How Downtown Killed the
Black Fillmore

From THE CONTESTED CITY by John H. Mollenkopf (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983)

After World War II, the Western Addition had a thriving black commercial life. Its main commericial artery, Fillmore Street, featured every manner of convenience, including nightclubs like the Cafe Society, Esther's Breakfast Club, Jimbo's Bop City, and the Both/And. Vernon Thornton owned a popular bowling alley on Fillmore. As renewal began execution, according to Thornton, the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency (SFRA) held off purchasing his thriving business, even though it was located in the area to be demolished for a new shopping center-style development. Instead the SFRA demolished much of the surrounding housing, displacing Thornton's clientele and driving him out of business. Only then did the Agency take his property, offering him a fraction of what it had once been worth.

The SFRA demonstrated a coldly calculated business sense in driving down commercial property values. The approach reduced acquisition costs and made business owners amernable to whatever the Agency was likely to offer. But it also deprived small businessmen of a lifetime's work and destroyed the commercial center which gave the Fillmore its identity. By 1969, the Fillmore was indeed like a barren field. . . (pp. 182-183)

The SFRA demolished several thousand units, reducing the total number of housing units from 12,334 in 1960 to 10, 306 in 1970. In the process, the SFRA displaced 3,155 families and 3,984 single persons. . .leaving the neighborhood with less than half the units it had in 1950, before the renewal began. (p. 201)

As one real estate speculator in the Western Addition commented, "Before 1977, you could pick up anything, kick out the blacks and put in gays, unload it in three months, and make $30,000. What do you think 'good tenants' means in the multiple listings book? It means the dirty work has been done." - San Francisco Chronicle - September 1, 1979, p. 4 (p. 201)

Seven empty, sandy blocks in the Western Addition's center have also lain bare for almost a decade since the neighborhood's Fillmore strip, containing Vernon Thornton's bowling alley, was bulldozed... pp. 209-210

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