My neighborhood

This is my neighborhood

My husband and I were attracted to the diversity and the grittiness, but I would be lying if I didn’t say that we love all of the hip foodie places as well. I definitely have mixed feelings about gentrification.

The kids from John O’Connell high school sit on our steps every day and leave food trash. Their indifference is frustrating, and we don’t want to pick a fight. I’m not sure what my relationship should be to them, for now we mostly ignore each other.

On our block is a house that looks like it’s abandoned, or a drug dealer’s house. We have a small block due to the school and know almost everyone on it. We all make sure to paint over the graffiti and clean our sidewalks, except this house. Strangely, the guy who owns Atlas owns it, and I hear it’s beautiful inside.

When I interviewed Tree I saw clearly how I am complicit in the gentrification process. I know Tree from a toddler playgroup that my daughter went to when she was little. He’s an activist, and has a vision of urban farms that grow free food for the masses. In the course of the interview he spoke about Humphrey Slocumb, a gourmet ice cream parlor on Harrison near 24th Street. Tree said to me, “who goes there?”, and I replied that I do. I actually love their ice cream. It was clear, though; in his world it was a ridiculous place, where only rich people go.

I interviewed people I have a personal relationship with in the neighborhood. I knew some better than others, but none are close friends. Various people also referred other folks along the way. I learned so many things during these interviews that I hadn’t known previously. It was lovely to discover their stories and histories.

My haircutter, Wendy, told me that her dad lived on 20th and Treat in the 1920’s, so she has nearly 100 years of relationship to this place.

Andrea, who works at the pilates studio I go to and teaches ESL, told me a fantastic story about the original owners of her house. It involved clay stout beer bottles from the 1906 earthquake she had dug up in her front yard. One day a man was staring at her house, and she invited him in. He had lived there nearly his entire life, and told her the history of the bottles. She gave him one as a gift.

I thought Fillipa, who ran the toddler playgroup in Parque Ninos (and now runs the after school program at Mission Rec), had grown up in the Mission. Actually, she grew up in Noe Valley, another neighborhood that started off working class and is now fully gentrified and rarified.

Raub, the owner of the Homestead told me some of the history of the building that houses the bar. It says 1902 on the front door, and I asked if that date was correct. He said that was when the water was turned on in the building. It has always been a bar, and at one time was also a brothel run by a woman named Fannie Pearl. I was touched to find out that the main reason Raub bought the Homestead was to raise money and donate his profits to local organizations. He lives and works in the neighborhood, and feels a responsibility to improve it.

—Victoria Heilweil

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