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Fillmore Timeline 1860 - 2001

           
 
 

 

       
         
1860s  

 

Less than 20 years after the Gold Rush, San Francisco is bursting at the seams. The City's original street grid, which extends from the San Francisco Bay three miles west to Larkin Street where City Hall is located, must expand to meet the needs of a growing population. Hundreds of square blocks are laid out west of Larkin Street and named "the Western Addition."

 

         
1870   Lloyd Federlein's grandparents buy a home on Steiner Street near Geary Street

 

Llyod Federlein's home
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Photo Credit: Lloyd Federlein

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1880s  

 

Stately Victorians rise in the Western Addition; a commercial district grows along the neighborhood's central thoroughfare: Fillmore Street. This core area of the Western Addition becomes known as "The Fillmore."

 

 

Japanese immigrants come to San Francisco and begin to settle in boarding houses south of downtown in a formerly posh area known as South Park. They start to open businesses around Dupont Street (now Grant Avenue) in Chinatown. A few Japanese also set up homes and shops around Post Street near Fillmore Street in the Western Addition.

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1890s   San Francisco's Jewish population begins to settle in the Western Addition. Vegetable gardens and farms hedge in the area surrounding the cobbled Fillmore Street.

Jews in the Fillmore
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Photo Credit: Jerry Flamm

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1906  

 

In April, the Great Earthquake and the resulting fire that burns for three days leaves the city in ruins. Within days of the earthquake, City Hall & most of the Market Street department stores relocate to the closest thoroughfare left intact: Fillmore Street. The first streetcar to resume operation also runs along Fillmore Street. Single family Victorians are turned into boarding houses, and the neighborhood quickly becomes a densely populated urban district.

 


1906 movie
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(no audio)
Film Credit: Library of Congress

 

After the earthquake destroys Chinatown, the Japanese American community relocates to the Fillmore District. This relocation may be due in part to the Japanese consulate's location on Pine Street, near present-day Japantown.

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1907  

 

Most of the Japanese American population of San Francisco relocates from other parts of the city and centers itself in the Western Addition. They nickname the neighborhood "Nihonjin-machi" or "Japanese town." (Later, they shorten the name to "Nihonmachi" or "Japantown.") Due to a diplomatic request by the Japanese government, children of Japanese descent (unlike the Chinese) are allowed to attend public schools. They join the diverse ethnic population made up of African-Americans, Jews, Hispanics, and Europeans attending Western Addition schools.

 

 

After the earthquake, many theaters are built on Fillmore Street. The National, built at Steiner & Post, regularly features the young Al Jolson, who sings there for $60 a week.

 

 

Following a streetcar strike near a car barn at Turk and Fillmore, a riot breaks out, in which three people are killed. This infamous day is christened "Black Thursday." To this day, the streetcars' brick powerhouse remains standing on the corner of Turk and Fillmore.

 

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1907-1945  

 

The Western Addition begins to attract immigrants who can't afford to live in the city's wealthier districts. Significant enclaves of Filipino, Mexican, African-American, Japanese, Russian, and Jewish residents begin to appear in the area. In particular, San Francisco's Jewish population thrives in the Fillmore, founding three synagogues, a Yiddish Cultural Center, dozens of kosher butchers, restaurants, bakeries, and shops. The area soon becomes known as one of the most diverse neighborhoods west of the Mississippi.

 


Jewish Bakery
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Photo Credit: San Francisco Public Library

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1908  

 

Agitation from white supremacist organizations, labor unions, and politicians resulted in the 1908 "Gentlemen's Agreement" between the United States and Japanese governments curtailing further immigration of laborers from Japan. A provision in the Agreement permitted wives and children of laborers, as well as laborers who had already been in the United States, to continue to enter the country. Despite the Agreement, the Japanese population in the United States continues to increase.

 

         
1909  

 

In an attempt to bring shoppers back to the neighborhood, the Fillmore Street Improvement Association, an organization of Fillmore merchants, puts up fourteen brightly-lit arches over each Fillmore Street intersection. Fillmore Street is soon known as "the most highly illuminated thoroughfare in America."

 


Fillmore Street Arches
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Photo Credit: Jerry Flamm

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1909-1911  

 

The Fillmore Chutes, the neighborhood's first amusement park, opens up at Fillmore & Eddy in the heart of the neighborhood. Half of the park is demolished in a fire in 1911. The remainder of the equipment is relocated to a new park in the Haight/Ashbury District located several miles southwest of Fillmore Street.

