San Francisco Neighborhoods:
The historic center of San Francisco is the northeast quadrant of the city bordered by Market Street to the south. It is here that the Financial District is centered, with Union Square, the principal shopping and hotel district, nearby. Cable cars carry residents and tourists alike up steep inclines to the summit of Nob Hill, once the home of the city’s business tycoons, and down to Fisherman’s Wharf, a tourist area featuring Dungeness crab from a still-active fishing industry. Also in this quadrant are Russian Hill, a residential neighborhood with the famously crooked Lombard Street, North Beach, the city’s version of Little Italy, and Telegraph Hill, which features Coit Tower. Nearby is San Francisco’s Chinatown, established in the 1860s. The Tenderloin is often seen as the crime-infested underbelly of the city.
The Mission District is predominantly working-class and populated by immigrants from Mexico and Central America, but is also gentrifying. Haight-Ashbury, famously associated with 1960s hippie culture, is now heavily gentrified, although it still retains some bohemian character. Historically known as Eureka Valley, the area now popularly called the Castro is the center of gay life in the city.
The city’s Japantown district suffered when its Japanese American residents were forcibly removed and interned during World War II. The nearby Western Addition became established with a large African American population at the same time. The “Painted Ladies,” a row of well-restored Victorian homes, stand alongside Alamo Square, and the mansions built by the San Francisco business elite in the wake of the 1906 earthquake can be found in Pacific Heights. The Marina to the north is a lively area with many young urban professionals. The Richmond, the vast region north of Golden Gate Park that extends to the Pacific Ocean, today has a portion called “New Chinatown,” but also attracts immigrants from other parts of Asia and Russia. South of Golden Gate Park lies the Sunset with an Asian majority population.
The Richmond and the Sunset are largely middle class and, together, are known as The Avenues. Bayview-Hunter’s Point in the southeast section of the city is one of the poorest neighborhoods and suffers from a high rate of crime, though the area has been the focus of plans for urban renewal. The other southern neighborhoods of the city are ethnically diverse and populated primarily with students and working-class San Franciscans.
The South of Market, once filled with decaying remnants of San Francisco’s industrial past, has seen significant redevelopment. The locus of the dot-com boom during the late 1990s, by 2004 South of Market began to see skyscrapers and condominiums dot the area (see Manhattanization). Following the success of nearby South Beach, another neighborhood, Mission Bay, underwent redevelopment, anchored by a second campus of the University of California, San Francisco. Just southwest of Mission Bay is the Potrero Hill neighborhood featuring sweeping views of downtown San Francisco.
Haight-Ashbury is a district of San Francisco, California, USA named for the intersection of Haight and Ashbury Streets. It is commonly called The Haight. The Haight-Ashbury generally encompasses the neighborhood surrounding Haight Street, bounded by Stanyan Street and Golden Gate Park on the West, Oak Street and the Golden Gate Park Panhandle on the North, Baker Street and Buena Vista Park to the East, and Frederick Street and Ashbury Heights and Cole Valley neighborhoods to the South.
The area is futher broken into The Upper Haight and the Haight-Fillmore or Lower Haight district; the latter being lower in elevation and part of what was previously the principal African American and Japanese neighborhoods in San Francisco’s early years. The names of the streets themselves are taken from pioneer and exchange banker Henry Haight, or, (though it is arguable) the tenth governor of California, Henrey Huntley Haight, the former’s nephew, and one of the city’s first politicians, Sup. Ashbury (of which information is sparse). Both Haight and his nephew as well as Ashbury had a hand in the planning of the neighborhood, and, more importantly, nearby Golden Gate Park at its inception.
The district is famous for its role as a center of the 1960s hippie movement, a post-runner and closely associated offshoot of the Beat generation or beat movement, members of which swarmed San Francisco’s “in” North Beach neighborhood two to eight years before the “Summer of Love” in 1967. Many who could not find space to live in San Francisco’s northside found it in the quaint, relatively cheap and underpopulated Haight Ashbury. The ’60s era and modern American counterculture has been synonymous with San Francisco and the upper Haight neighborhood ever since.
