The more time I spend in the Castro, the more the neighborhood changes in my opinion. Over the course of these past few months, the Castro revealed an identity to me that goes beyond the “gay neighborhood,” and continues to do so each time I return. It is a complex city-within-a-city that maintains a delicate balance between residents and tourists, the homeless and well-off, pizza parlors and gourmet restaurants, Victorian facades and contemporary architecture, and bondage fetishists and hopeless romantics.
The Castro is a neighborhood famous for its rich history. It made the transition into modernity while still encouraging a general awareness of past events that shaped the neighborhood into what it is today. For example, Harvey Milk Plaza, The LGBT Museum, and the Human Rights Campaign are characteristic of the Castro’s charm and also solidify the history of challenges its residents have overcome.
I learned the most about the neighborhood not from reading about it or even spending time there, but from talking to the people. I was lucky enough to have opportunities to learn from homeless men and women, restaurant and shop workers, students, drug addicts, activists, realtors, security and law enforcement, yogis, nudists, and Castro natives. Each individual had a different story and experience to share, but all of them agreed that the Castro is a one-of-a-kind lively neighborhood that is experiencing many changes.
The Castro is sometimes referred to by its original name, Eureka Valley. It was dominated by Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian immigrant families in the early 20th century. After World War II, thousands of gay members of the military were discharged in San Francisco, and by the 1960s, the Castro was the center for LGBT rights. In the 1970s, Harvey Milk put the neighborhood on the map as his campaign to improve the lives of the gay community gained media attention. Ever since, the Castro has been known as the United State’s largest gay community, and the neighborhood prides itself for being tolerant and accepting.
From my experiences, almost everyone I spoke with was friendly and had something interesting to say about the neighborhood and their experiences with it. At the beginning of the semester, I was wary about having to talk to strangers. I was worried about how they would react and I didn’t think anyone would be willing to talk to me. However, this grew to be one of my favorite aspects of reporting. It’s a wonderful feeling talking to others, and most of the time it would make them happy to know that someone was interested in what they had to say. It’s also a great feeling getting first hand opinions of happenings in the neighborhood.
I’ve always loved the Castro, and now I have a new appreciation for the neighborhood. I feel more connected, as if reporting on the neighborhood made me apart of it. Being a reporter in general has helped me see things differently. I pay closer attention to things that are happening, I notice small details, and try to spot people that have a story to tell. It has opened my eyes to things I normally would have missed, and that alone has made this a wonderful learning experience.
Wanted to compile videos I have been taking over the semester of the SoMa but due to timing I never got a round. I leave you with a model up at the MoMa of what an architect hoped to be the future of our city’s waterfront.
The roof of the building is meant to move with wind in order to generate power…..still in the works
I have realized that my intrigue with the SoMa district is still lingering, despite the struggle I had getting to know the neighborhood at times. I still find myself there more than any other part of the city as I loom around the streets after work or a night of drinks. It has become more of a comfort zone as the semester came and went and I continued to meet more people who only welcomed me more. So with that I have decided to continue a blog on the SoMa district in hopes that I become better at reporting on a specific location.
I have also gotten some positive feedback from both the class and some online publications on the stories I have covered in the SoMa. My aim to get better acquainted with the people rather than the place. Over the semester I only wished to have more time to do more of anything, but primary to be better suited with a place I was spending so much time in and thinking of. Already there are stories that have happened than I wished had come sooner so I would be able to write about it and share it with the class.
As of now I am taking a lot of lessons learned from the SoMa. It taught me to be tough when needed and not looking on guard all the time. People can tell when you just want to get the hell past 6th Street.But as I made my decent from there day in and day out I found out that people will read you and take what they transcribed. I found people who were not just homeless, but kind and wanting to just talk to someone.I found men who would cat call to the point of no end, but once told how uncomfortable it made me they would later just say hello when I saw them again. I have threatened people who thought my response to them would be passive and submissive, but walked away not feeling like a victim.