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1911   The Fillmore Auditorium is built. Initially named the Majestic Ballroom from 1911-1938, the 2nd floor auditorium is home to dances and balls. Several shops occupy the space at street level.
         
1913  

 

On May 19, 1913, California Governor Hiram Johnson signs the Webb-Hartley Law (more popularly known as the Alien Land Law of 1913), which prevents "aliens ineligible to citizenship" from owning or acquiring land, and places limitations on leasing and collective ownership of property. The laws of 1919 and 1920 further restrict ownership and leasing of land. Although the California Supreme Court declares the Alien Land Law unconstitutional in 1952, the legislation remains on the books until November 4, 1956 when California voters repeal the law.

 

As city hall and department stores migrate to the rebuilt downtown, a group of real estate investors publish a pamphlet promoting Fillmore Street as a business district. They include a scheme to build a Fillmore Street tunnel between Sutter & Filbert Street that would connect the Fillmore Street commercial district to the grounds of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition located near the San Francisco Bay. The tunnel is never built.

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1920s  

 

San Francisco's first, plush, neighborhood theater is constructed: The New Fillmore Theater. Within a few years, eight movie theaters line the streets of the Western Addition.

 

 

The Western Addition is home to several bakeries. Langendorf's, at 1160 McAllister, eventually becomes so large that their baked goods are distributed throughout California.

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1924  

 

A movement to totally exclude Japanese immigrants eventually succeeds with the passing of the National Origins Act of 1924. This legislation almost completely curtails immigration from Japan until 1952 when an allotment of 100 immigrants per year is designated. A few refugees enter the country during the mid-1950s, as do Japanese wives of United States servicemen.

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1930s  

 

America's inner cities are overcrowded and aging from the previous century's Industrial Revolution. Urban planners advocate Federal projects to renovate decaying urban neighborhoods, at the same time as they are promoting suburban living. However, the Great Depression and World War II postpones any serious progress on the initiative known as "urban renewal."

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1933  

Jack's Tavern (1931 Sutter Street) opens. It is the first nightclub in the Western Addition to cater specifically to African Americans.


Jack's Tavern napkin
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Photo Credit: Public Domain

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1934  

 

The Federal Government passes the 1934 Housing Act, the first Act to focus on eliminating slums and building new low-income units and authorizing the FHA to insure short-term installment loans made by private lenders to homeowners for repairs and improvements.

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1935  

 

While California cities like Los Angeles and Oakland boast significant African American populations, San Francisco's black population in 1935 numbers only 5,000, barely 1% of the city's residents. Racial covenants prohibit black ownership, and in some cases rental, of property in many parts of the city - but not in the Western Addition.

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1941  

 

Japanese military forces bomb Pearl Harbor on December 7th. The United States officially declares its involvement in World War II. Within hours of the bombing, the FBI swoops down on Japantown, arresting several prominent members of the community.

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1942  

 

On February 19th, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs Executive Order 9066 that sets in motion the eviction and incarceration of 110,000 Japanese Americans living on the West Coast. Most Japanese-Americans living in the Western Addition are sent to Tanforan Racetrack (now a shopping mall) near the San Francisco International Airport, to be processed and moved to camps around the western United States.

 


Japanese American evacuation notice
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Photo Credit: Public Domain
   

Hatsuro Aizawa as a boy
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Photo Credit: Hatsuro Aizawa

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1943  

 

In an effort to support the war, the Fillmore Street arches are melted down for scrap iron.

 

 


Fillmore Street arches being taken down
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Photo Credit: San Francisco Public Library
 

 

African Americans begin to migrate from the South to work in Bay Area shipyards and other war industries, moving into the Fillmore housing left vacant by the interned Japanese Americans. By 1945, some 30,000 African Americans are living and working in San Francisco.

 

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1944  

 

Thomas Fleming becomes the founding editor of the Reporter, a weekly black paper. In the late 1940s, the paper merges with another black paper, the Sun, to form the Sun-Reporter. Carlton Goodlett remains publisher up until his death in 1997.

 

         
mid-1940s  

 

In response to the growing African American population, dozens of nightclubs begin to open in the Fillmore. Some of the early clubs include The New Orleans Swing Club, Club Alabam, Jackson's Nook and The California Theater Club. Bop City, the most popular of the neighborhood venues, opens in 1950. The burgeoning music scene is likened to the Harlem Renaissance. All the major musical stars of the era, including Ella Fitzgerald, Charles Mingus, Louis Armstrong, Dexter Gordon and Billie Holiday, play at these Fillmore clubs.

