Bethany Center, a Covia Affordable Community, celebrated 50 years of housing and services for seniors with a range of activities, including a gala event entitled The Art of Growing Older and the unveiling of the newly renovated Salud! mural. The celebrations also mark the completion of a two-year rehabilitation and modernization project of Bethany Center and Ruth’s Table, a gallery and community arts space.
“We honor 50 years of supportive housing and wellness programming for seniors,” says Jerry W. Brown, Senior Director of Covia Affordable Communities. “We recognize the invaluable contributions of the board and staff, community partners, artists, volunteers, and residents who have breathed life into these walls.”
Located in the heart of the Mission District, Bethany Center provides housing and services for almost 200 low-income seniors. In addition, Ruth’s Table offers artist-run workshops, after-hour events, and rotating art exhibitions open to people of all ages and abilities.
At the October 18th gala, attended by more than 400 people, California State Assemblymember David Chu presented the community with a Certificate of Recognition which read, “The California Legislature applauds your half-century of work providing affordable, compassionate housing for San Francisco Seniors, supporting them in their individual needs, and commends you in the inauguration of your new Ruth’s Table creative arts building.” The community also received a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition for the office of Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi. Tom Azumbrado , Regional Director for Mulitfamily West Region of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, was also in attendance.
“Bethany Center empowers our residents every day through supportive, innovative programs,” says Benson Lee, Bethany Center’s Housing Administrator. “We all share a commitment to excellence – and we’re ready to meet the challenges of our next 50 years.”
For more than 20 years, muralist Dan Fontes has helped share the story of Bethany Center Senior Housing in the Mission District of San Francisco. Fontes first created the “Salud!” mural that covers the 9-story building at 21st and Capp Street in 1997 with only one assistant. Now, he is in the midst of a full restoration, working with five other skilled artists to bring even more life to his original vision.
The idea behind the mural was to bring the inside of Bethany outside by sharing true-to-life images of some of the residents. “Unfortunately at the time I had to wrap it up a little too soon,” he says. “So this time I’ve been able to develop the characters more fully as I originally intended. Probably a lot of the neighbors won’t even be able to notice, but I would notice. There’s a few color changes here and there. We’ve brightened up their clothing so they’re not so gray. They’re just more lively, which is what I always intended: to have the seniors look lively and happy and activated and just living their fullest lives.”
Starting at 7:00 each morning, Fontes and his team – Desi Mundo, Kristi Holohan, Antoinette Johnson, Gwen Renee, and Haley Summerfield – use brushes as small as ¼ inch to apply acrylic paint over every inch of the 98 foot tall building, followed by three coats of heavy-duty anti-graffiti varnish.
“I have the dream team. These people have it all. They’re talented. They’re full of courage because you have to have courage to step out over that 9th floor at 98 to 100 feet,” says Fontes.
“We’ve gone through a lot of brushes and a lot of the human figures have now been triple-coated with new paint, so it’s as if you’re painting an entirely new mural on top of the one that’s here. I think it’s going to show.”
“People ask if that’s me in the mural,” says Elizabeth Dunlap who has lived at Bethany since before the mural was first developed. “I think they are surprised that it shows actual people that live here at Bethany.”
The mural also includes a silhouette of the steeple of the Methodist Church formerly located on the site. Bethany Center, a Covia Affordable Community, was established in the late 1960’s as a ministry of the United Methodist Church in San Francisco to provide affordable housing for low income seniors. In addition to 133 apartments, Bethany offers programs, activities, and special events through Ruth’s Table, an art and wellness space named for renowned San Francisco artist Ruth Asawa.
For former Bethany Center CEO Jerry Brown, now Senior Director of Covia Affordable Communities, the mural represents a connection to the Mission and the greater San Francisco community and illustrates the “empowerment of people of diverse backgrounds aging well with vitality in a place they call home.”
“To me that’s a really critical message: that people understand this is a senior center, these are beautiful people who live here, that it’s a diverse community that’s shared by multiple races and people from different countries and areas,” says Fontes. “It’s a positive place, it’s a beautiful place, it’s a gathering of souls. In a way, it’s a work of art.”
Bethany Center Senior Housing will unveil the completely restored mural in mid-October as it celebrates its 50th anniversary.