Crossing The Street


Crossing the Street explores and describes the Portola District in a collection of handmade reference books created by Connell and Melara for the new Portola Branch Library. The artists began by investigating their own one block street in the Portola, engaging with neighbors to learn their stories and to understand the history of one city block. They offered their garage as a polling site and, with the neighbors they met, planned a series of events and celebrations. Next, they engaged with residents of the larger Portola District working together to build the new Portola Branch Library.

In the process, they collaborated with a filmmaker and musician/composer to create Portola at Play, meeting more neighbors, learning their stories. These explorations resulted in a collection of new, interactive artists books by, for and about the Portola. Made for all ages, the books draw on research, conversation, meandering walks and shared family photographs. The reference works in Crossing the Street are an atlas, a pair of graphic novels, a trilingual silk book, a diorama and tunnel book. Inside these books you’ll find historical maps dating back to the Portola’s history as Rincón de las Salinas y el Potrero Viejo; silken pages of Portola sky; botanical notes on local flora; drawings of a young girl who fell in love with horses at the old stables, and another young girl who grew up to be an activist; photographs of busy San Bruno Avenue and a butcher delivering a whole hog on his shoulder. Each book was mounted on a handmade stand and two of books replaced dictionaries in the library’s reference collection.

Portola Workbook

A workbook for imagining great outcomes for the Portola!

Portola Cognito & Side By Side Stories

Portola Cognito, a series of maps from the Tracing the Portola: A San Francisco Neighborhood Atlas, printed at 17″ x 22″ and offered free to neighbors and residents in Southeast San Francisco.

Side by Side Stories, dioramas telling the stories of two side by side homes over the 80 years since they were built. In the base of the dioramas is a mail slate for postcards. Postcards with black and white photos of neighborhood residents over the years were offered to library visitors who wrote their neighborhood stories on the back and deposited them in the mail slot.

Download “Portola Cognito” PDF,  A collection of 8 narrative maps.

Atlas: Tracing the Portola, A San Francisco Neighborhood Atlas

An atlas with Connell and Melara’s 9 narrative maps, Kathy Coll, Phd has edited the Atlas which includes an essay by geographer Richard Walker and a cover made by textile artist Angie Wilson. Graphic designer, Derrick Miller-Miller Handley and was bound by Carrie Galbraith.

Bonnie and Shirley

A pair of graphic novels that tell the story of two young girls growing up in the Portola, Bonnie Shields grew up “out the Road” in the 1940s when the Portola was a rural area with scattered homes, truck gardens, nurseries small farms and stables. Bonnie’s refuge was the horse stables in McLaren Park, where she learned to ride. Shirley Chen was born in Hawaii and grew up in the Portola in the 2000s. She spent a lot of time on San Bruno Avenue where her Mother owned a dry cleaning business.

Dunsmuir Street Book

A trilingual book built together with neighbors on one block in the Portola District. A book with portrait and personal statements that introduces neighbors to each other.

Silk Book of Skies

A trilingual Chinese, Spanish, English silk book filled with portraits of Portola skies. The sky over 801 Silver Ave, which was once an ICE station, the night sky over San Bruno Avenue, skies filled with lemon trees and with electrical cords.

Opening Event

The lively and popular Portola Branch Library hosted the opening for the Crossing the Street exhibition where all the books were displayed and copies of Portola Cognito were offered to attendees.

Photographs by Sibila Savage.