 


Fillmore nightlife
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Photo Credit: Brenda Robinson

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1945  

 

The United States drops atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japan surrenders on September 2nd. The Allied Forces declare World War II a victory.

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1945-
1946
 

 

Japanese Americans are released from the Internment Camps without any compensation for the livelihoods they lost due to their relocation. It isn't until 1990, some 45 years later, that President George Bush signs into law a financial restitution bill and "a sincere apology" for the injustice done to the Japanese Americans interned during World War II.

 


Japanese American kids
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Photo Credit: Public Domain

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1946-1965  

 

Longtime Western Addition residents, especially its white and Jewish population, gradually move to outlying areas in the city and beyond. This movement is part of a nationwide trend toward the development of suburbia. Many of these former residents continue to own their Fillmore District shops and apartments, renting them mainly to people of color. By the late 1950s, more than 90% of Fillmore residents are renting from absentee landlords.

 

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1947  

Charles Collins is born in the Fillmore. It marks the 5th year that his parents, Dr. & Mrs. Daniel Collins, have lived in the neighborhood on Pine Street.

         
1948  

 

The San Francisco Redevelopment Agency is founded as part of a renewed nationwide interest in the post-war modernization of cities.

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1949  

 

President Harry S. Truman signs the 1949 Housing Act, allocating federal money to rebuild the nation's cities. The 1949 Housing Act encourages a more comprehensive approach to housing and community development, but like previous housing legislation, it stresses a combination of demolition and new construction, all under the guise of redevelopment.

Major projects in many American cities are jump-started, usually in neighborhoods that have become poor and non-white. In fact, minorities make up 75% of people displaced nationwide due to urban renewal projects in the 20th century. Several major American cities such as Chicago and New York City begin implementing their own large urban renewal projects.

Atlanta, Georgia comes up with a "Plan of Improvement," a strategy to attract increasingly suburban Americans to the metro Atlanta area. The city implements the Plan in 1952, targeting the city's Central Business District. Unfortunately, the Plan includes the demolition of downtown housing and displacement of families (especially Black families); an increase in segregation (87% in 1940--92% in 1950--94% in 1960); and the demolition of many downtown historic buildings.

In San Francisco, the Western Addition becomes the city planners' chief concern. The area will soon develop into one of the largest urban renewal projects in the West, encompassing hundreds of city blocks and impacting close to 20,000 residents.

 

         
1950  

 

An urban renewal project begins in Kansas City, Kansas and runs until the end of the 1960s. The project contributes to the loss of a number of buildings associated with the city's African-American and jazz music history along 18th Street. During the 1930s, Kansas City, was a nationally known as a hotbed of music, home to 120 night clubs and 40 dance halls; most featuring jazz performances. The "scene," stretching from Troost Avenue east along 18th and Vine Streets and memorialized in a song by jazz great "Big" Joe Turner, was also significant as a historic black neighborhood and a center of black commercial activities.

The city government of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania targets the Lower Hill District for urban renewal. This lively neighborhood, home to Italians, Jews, Eastern Europeans and African-Americans, is bulging with shops, nightclubs, restaurants and small businesses, but it is also plagued by overcrowding, faulty sanitation and absentee landlords. The city's redevelopment plan will eventually swallow more than 1,000 acres of land, raze more than 3,700 buildings, relocate more than 1,500 businesses and uproot more than 5,000 families. The story of Pittsburgh's transformation is the subject of articles in The Saturday Evening Post, Life and Time magazine.

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1951   In August, Willie Brown arrives in San Francisco from Texas. His first residence is in the Western Addition at 1028 Oak Street, near Divisadero.

Willie Brown Jr.
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Photo Credit: KQED
  At the age of 18, saxophonist John Handy plays at Bop City with John Coltrane.
         
1953  

 

The first house in the Western Addition is torn down under the urban renewal program.

The Advisory Committee on Government Housing Policies and Programs recommends that the 1949 Housing Act be expanded to include the rehab of existing structures. The Committee expresses concern with the economic and social costs of slum clearance and advocates for a conservation approach.

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1954  

 

The U.S. Supreme Court rules unanimously in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, that racial segregation in public schools violates the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which says that no state may deny equal protection of the laws to any person within its jurisdiction. The 1954 decision is limited to the public schools, but it is believed to imply that segregation is not permissible in other public facilities.

