Balazo KO?

The Mission indie arts space fights for survival
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kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER Once upon a time in the Mission, there was a gallery named Balazo. Not quite old enough to know better and a ways from 18, or 18th Street, the little walk-up art space that could blasted into many a local indie fan's existence in the early '00s with wall-rattling, hot 'n' clammy punk jammies overlooking the 24th Street and Mission BART station. From the beginning, this space was anything but Snow White pristine: noise kids littered the pavement outside with butts, and upstairs the humidity was high and the audience shank-to-elbow deep, packed into a onetime living room for bands like the Mae-Shi and the Lowdown who made it way loud for the crowd. Trailing into adjacent rooms were beer drinkers and art lovers, gazing at massive blowups depicting disappearing SF industrial buildings or paintings praising pubic pouches. Peddling metal too raw for larger stages, punk en español, and local ear bleed avant-gardians, Balazo proved the prince of the underground, Latino-run and Mission-bred, sweeping in on its black charger after Epicenter and Mission Records packed it in and keeping it all relatively under the radar, even as it hauled its bad self down the street to a space at Mission and 18th streets still greasily redolent of the past Chinese chop suey tenant. Rechristened Balazo 18 Art Gallery, the joint has hosted bands ranging from Beijing punkers Brain Failure to SF indie rockers Caesura, and artists including Michael Arcega and Liz Cohen — opening its doors to parties of all flavors.

But every fairy tale has an ending — whether Balazo 18's is happy or not remains up in the air.

Guardian ears pricked up when we heard the gallery was forced to cancel an event planned for the relaunch of GavinWatch.com. Further, Guardian reporter G.W. Schultz obtained a letter sent to acting director Amy Lee of San Francisco's Department of Building Inspection from a resident living on Dolores Street who complained of "drug sellers and prostitutes hanging around all day and night" in the area. Though the author seemed to be attributing the activity to the general vibe of the hood, she did bemoan a "torn canopy" and "boarded up windows" at Balazo's current 2183 Mission location.

Records show the city opened a file in mid-March, but an inspector noted the building's "sign appears safe," and no apparent building violations were found. But we continued to scratch our collective heads, since Balazo's online events calendar only lists dates through February. Was San Francisco about to lose one of the remaining all-ages venues for emerging hardcore, metal, and rock acts?

We finally got a hold of Juan Villanueva, who runs Balazo along with founder Txutxu Pxupxo, for a lowdown on the laid-low gallery. On his way to the first in a series of benefits for Balazo at Dolores Park on April 1, Villanueva explained that a neighbor had been complaining about the murals and denizens on the street, claiming the space was "bringing property valuation down," but it's unclear whether that brought building inspectors to the gallery to check on the renovations that had been going on to make Balazo's entrance and restrooms wheelchair accessible.

Unfortunately, at the same time the police began visiting Balazo, asking for an entertainment license, which Pxupxo and Villanueva don't possess but have subsequently applied for. The $1,500 permit cost, the more than $2,000 needed for the construction, and the required month needed to post the permit application sign have caused the venue to cease shows for fear of incurring thousands in fines.

It sounds like a case of when it rains, all hell breaks loose. "Yeah, it's a hassle," Villanueva agreed. "We pay rent from shows that come in.

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