If anything I have learned to respect the neighborhood. Officials, locals, and tourist can wish for it to be different or more comfortable to their lifestyle, but there is a line of respect for all sides that must be accepted. It is the way it is because of the actions we have acted on in the past. That is why I think what we take away from our neighborhood is important. It will change our approach when entering a new or even familiar place.
I get up early, because I need at least one hour and a half to make it there.
My bags are carefully prepared, exactly what I need, no more, because if I loose something I don’t want to loose it all.
Depending on the timing I will need two or three different trains. N-Judah, jump in and jump out at embarcadero; Bart train one, jump in and jump out at 19th avenue; Bart train two, jump in and jump out once I get there. At this point I am so used to the transitions and the timings that I can almost jump from one train to the other like locals do.
“Ashby station,” I’m getting close… “El Cerrito del Norte,” I’m in the neighborhood… “Richmond station, this train is now out of service,” I’m here.
I step out to a clean and solitary Bart station in the heart of the city.
Little has changed since I first came here three months ago… The Jehovah’s witnesses are still there, still displaying their small books in the cold cement bench inside the station.
There’s always representation of the homeless/drug addict community, but I must confessed I never saw the 32-cents lady again. Maybe she got her cash an fled the city.
The Spanish sounds mixed with the mispronunciation of English is also there.
Again, it feels like home, but after so many visits in only 15 weeks, it has turned into a new home.
Despite the feeling of familiarity, this new home is different because it has gone and it is going through a lot that is new for me.
When you think about it, Richmond is not that big. It only has 100,000 inhabitants and even though it looked really big on the map, I have discovered that with one hour between appointments I can actually walk from one corner to the other (there is no better gym)
But this small city has the problems of a metropolis: wealthy industry mixed with extreme poverty; violence mixed with faith and church; black mixed with white, mixed with brown, mix with yellow.
Reporting about this city has been a wonderfully challenging experience.
The challenge of telling stories with words has always been there, but doing so about Richmond has been wonderful because it gave me the opportunity to use my bilingual skills, it kept me close to the issues I care to report about, and it pushed my sixth sense to develop even more, always asking myself, where’s the story? Where’s the danger? Where’s the Bart station again?
I have met amazing people in the process. From my editor at the Pulse, Malcolm Marshall, who’s been an unconditional supporter, to former drug-dealing young men that are trying to make their life a more productive one, for them and their city.
There are so many people in this city doing good that I think is really sad how only the bad some people do gets out to the world.
But I also got to see the consequences of the bad by reporting about the Grisby Case.
It is so sad to see two young lives wasted: Gene Grisby died at 16-years-old just because he was born in a particular neighborhood and that day he walked to the gym. Tyris Franklin was found guilty of first degree murder and on May 25 he will hear his sentence, which could go from 50 years to a life in prison.
Lately I met six people that shine. They have been giving without reserve to the city for many years and the city wanted to honor them for it, they are the winners of the 2012 Distinguished Service Awards.
Allow me to introduce you…
Reporting from and about Richmond in the past 16 weeks improved my hearing and note taking skills, it exercised my capacity to see and dig for stories and it reminded me that no matter where you come from and where you are going to, humans are humans, and we all share the same desires, the same hopes, the same fears and the same needs, whether we externalize them in Spanish or English.
Richmond has help me become a better journalist, a decent writer and a more compassionate person.
Oh! and it also help me gain a couple of pounds! The Mexican food was amazing!
Living and visiting Temescal is like visiting a different city other than Oakland. Most of north Oakland is like that, a vast contrast from the Oakland that is talked about in the mainstream news. Much of the coverage is negative, highlighting violence in East or West Oakland. Let’s not forget about Occupy Oakland and the clashes with police and anarchist that destroyed downtown, plus Mayor Quan’s response to that ordeal.
