Wednesday, June 10, 2009

San Francisco: Chinatown? Definitely! Japantown? Sure. Greektown????

San Francisco neighborhoods were greatly influenced by the influx of immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As certain groups settled in certain areas, appropriate businesses opened to serve their needs, and it started a trend.

Most have since dissipated over the decades as members of a certain community became more affluent, were less reliant on connect with those who spoke their native tongue, and moved out into the general population and into other neighborhoods.

The Inner Mission is perhaps the best contemporary example with its strong ties to Central and South America and the Spanish language.

The most famous ethnic neighborhood in San Francisco, of course, is Chinatown. When it was originally founded it was actually the waterfront before land fill created the financial district area between Kearny and the Bay. Originally, the members of the Chinese community primarily worked to build the railroads and in shipping, import and export. That community is still there over 200 years later.

But what of other ethnic groups in San Francisco?

Japantown has Japan Center as a focal point for their community with its shops and restaurants, Korea town has cropped up on the fringes of The Tenderloin and Civic Center.

There was second wave of Russian immigrants into the outer Richmond over the past two decades and the community centers around the Holy Virgin Russian Orthodox Church on Geary. But even a half a century ago the nexus of the Russian community was on Potrero Hill with its Russian Orthodox, Molokon, and Baptist churches.

A few of the communities that have diffused throughout or beyond The City have included: Irish and Scandanavians primarily populated The Castro and Eureka Valley, Greeks who populated the area now referred to as Mission Rock corridor of 3rd Street. Greektown originally set up shops on the 7th and Mission corridor as well and arranged for the first San Francisco Greek Orthodox church to be build on 7th Street between Harrison & Folsom. It's gold dome can still be seen from the freeway and it is now a Ukranian Orthodox Church. The Greek congregation, Hagia Triatha, had a newer Byzantine-styled edifice built on Brotherood Way in the 1970's.

It was that community that gave San Francisco one of its more famous mayors: George Christopher.

And of course the North Beach area, was and still is, an Italian enclave that also gave us Joseph Alioto and his family political dynasty and the likes of Joe DiMaggio.

But San Francisco has also given rise to other trends and communities parsed by economics, beliefs or other community factors over the centuries.

A few of these were the Beat Generation which evolved in the coffee houses and bookstores in North Beach around Broadway.

African American communities of the Western Edition, BayView District and Hunter's Point.

The Hippies of course claimed the Haight-Ashbury area around Golden Gate Park which still shows that influence, and the fledgling Gay community originally settled the Polk Street corridor in the 70's before they outgrew the area (as comedienne Margaret Cho talks about in her standup routines) and migrated to The Castro which became the international heart and soul of Gaydom second only to possibly Greenwich Village because of the presence of the iconic Stonewall Inn and the history it represents.

Affluence also had its districts: South Park, and Nob Hill passed their heyday and then it became Pacific Heights, Presidio Heights, The Lake Street area and Seacliff district. Even somewhat in St. Francis Wood and Forest Hill areas which were pretty much sand dunes until the mid twentieth century.

The Chinese community outgrew the Chinatown area as well, and migrated into the Marina, Inner Richmond and Sunset Districts forming collections of Asian businesses along the Clement, Judah, Irving, Taraval, and Noriega business corridors. But none of those satellite areas has the significance or image of the parent community around Grant Avenue.

It is the strength and vitality of these communities that lends San Francisco its charm, it vibrancy and exemplify its long history of acceptance and welcoming of the new, the foreign and the vanguard of social and cultural evolution, until those tags are washed away in the eclectic currents and eddies of the San Francisco cultural mainstream.

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