April 15, 1974

The health clinic at 1450 Noriega Street is a few blocks from where I live in San Francisco’s Sunset District. It’s an unassuming building at the corner of Noriega and 22nd Avenue with a Bank of America ATM on the corner and a bucolic mural painted on one side. When you pass by the building, you would never know it was the location of one of the most notorious crimes of the 1970’s. 

In 1974, 1450 Noriega was the Sunset Branch of the Hibernia Bank. And it was here, at 9:40 AM, that this branch was robbed. Now a bank robbery is not a notorious crime in itself but one of the gun-wielding robbers made this such a notable crime. The story really started  across the Bay on February 4, 1974 on Benvenue Avenue in Berkeley.

An Apartment on Benzene Avenue was the setting of the kidnapping of Patricia Hearst, granddaughter of newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst. She was then a 19 year old student at the University of California when she was kidnapped by The United Federated Forces of the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA). What happened from the moment she was kidnapped and the time she walked into the Hibernia Bank, 71 days later,  with a sawed-off M1 carbine rifle, remains shrouded in speculation and mystery. Was Patty Hearst brainwashed or did she willingly because a member of the SLA?

Before her star turn on the security cameras of the Hibernia Bank, she said in a communique that was sent to local radio stations :

I have been given the choice of, one, being released in a safe area, or, two, joining the forces of the Symbionese Liberation Army and fighting for my freedom and the freedom of all oppressed people. I have chosen to stay and fight. 

We do know that she changed her name to “Tania” and when she was eventually arrested, over a year later, she listed her occupation as “urban guerrilla”.

A painting from one of the most iconic images of the 1970’s: Patty Hearst, Tania, wielding a gun at the Hibernia Bank. Painted from a still from the security camera footage from April 15, 1974.

About the Hibernia Bank robbery Hearst said in a communiqué sent to a local radio stations:

Greetings to the people. This is Tania. Our action of April 15  forced the corporate state to help finance the revolution. As for been brainwashed, the idea is ridiculous to the point of being beyond belief. I am a soldier in the People’s Army.

I usually see the health clinic as the number 7-Haight/Noriega inbound bus makes a left turn onto 22nd Avenue. I imagine most passengers never realize what happened here, over 40 years ago. Indeed the events surrounding the Hearst kidnapping and her participation with the SLA proves the point that reality really is stranger than fiction.

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