SAN FRANCISCO — San Francisco is getting another cultural treasure — a world-class museum to showcase the largest collection of Mexican and Latino art in the nation.
Groundbreaking is set for Tuesday for the new Mexican Museum — the realization of a dream by Mexican-American artist Peter Rodriguez, who opened the city’s first museum for Latino art in a Mission District storefront in 1975.
Rodriguez started a collection that now has more than 16,000 pre-Columbian, colonial and contemporary works of Mexican and Latino art.
Rodriguez, who died July 1 at 90, never lost hope the unique museum would be built, his family said.
“My uncle worked tirelessly, and with passion and drive, to personally demonstrate that, as a Mexican-American, we can achieve any dream by ourselves.” said Irene Christopher, his niece.
The 60,000-square-foot Mexican Museum will be the downtown home of the collection that includes 800 works of Mexican folk art donated by the family of Nelson Rockefeller and pieces by Mexican muralist Diego Rivera and painter Miguel Covarrubias.
The new museum is set to open in the spring of 2019. Most of the art is now in storage, though some pieces are exhibited at the tiny current site in the Fort Mason area of San Francisco.
The museum moved there after the Mission District storefront closed.
With 39 percent of California’s population identifying as Latino, the museum will be a place where they can learn about their culture, said Andrew Kluger, who became chairman of the museum board five years ago and helped raise $30 million needed for the building.
“The new museum will allow us to educate second- and third-generation Chicano, Latino children about their heritage, which is quite important because many of them don’t know about it,” Kluger said.
The four-story Mexican Museum will be housed at the bottom of a luxury condo tower in Yerba Buena Gardens, nestled between historic St. Patrick’s Church and the Contemporary Jewish Museum.
One of 11 children, Rodriguez was born in Stockton in 1926 and later moved to San Francisco, where he worked in the advertising and fashion industries.
He was a self-taught artist who found his calling in abstract art and traveled to Mexico for the first time after he was invited to show his work there in the 1960s.
Kluger said Rodriguez’s vision will be reflected in the new museum.
“We want to honor him always for his inspiration to start this museum 40 years ago,” Kluger said.
The Mexican Museum will be an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution. One of its first exhibits will be “Frida and I,” a children’s exhibition about the life of Frida Kahlo.
OLGA R. RODRIGUEZ