Federal legislators pass the 1954 Housing Act. The Act includes rehab and conservation as allowable components of Federal intervention in the housing market to prevent neighborhood decline. The term "urban renewal" is introduced; referring to both slum clearance and renovation. Additionally, FHA Section 220 mortgage assistance becomes available for rehab projects in designated urban renewal areas.

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1955   George Christopher is elected mayor of San Francisco.

George Christopher on the phone
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Photo Credit: San Francisco Public Library

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1957  

 

Boston, Massachusetts, begins to raze its West End neighborhood, thus beginning the city's most controversial urban renewal project. Although approximately 63 percent of the families displaced by urban renewal were African-American or Hispanic, this Boston community was mainly inhabited by working class Italians, with narrow winding streets alive with urban social life. It fell to the bulldozers and was replaced by high rise, expensive apartment buildings. The area is the most well documented neighborhood destroyed by urban "renewal," made famous initially by Herbert Gans's 1962 book, The Urban Villagers.

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1958  

 

Sugar Pie DeSanto wins a talent contest at the Ellis Theater located right off Fillmore Street. Bandleader Johnny Otis is in the audience looking for new talent. After the awards, he offers DeSanto a recording contract to cut her first record in Los Angeles and re-christens her "Sugar Pie" DeSanto. Several years previously, Otis signed DeSanto's cousin, Etta James, after the 14-year-old stormed into Otis's Fillmore hotel room and began singing towards the bathroom wall for better acoustics.

 


Sugar Pie performing at the Boom Boom Room
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Photo Credit: KQED

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1959  

 

Justin Herman becomes the head of San Francisco's Redevelopment Agency, accelerating the city's urban renewal plans.


Mayor George Christopher shaking hands with Justin Herman
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Photo Credit: San Francisco Public Library

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1959-1961  

 

The San Francisco Redevelopment Agency's Western Addition Project A-1 is in full swing with the widening of the two-lane Geary Street into the busy four-land Geary Boulevard. Not surprisingly, Geary Blvd. will later become an unwritten financial dividing line for the neighborhood.

Plans are drawn up for the Japanese Culture and Trade Center, to be located in the heart of Japantown. 4,000 Western Addition residents are displaced for the project. Many of them move to nearby streets that have already been designated as Redevelopment Area A-2.

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1960  

 

Justin Herman prophetically declares, "Without adequate housing for the poor, critics will rightly condemn urban renewal as a land-grab for the rich and a heartless push-out for the poor and nonwhites."

Using the power of Eminent Domain, The San Francisco Redevelopment Agency claims the Federlein home, forcing the family to move out of the house they have owned for 90 years. The house is subsequently demolished and made into a parking lot.

 

         
1963  

 

Author James Baldwin visits San Francisco and tours the Western Addition. The year also marks the publication of his book "The Fire Next Time" in which he writes about the conditions of racism in America, and the oppression of African Americans.

 


James Baldwin
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Photo Credit: WNET
  Justin Herman announces an ambitious new redevelopment plan for the Western Addition called Phase A-2. The plan targets some 60 square blocks and affects more than 13,000 Fillmore residents.

Fillmore Redevelopment map Phase A-2
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Photo Credit: KQED
 

 

Martin Luther King Jr. speaks at a rally in Washington D.C. and delivers his celebrated "I have a Dream" speech.

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1964  

 

Under Lyndon B. Johnson's presidency, the Civil Rights Act is signed into law.

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1965   Mary Rogers, a mother of twelve children, moves into the Fillmore. She will shortly become an instrumental activist in the neighborhood fight against the Redevelopment Agency.

Mary Rogers
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Photo Credit: San Francisco Examiner
 

 

In Los Angeles, the Watts riots take place.

 

 

On the night of December 10, Bill Graham holds his first concert at the Fillmore Auditorium as a benefit for the San Francisco Mime Troupe. Graham borrows the auditorium from leaseholder Charles Sullivan, an African American man who, during the 1950s and 1960s, is the largest promoter of black music west of the Mississippi. In 1966, Sullivan is found murdered. The crime is left unsolved.

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1966   Riots occur in San Francisco's Hunters Point neighborhood after an African American teen, suspected of robbery, is shot by a San Francisco policeman. The September 28 riots quickly spread to the Fillmore and Mayor Shelley calls in the National Guard. They end the riots within a few days.

Hunters Point riots
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Photo Credit: KQED

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1967  

 

Neighborhood activism is still a new idea. Encouraged by progressive ministers, Hannibal Williams helps found WACO, the Western Addition Community Organization, to fight against the displacement of the Fillmore residents by Redevelopment. Frustrated by the ongoing demolition, WACO takes direct action by picketing and filing a major lawsuit. Shortly thereafter, Justin Herman hires a Western Addition minister, Reverend Wilbur Hamilton to become the director of the A-2 project.