All that news is important, but for a city with such ranging cultures, ethnically and socially, Temescal is a gem. It is a world of it’s own! A microcosm as, Joe Mintz called it. There is such much going on within its few little blocks. A great deal of that action is positive and bridging the community together. Whether it is Art Hop showcasing local artistic talent or organic-minded businesses that are mindful of the planet, it is community oriented. It may be the active members of the Bicycle Coalition or Neighborhood Watch groups keeping pedestrians and residents safe. It may be the tasty treats served along Telegraph Avenue or just the pleasant smiles by passers-by.
Somehow these Temescal residents have blended well together in their neighborhood. The diverse cultures and socio-economic levels have embraced each other. The business corridor is booming with vibrant shops and restaurants serving up delectable dishes.
Don’t be fooled—this is not Berkeley, although it is very close. It may have originally started off as a connector between Oakland and Berkeley, but it is a haven in itself now.
What strikes me most is the art scene and sense of community. No matter who I spoke to, they were sure to mention their appreciation of the art community and the diversity of the neighborhood. That is a far cry from a decade ago.
Gentrification is hard on many. Long-time locals are skeptical of newcomers’ intentions. New arrivals are trying to find the good in their chosen area. Redevelopment can be positive, like in Temescal, when locals support each other. One sure way to keep the neighborhood revitalized is by patronizing it.
Even in the current recession, Temescal businesses have flourished. Ground is being broke on new ventures in the area. That is promising.
No, Temescal is not crime or tension free, but it has gotten MUCH better in the past few years. The new recession has brought a rise to burglaries and robberies. Residents and business owners are keeping watch though.
I enjoy this neighborhood very much and feel lucky to live within biking distance. I, like the locals must feel, enjoy a shop-owner greeting me by name or striking up a conversation as if we’re old friends.
No need to look for the one business or landmark that screams out Temescal. The beauty of this community is in it’s eclectic mix. Each person and shop brings something to the neighborhood that wasn’t there before and adds a piece to the puzzle. The mix of Eritrean, African American, Korean, Ethiopian and white-American residents all have pride in their cultural roots by sharing with others.
If you decide to visit, you may see me at Arbor Café sipping drip-coffee or grabbing brunch at Aunt Mary’s Café before perusing the art galleries. I recommend you come during the day for shopping and stay through the night for partying!
As the natives would say, “I hella love Oakland!”
Come to think of it, no one loves the TL. No one loves the streets, its people, the smell… The only thing people really love about the TL is its food. I had no expectations of the Tenderloin this semester when choosing it. I knew it had a lot of good, underreported stories. I saw newsworthiness, and potential, not much else. Now I have to say the Tenderloin is something dear to me. I love its old spirits. I love its food. I love its art. Its attitude. Everything about it.
I ran into a lot of surprises this semester, and situations that made me uncomfortable. All the way up until my last day (today) of reporting. I had earlier conducted (or rather listened) to a 1.5 hour interview in a man’s smokey SRO, sitting through his life story and show biz resume (including lots of Broadway and drag shows). On the flip side, I had a 20 minute interview with a powerful lawyer who gave me short, literal answers. I feel like after this semester, I’ve experienced it all, and have grown so much as a journalist. I’ve also grown in my understanding of people.
In the Tenderloin, I met people I would never have spoken to if I didn’t have to. I’m glad I did.
I know in my blog posts, I always talk up the Tenderloin, and how great it is. But after being there for a whole semester, I’ve become critical of so much also. I hate the lack of zeal and desire to live in its people. I hate the feelings of unworthiness and hopelessness in all of them. I hate the deaths and despair. I hate the inability of many non-profits to help these issues, but instead make Tenderloin residents helpless and dependent on free services. I hate the city’s policies of containment of poverty, drug issues, and mental illness. I hate the slum lords that profit off of the blight. And I hate the proclivity of outsiders to judge the Tenderloin and its issues.
As you can see, it’s not just a black and white issue, the Tenderloin. Its complex and multifaceted. Its messy and everyone has their own solution.
