Much of San Francisco is about transience and waves of newcomers and about what happened to previous populations, often once newcomers themselves, when the next people came. These people left indelible marks on the city, even as they were erased themselves.
In the early Second Great Migration years of World War II, African Americans moved into the Western Addition, filling spaces recently emptied of Japanese people forced into internment camps. Much of the black population was in turn driven out and across the Bay. Today, I live in the Western Addition.
My coworker told me that the last Irish bar in the Mission closed while he lived there in the early 90s (when the Mission was the “real” Mission—whatever that means). Now, mostly white young people are shifting the neighborhood’s Latino predominance.
Where did the Italians go, when North Beach was overrun? What happened to the Beatniks who took over—apart from the gnarled few who still rant outside Caffe Trieste? The hippie-looking types on Haight are no flower children.
Our city has boomed with tech and busted flat and is booming up again, much to the chagrin of many. Rents are sky-high, gentrification screeches forward, as tech types are shuttled out and away from the city every morning and shuttled back to eat in restaurants I can’t even afford as, uncomfortable as it is to admit, some kind of nonprofit yuppie. I’m also a part of that gentrification. And it’s not always a bad thing to renew and revitalize blighted neighborhoods, but it’s certainly rarely done right.
Take Valencia Street in the Mission. There are parts of it that I love, and only true curmudgeons would argue that it’s not fun to wander there on a Saturday (I’ve been down there for three separate trips in the past two weekends). But there are more wildly expensive restaurants than anything else, and no hardware store, no big grocery store. It’s not an intentional neighborhood but rather a place held hostage by trend. And it will bust out too. Or transform into another tourist enclave, like North Beach, maybe giving that tired old neighborhood the chance to transform again, as the waves move back out.
For these ebbs, San Francisco can be a difficult place to live. Most of us are not locals (though many are native Californians). We come and go with jobs—I’ve said goodbye to a number of friends and co-workers, and I’ve been here for eighteen months. Perhaps the city is too small to fit all of us (unlike New York, which seems to expand indefinitely to swallow everyone), and once the heat and pressure hit a certain level, the loose ones escape.
As I try to keep my writing here more regular (it’s hard with a full-time job, y’all), I’d like to explore the stories—historical and contemporary—of the people who have lived here and then adapted or faded away. And I wonder, and maybe will start to see, how I’ll have to adapt to stay here. Because I don’t plan on leaving anytime soon.
Header photo is of a mural in Clarion Alley. The cutout figure depicts that very locale.