Wilbur Hamilton
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Photo Credit: KQED

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1968  

 

The Chicago Barber Shop, opened by Reggie Pettus' uncle, Mr. Benoit in 1952 at Fillmore and Ellis, is forced to move out of their space by the Redevelopment Agency. The Agency creates a "Certificate of Preference" and begins to issue them to displaced businesses such as the barber shop. The Certificates, signed by Justin Herman, gives business owners the first chance to return to Western Addition after it is rebuilt. Unfortunately it takes the Redevelopment Agency almost 20 years to rebuild the storefronts and as of 1999, only 4% of the certificates have been used.

 

       
1969  

 

On April 28, San Francisco police raid the Black Panther headquarters on Fillmore Street. Mayor Alioto praises African American leaders who manage to calm the more than 2,000 people gathered in the street to protest the raid.

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1970  

 

Most of Area A-2 (10,000 residents and 60 square blocks) has been cleared. Plans to build a large commercial venture on a major property in the heart of the neighborhood stagnates due to the unwillingness of financial institutions to invest in a neighborhood they see as commercially unviable.

 

       

1971

 

 

Justin Herman dies of a heart attack.

 

 


Justin Herman on the phone
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Photo Credit: San Francisco Public Library

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1978  

 

In 1972, a progressive preacher named Jim Jones leased an abandoned synagogue next to the Fillmore Auditorium, called it "The People's Temple" and started a ministry for the urban poor of the Western Addition. The Temple itself is on Geary at Fillmore: ground zero of the redevelopment area in the Fillmore District. Several years later, over one thousand members, including Jones, relocated to a commune they created in Guyana. In November 1978, more than 900 people, many of them Fillmore residents, died in Guyana, victims of murder and suicide. Their bodies were returned and buried in Oakland. Eleven years later, the temple they left behind in the Fillmore, damaged by fire and earthquake, is demolished by a bulldozer.

 

Jim Jones of the People's Temple
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Photo Credit: KRON

 

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1985  

 

After much lobbying by Mayor Dianne Feinstein, The Fillmore Center is built on land that has been vacant for almost two decades. The new complex includes more than a dozen stores, restaurants and hundreds of apartments and condominiums. The unfortunate irony is that most of the former Fillmore residents can not afford to move into the newly built homes. San Francisco becomes one of the few major cities in America experiencing a reduction in its African-American population.

The area in the Western Addition north of Geary Blvd, which includes Japantown, begins to thrive. Wealthy residents unable to find homes to buy in the adjacent tony neighborhood of Pacific Heights begin to move into the Western Addition Victorian homes saved from redevelopment. Expensive shops begin to open up along what becomes known as "Upper Fillmore Street." Unfortunately the area of the Western Addition south of Geary Blvd, ground zero for redevelopment, does not enjoy the same prosperity. Crime is rampant and stores in the new Fillmore Center struggle to stay open. Real estate agents rechristen the area north of Geary Blvd. "Lower Pacific Heights," in an attempt to disassociate from the poorer south side of Fillmore Street.

 

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2000  

 

In an attempt to revitalize the Lower Fillmore area, the San Francisco Redevelopment agency creates the Old Fillmore Jazz Preservation District. The plan is to anchor the area by building a Blue Note Jazz Nightclub and a multi-plex cinema on the last remaining empty redevelopment property on Fillmore Street. The prospect of the Blue Note is already summoning up nostalgia for the musical heyday that once filled the Fillmore district with the sounds of a thriving, vibrant neighborhood. Charles Collins, born and raised in the Fillmore, is one of the key developers.

 

Blue Note drawings
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Photo Credit: Charles Collins

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2001  


The San Francisco Redevelopment Agency plans completion of all A-2 projects in the Western Addition. However, unable to secure a cinema chain, the last redevelopment property along Fillmore Street remains empty and the Old Fillmore Jazz Preservation District hangs in limbo. In an attempt to appease Lower Fillmore business owners, and draw pedestrian traffic south of Geary Blvd, the Redevelopment Agency decides to spruce up Lower Fillmore Street by re-doing the sidewalks, adding trees and paving stones commemorating musicians who once played the Fillmore clubs and the significant buildings that once lined the street. A public square off of Fillmore Street is also reconfigured to include a small stage and an area to recognize key public figures from the neighborhood.

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