For me, my solution is writing. I write, tell truth, and let the people figure it out. Many times this semester I thought about my future role in the Tenderloin. Do I want to start volunteering? (I’ve pondered this so many times.) Or do I continue to objectively observe?
The Tenderloin has enough volunteers. It needs more fair coverage.
That’s all. Thanks for reading about the TL this semester.
The Islamic Society of SF’s Dar Al-Salam Mosque has anywhere from 600-700 patrons coming in and out for prayer from 5 a.m. to 12 p.m.. Al Sabeel Mosque, just around the corner, has 50-200 patrons. Jones Street usually has multiple drug crowds (people waiting for drugs, buying, and selling) loitering. A combination of loitering people, and a constant flow of mosque patrons makes for crime. There has been car break-ins, theft, assault, and robbery.
This map show crimes around the Jones and Golden Gate block nearby both mosques in 2012.
View Crime near Tenderloin mosques in a larger map
Enter 1906: A massive earthquake leads to the mass migration of European immigrants out of what is today called North Beach. While the Germans, Russians and Eastern Europeans made for more secure ground, Italians remained behind. Even more continued to come in from Italy. Between 1918 and 1948, the influence of Italians on North Beach reached its height with over 60,000 residents claiming Italian descent and five Italian language newspapers circulating the area. #
What is known today as Little Italy, North Beach is more than just its physical boundaries. It is a collection of stories, a transformation of culture. The industry in the area stands as an economic force for the city today. Remnants of the Beatnik generation continue to haunt Columbus Avenue. North Beach remains a place where pasta, poetry and people of all cultures can exist harmoniously.
Some of the more colorful legacies left behind from the red light district of San Francisco are the strip clubs on Broadway. The strip club The Roaring 20s, across from Kerouac Alley, marks the beginning of San Francisco’s red light district. Lusty Lady offers the world’s only unionized and worker owned peep show co-op. Condor Club, America’s first topless bar established in 1964, advertises free music on Sunday. Then there is Little Darlings, a club on Columbus Avenue that serves fully nude dancers but no alcohol as a rule.
Alcohol and the prohibition of it by the federal government played a large role in shaping the character of the neighborhood. San Francisco was known to be a ‘wet’ city during Prohibition Era. The mafia found room to grow in this ‘dry’ climate, providing what most San Franciscans wanted, booze. With the repeal of the Volstead Act in 1933, the bootlegging business had no demand and the San Francisco Police Department encouraged the mafia to leave town.
The city-wide boycott of prohibition laws was but a first of many examples of civil disobedience in San Francisco. The growth of the Beatnik generation and concurrently the City Lights Bookstore off Columbus Avenue next to Kerouac Alley also shaped the character of North Beach. The Montgomery Block Building, built-in 1880, served as a magnet for artists around the country and created a history of bohemian life that would be conducive to the Beatnik life.# Part of the government works project the New Deal, the building at the start of Montgomery housed artists who were being employed by the federal work program the Works Progress Administration. The TransAmerica building now stands where the “Monkey Block” once stood.
In a recent report on the economic impact of San Francisco nightlife, District 3 of San Francisco, which contains the neighborhoods of North Beach, Union Square and Chinatown accounts for roughly 36% of the 4.2 billion dollar industry. According to the report, roughly 48,000 people were employed by these businesses in 2010. Home to many restaurants and modern eateries, North Beach draws many of the tourists who come to visit San Francisco.
Tosca Cafe plays a perfect host to evening festivities with its soft yellow lights, cheerful red upholstered furnishings and skilled staff. The old Wurlitzer jukebox next to the authentic espresso machine croons, welcoming in curious visitors. Restaurants like Rogue Ale Public House and small eateries like Cafe Divine represent some of the newer elements of the neighborhood. But there are other institutions within Washington Square that speak to the tradition of the neighborhood. Goorin Brothers Hat Shop has been around since 1895. Liguria Bakery, a family run and owned business, has been in the area for 101 years.