During the housing shortage of World War II, large single-family Victorians were divided into apartments to house war workers coming back from the piers; others were converted into boarding homes for profit. By the 1950s, the Haight was a neighborhood in decline. Many buildings were left vacant after the war. Deferred maintenance also took its toll, and the exodus of middle-class residents to newer suburbs continued to leave many units for rent. The Haight Ashbury’s elaborately detailed 19th-century multi-story wooden houses became a haven for hippies during the 1960s, due to the availability of cheap rooms and vacant properties for rent or sale in the district. The bohemian subculture that subsequently flourished there took root, and to a great extent, has remained to this day.
San Francisco and the Haight gained a reputation as the center of illegal drug culture and rock and roll lifestyles by the mid 60’s, especially with the use of marijuana and LSD and other hallucinogenic drugs. By 1967, the neighborhood’s fame chiefly rested on the fact that it became the haven for a number of important psychedelic rock performers and groups of the time. Acts like Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin all lived a short distance from the famous intersection. They not only immortalized the scene in song, but also knew many within the community as friends and family. Another well-known neighborhood presence was The Diggers, a local “community anarchist” group famous for its street theatre who also provided free food to residents every day.
By the “summer of love” Psychedelic rock music was entering the mainstream, and received more and more commercial radio airplay. The song “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)” became a hit single. The Monterey Pop Festival in June further cemented the status of psychedelic music as a part of mainstream culture and elevated local Haight bands such as Big Brother and the Holding Company and Jefferson Airplane to national stardom. A July 7, 1967, Time magazine cover story on “The Hippies: Philosophy of a Subculture,” an August CBS News television report on “The Hippie Temptation” and other major media interest in the hippie subculture exposed the Haight-Ashbury district to enormous national attention and popularized the counter-culture movement across the country and around the world. Thousands of youth migrated to the Haight-Ashbury district, including many runaway teenagers, irrevocably altering the social structure of the neighborhood and the world’s’ views of San Francisco as a city.
In response to this new population migrating to the Haight-Ashbury and a growing medical crisis caused by increased drug use and lack of health insurance, Dr. David E Smith opened the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic on June 7, 1967, the first free clinic in the U.S. without a religious affiliation. His goal was to provide free medical care for everyone under the motto “Health care is a right, not a privilege.” The clinic operated in the Haight-Ashbury District through 2007, then moved most of its operations to the Mission District of San Francisco and continues to provide medical care to those who would otherwise lack access to it.
The area still maintains its bohemian ambiance, though the effects of gentrification are also apparent. Though Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream is now located at the famous Haight-Ashbury intersection, the neighborhood remains a thriving center of independent local businesses. It is home to a number of independent restaurants and bars, as well as clothing boutiques, booksellers (including The Booksmith), head shops and record stores including the well-known Amoeba Music. The cohabitation between throw-backs to the fifties lounge scene, organic and spiritual new age via the sixties, punk rock of the seventies and beyond is one of the neighborhood’s most interesting and endearing aspects. A good way to see it all is at the Haight-Ashbury Street Fair, held on the second Sunday of each June. The main commercial area’s blend of diverse street life engulfs all types in the carnivalesque and liberal surroundings, just as it had in the sixties. Recent police and community efforts help maintain park curfews and “no camping policies” and steps are being taken to curb the constant influx of youth living on the streets. Both commercial and residential property in the area are in high demand today, a testament to the long history and many attractions of the Haight Ashbury neighborhood and the city of San Francisco.
An area just inside Golden Gate Park directly west of Haight Street known as Hippie Hill is often considered part of the Haight-Ashbury. The hill is a grassy, southern-facing slope near the Haight entrance to the park, through a small tunnel beneath the Alvord Lake Bridge, and up the walking paths leading north. In dry weather, Hippie Hill is a popular destination for locals that offers a glimpse back at the Haight’s hippie culture, frequently featuring a large drum circle, amateur performers of many types from jugglers to musicians, Frisbee enthusiasts, picnickers, with occasional pot smokers and acid droppers.