San Francisco is an epicenter for cultural and artistic shake-ups, and each neighborhood, much like our microclimates, has its own creative twang.
When it comes to street art, most of us will deem the Mission, with its acres of painted concrete, the alpha and omega of the city's graffiti-loving destinations, with spots like Clarion Alley drawing Instagrammers and guided tours alike. But the city is brimming with vibrant murals, and sometimes in pockets you'd least expect.
The Western Addition, a small slice of a neighborhood—literally wedged between Pacific Heights, Hayes Valley, Golden Gate Park, and the Inner Richmond (and now sometimes called NoPa thanks to the popular eponymous restaurant that pioneered the burgeoning scene in this neighborhood North of the Panhandle)—is swathed in vibrant murals that pay homage to its rich, diverse, and at times tumultuous history.
After the Second World War, the Western Addition, along with the neighboring Fillmore District (which the larger modern-day 'hood now somewhat encompasses) became a communal and a cultural center for the city's growing African American population, which poured in from all corners of California and the Pacific Northwest. By the early 1930s, the Western Addition housed the most diverse socio-economic and racial demographic in SF.
As a result, the neighborhood bloomed into a celebrated destination for the arts. Jazz echoed up from Fillmore Street, which became known as Harlem of the West, where the blues wafted from now long-lost clubs that doubled as hubs for finger lickin' good soul food. Poets, journalists, and novelists of all races found a certain creative salve at Painterland, a kind of OG coworking and living space just north of the Western Addition, on the block of modern Pac Heights where The Snug and Reformation now stand. Mary Erckenbrack—a Londoner who emigrated to SF after arts school was busy tiling mosaics north of the Panhandle. (She would later open Mary E's Mud Shop, one of the city's foremost ceramic shops whose clients included Gump's.)
Since then, the Western Addition has changed—there's more money, more housing, less crime and, to be honest, less art. But San Francisco's Harlem remains in essence, with the neighborhood's murals serving as painted proof.
Take our slideshow tour of some of the most prominent street art in the Western Addition (and on the neighborhood's edges) that reflect its diverse, creative, jazzed-up history.
Harlem, Paris of the West (2010), by Marina-Perez Wong, at Fell and Scott Streets (Fillmore).
(Courtesy of SF Mural Arts)