Like any thriving major American city, San Francisco is in a constant state of flux. North Beach as a neighborhood is no different with a growing Chinese population next door. The Italian-American population within the area is declining while neighboring Chinatown’s population of young Chinese professionals is rapidly growing. To this day the neighborhood on the other side of Columbus Avenue has been threatening to spill over into traditional North Beach. Despite what the numbers say about the housing situation within the area, the neighborhood is not without crime.
According to City-Data.com, the average residential unit in North Beach costs at least $1 million. More than 55 percent of the houses in the area were built before the 1940s much like the rest of San Francisco. As of 2009, the average median household income for the area was between $70,000 and $110,000. Despite high-income residents and high-value properties, the nightlife and tourism industry within the neighborhood draws in a substantial amount of crime.
Crimemapping.com presents a clearer picture of what kind of crime is happening within the neighborhood. Within the last month alone there have been multiple instances of disturbing the peace, robbery, assault and public intoxication along Columbus Avenue. The main thoroughfare seems to be one of the main lines of criminal activity. Those who frequent Columbus Avenue often enough do not need to look at a website to know the nature of the majority of the crimes.
Lokesh Parmeshwar, a computer software engineer for Oracle who programs from his home in Chinatown, makes the trip up Columbus Avenue to practice on his favorite tennis courts at Joe DiMaggio Park. “I remember once when a woman had her purse stolen in broad daylight. The thief went at the woman at a sprint and then disappeared in an alleyway,” Parmeshwar recalls.
Crime in North Beach is not confined to just Columbus Avenue. Now a historical landmark, Washington Square grounds provides a place for people to gather. It also provides a backdrop for many crimes in the neighborhood. People like Helen Wolf, who has lived near Coit Tower for several year, talks about some of the threats to the beloved square. “It’s ironic that one of the few true landmarks left in the city is threatened by public works projects and vandals,” she says.
Despite clandestine activity in the evening, the Square stands as the last original public square preserved by the city. The other two, Union Square and Portsmouth Square, are now parking garages. At the center stands six poplar trees and a statue of Benjamin Franklin. The statue was given to the city in 1879 by one Dr. Henry Cogswell, a dentist who was against drinking, who planned to donate a public drinking fountain for every hundred bars. He never kept his promise, but the statue remains in the square with a time capsule buried in front of it to be opened in 2079.#
With all the changes happening in and around North Beach, Washington Square remains a solid focal point of cultural and neighborhood identity for the area. It represents the pulse of the neighborhood, in flux but remaining true to its character. “I hope my kids get to enjoy North Beach the way I did,” says Beth Manson, a freelance writer living in North Beach. “I remember enjoying Molinari’s every other day,” she says, referring to a delicatessen that serves up legendary sandwiches.
The Italian identity of North Beach is in no danger of vanishing. A thriving tourism industry and loyal locals will maintain the charm and character of this area. Strippers will continue to strip, relics of the Beat generation will continue to grace alleyways and trios of old men will continue to sip coffee off Columbus Avenue.
For me the experience of blogging the neighborhood of North Beach has been both challenging and enriching. As a writer it is heaven. I get to observe tons of interesting characters, smell fantastic foods and listen to live music. The senses are assaulted the moment you get into North Beach. At the same time it was almost too much to handle. Or rather, my thoughts were too disorganized to have any discernible plan of action.
This is where the reporting class came in. It forced me to create a plan for the story, it wasn’t required but it was NECESSARY. Sounds like simple logic or common sense to any journalist, but this has been my first foray into actual reporting of any kind. I have stretched my boundaries as a writer and as a person. I am geographically aware of the city and how areas create a polyglot culture.
The most interesting thing about North Beach to me is the eclectic nature of the place. There is literary genius next to topless entertainment. A growing Chinese wave pounding at the shores of an established Italian community. It would be pointless of me to keep reiterating this characteristic, but it is the most prevalent one. This constant collision between culture and shared living space has made North Beach a place where the air is thick with movement, thick with ideas. I look forward to spending a few more sunny afternoons in Washington Square as a result of taking this class.
