers earning 100% or less of the area median income in the units. It was built in collaboration with the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation to fulfill Tishman Speyer’s inclusionary housing requirement for LUMINA, the developer’s fully market-rate SOMA high rise.

Back on the building’s exterior, the LeWitt wall drawing is 91.5 feet long and just over 9.5 feet tall. It’s rare to see a LeWitt out of doors — let alone on view to the public — for free. But Wall Drawing #1012 will be visible day and night, thanks to a bank of LED lights installed above the work.

"Each home comes with its own washer and dryer, kitchen appliances, ample closet space, and granite countertops." Digital rendering of unit inside 1400 Mission. (Photo:

“Each home comes with its own washer and dryer, kitchen appliances, ample closet space, and granite countertops.” Digital rendering of unit inside 1400 Mission. (Photo:

Takeshi Arita, a LeWitt installer with decades of experience on all types of LeWitt wall drawings — from graphite to colored pencil the vibrant hues of #1012 — led the team in executing what is really a set of written instructions, beginning with diligently preparing the wall surface. The team scaled scaffolding and worked for an entire week behind a mesh-covered fence on what appeared to be just a white wall.

For a wall drawing made with acrylic, each section of color is taped off and layered with seven coats of paint, with sanding and wiping for dust between each coat. First-time LeWitt installers are trained to create straight masking tape lines, to make varied brushstrokes with wide bristle brushes and ultimately, to add final touch ups with cotton swabs after the paper is peeled away. Installers constantly trade roles and places on the wall, to maintain what seasoned LeWitt installer Amy Rathbone, quoting the artist, describes as “a universal hand.”

Each block of color got seven layers of acrylic paint. (Photo: Sarah Hotchkiss/KQED)

Each block of color got seven layers of acrylic paint. (Photo: Sarah Hotchkiss/KQED)

Christine Lee, a first time LeWitt installer with no previous mural or painting experience, relishes the simple tools and meditative aspects of the job. “A lot of stuff happens when you just spend time on the same corner for 24 days,” Lee says, referring to how attuned the install crew became to the neighborhood’s cycles of foot and car traffic, their fight against dust and the changing qualities of light. The installers also engaged in a lengthy battle against the dog owners of NEMA. Hand-drawn signs posted around the install site read, “Please no dog pee here. So smelly for us,” followed by a sad face.

The final step before the scaffolding, fence and mesh came down was a matte layer of Sheercoat, a clear, water-based acrylic copolymer that protects against graffiti attacks, UV rays and urban pollutants. Precita Eyes uses the same product on all of their murals. Members of the install team have voiced their concerns about the vulnerability of the piece on a public street corner. But maintenance of a LeWitt wall drawing is part of every sales contract, and Tishman Speyer will shoulder that responsibility.

In the meantime, the future residents of 1400 Mission and the city of San Francisco just got a new piece of public art — our very first Sol LeWitt.