San Francisco has always been a site for the convergence of cultures. As Campo Santo Theater prepares to premiere Block by Block, a tribute to the city inspired by the cast and crew members’ love for their own neighborhoods, we take a glimpse at some of the special places that make our beloved city such a tapestry—the people, the places, the food, and the history.
While its fame comes largely from the Victorian influence and “painted ladies” of residential neighborhoods, the architecture of San Francisco is as diverse as its people. The Chronicle building at 5th and Mission, now also home to Intersection for the Arts, was designed in 1924 in the Gothic Revival style, said to reflect the scholastic and romantic nature of the newspaper business. Michael H. de Young, the newspaper magnate and founder of the Chronicle, was instrumental in bringing art to the public, inspired by the 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition to found what would become the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum.
It’s no secret that Mexican food abounds in the Mission District, but when history and food come together, it just may be best presented in the form of Roosevelt Tamale Parlor. Since 1950, the Carrasco family has never paused in doling out its specialty round tamales heaping with authentic goodness, a recipe passed down from the founder’s grandmother in Jalisco, Mexico. Despite a neighborhood influx of dot-commers, hipsters, and ice cream parlors, amid a cascade of Chicano power, mural arts, and emigration, Roosevelt has remained a checker-floored, presidentially decked-out haven of good old Mission warmth.
“My favorite hangout is not really a place, I just love watching all the people in the Mission.”—Ray Diaz, design team
The Fillmore neighborhood is home to one of the richest jazz histories in the United States. Known as the “Harlem of the West,” the neighborhood began atrracting great musicians as early as 1930. An influx of African American families populated the neighborhood during the ’40s and ’50s. Soon, many nightclubs (such as Leola King’s Birdcage) opened in the neighborhood, bringing major musical icons including Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, and Billie Holiday. Today, the neighborhood still boasts some of the best contemporary and jazz venues with Yoshi’s and The Fillmore.
“This one is a bit odd, but my favorite place is the middle level of the parking structure at Geary and Masonic. There’s such a great view of Pacific Heights, the Fillmore, and the financial district from there. It’s great to just look out knowing you have so many walks of life and so much creativity in one small area. It makes me think, ‘This is MY city!'”—Assad “Invent” Conley, Performer/Embodiment Project
Artists are known for pioneering new urban environments and transforming what might seem blighted into a place of creativity. Since 1983, there has been a consistent artist presence in the Hunters Point neighborhood. “Faced with eviction, shipyard tenants banded together to preserve the unique mixture of arts and small business flourishing there” and is now home to the “largest community of fine arts professionals to date in the nation,” according to Shipyard Trust for the Arts.
“My favorite hangout is anywhere I can vibe out to good music, dance, and be around good people! So basically, the entire city.”—Assad Conley, Performer/Embodiment Project
Typically bemoaned by some city-goers, as too “far away,” the Excelsior has quite a few gems and is home to its own vibrant streets, named for cities from around the world. There are many delicacies at the Alemany Farmers’ Market. Dating from the 1940s, it is the oldest farmers’ market in California. It is also known, affectionately, as “the people’s market” because of its affordability and communal atmosphere and has been cited as a model for other farmers’ markets due to its support of small farms.
“I love the Excelsior Bridge—that it¹s painted with the street names, but also that it’s between the Mission and Excelsior, where a lot of immigrants have crossed over when they moved out of the Mission.”—Tanya Orellano, design team
Being a historical city, we try to remember everything that happens, and for good reason. The Castro neighborhood is laden with important historical markers and public spaces critical to the LGBT movement and honoring the losses from the AIDS epidemic since the 1980s. From the Pink Triangle Park and Memorial to the site of Harvey Milk’s camera store, there are many places to reflect on those who have come before to fight for equality of all people.
“I love to drive through the neighborhoods that are still neighborhoods and see that San Francisco is still San Francisco. It’s open to change. and that’s a beautiful thing.” —Sean San José, Director