Thank you all for a great semester, it’s been a pleasure and privilege to read your contributions to the class. I look forward to working with those who will be in pub lab next semester.
Take care =)
I can’t believe a whole semester flew by already! I still remember the day we picked our districts and my feelings of disappointment when my third choice for a district was chosen for me. I remember how I put the Fillmore as my first choice because of the convenience, the Tenderloin as my second choice because it seemed like an adventure, and Bernal Heights as my last random choice because I’ve never visited that district. In hindsight, I am so thankful I got Bernal Heights. What a lovely district I got with so many kind and helpful residents who guided and helped me with my stories, especially Buck Bagot. What a beautiful district with a rich and fruitful culture filled with history and fascinating stories. I’m still in awe with how everyone knows each other there, which helped me tremendously with getting sources.
With any other districts, I had this preconceived idea of Bernal Heights before even going there. I thought Bernal Heights was just another yuppie filled neighborhood with a bunch of dogs, babies, and boutiques. Of course, I also thought it was the reverse Castro as well because I knew there was a large lesbian demographic there.
In some aspect, some of these generalizations of Bernal Heights are true. Yes, there are a lot of dogs and babies running around. Bernal Heights even got its nickname Maternal Heights because there are so many mothers with babies there. Push aside these stereotypes and you will discover that Bernal Heights has a lot more to offer than meets the eyes.
Just like a lot of other districts in San Francisco, there is a huge disparity between the old and the new, the poor and the rich, and the non-English speaking citizens and the English-speaking residents in Bernal Heights. Gentrification is a huge issue there that many long time residents see as a threat to the mixed-income and multi-cultural atmosphere of Bernal Heights. There’s even a Bernal Heights neighborhood center whose mission is “to preserve and enhance the ethnic, cultural, and economic diversity of Bernal Heights and surrounding neighborhoods.” I shall get back to the neighborhood center shortly…
Although the influx of new residents pushed a lot of the old working class residents out, they also brought with them positive changes to the neighborhood. In the 1980s, the area succumbed to drug traffickers, daily gang-to-gang violence, and related crime that left residents living in fear. By the 90s, shops opened up, starting with Good Life Grocery and Liberty Café, and the new residents along with the community activists in Bernal Heights cleaned up the neighborhood. Robberies and daily crimes still occur, but the neighborhood crime rate definitely has changed dramatically for the better.
Throughout this whole semester, I got to learn about the internal struggle Bernal Heights faces with preserving their heritage and cultural diversity in times of change. Trying to find that balance of embracing changes and maintaining history is a difficult task that the residents of Bernal Heights face, but it is something that’s unavoidable and that is being addressed now. My final story about the library mural touches on this topic.
Anyways, back to the neighborhood center…If it weren’t for the neighborhood center, I would’ve failed and crashed in this class. I literally got all of my stories from them, starting from hood to my final trend story. I wrote about every program they offered, including their senior programs, youth programs, and low-income housing programs. The Bernal Heights neighborhood center is literally the heart of the community and I am so thankful it exists.
My first trip to Bernal Heights was the most daunting task ever! I can still vividly remember the cold sweat I got from being so nervous about approaching complete strangers. I’m somewhat of a shy person, but because of this class I had to overcome my fears of talking to strangers. Thankfully, all of the residents who I’ve encountered at Bernal Heights were all approachable, except for that one lady I wrote about in my other blog…but even then, in the end she was still helpful. This class taught me the value of talking to a stranger and learning about his/her stories. You’ll never know what interesting stories are out there until you put yourself out there. Of course, not all stories are interesting or relevant, but it’s worth the try. I can say I’ve mastered the art of bullshitting, thanks to this class.
Thank you Yvonne and everyone for a wonderful semester ☺