Western Addition

Summary: Western Addition is a group of multicultural neighborhoods at the geographical center of San Francisco. It includes the Fillmore, Japantown, Alamo Square and the Western Addition proper.

The area of San Francisco referred to as Western Addition is actually a collection of small distinct neighborhoods united by a loose confederation of geography. These neighborhoods are bordered by Van Ness Avenue (the Tenderloin) to the east, Fell Street along the edge of the Panhandle (the Haight) to the south, Masonic (the Richmond District) to the west and California Street (Pacific Heights) to the north. San Franciscans know the area for its jazz age past, its musically rich Fillmore neighborhood, the low rents of the area bordering the Tenderloin, the Eastern feel of Japantown, and the classic beauty of the Painted Ladies [L1] in Alamo square. In many ways, because of its central location and diverse demography, the Western Addition might be considered the heart of San Francisco.

The Fillmore

The Fillmore is the SF neighborhood richest in music history, being the home to both the jazz clubs that sprung out of the largely African American demographics of the Western Addition’s pre-WWII population. It was in the clubs here that such Jazz greats as Billie Holliday, John Coltrane, and Duke Ellington made names for themselves and for the area. In the Sixties, many of the clubs became venues for the psychedelic music scene, opening their doors to acts like Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin. Many Jazz venues remain in the Western Addition including Rassala’s Jazz Club [L2] (with Ethiopian cuisine), the Boom Boom Room [L3] just across Geary Street from Rassela’s, and Yoshi’s [L4]—perhaps the most famous jazz club in all of SF with its uniquely Western Addition mix of sushi and jazz. Sixties rock mainstay, the late Bill Graham’s Fillmore Auditorium [L5], still books a motley assortment of bands and the Independent [L6] has been around just long enough to be considered a classic. Newer, cutting edge nightspots like Fly [L7] and the microbrewery Some Place Else [L8] bring in the young hip Mission type crowd as well.

The Western Addition Proper

The area to the west of Van Ness is the main location associated with the Western Addition. Its proximity to the Tenderloin has helped to cap its rental prices and retain its working class demographics but has also meant that its crime statistics tend to be higher than that of the city as a whole. There is a fair amount of public housing in the Western Addition and this has meant the usual accompanying gang problems. Three city gangs are well known for fighting it out in this area, the Eddy Rock gang near Jefferson Park, and the Knock Out Posse “KOP” and Chopper City gangs east of Divisidero near the corner with Eddy Street. When people refer to the “OC” in this area, they are not referencing the county near Los Angeles but a housing project nick-named “Outta Control.”

The city has made a concerted effort to crack down on the drugs in violence of the area with mixed success, the “safe zones” mainly containing rather than eliminating the gang activity. The remodeled public housing now looks much less sinister and rundown than it once did and community outreach has made areas like Alamo Square and the area north of Geary relatively safe.

Typical rents for one bedrooms start at just above $1,000 and tend to rise up to 2K with the occasional higher price at the northern and western edges of the neighborhoods. Most properties are apartments and although there are a number of three-story Victorians here as throughout much of the city, there are also a much higher number of high rises in the area (many of them refurbished public housing).

Japantown

Despite its name, Japantown is not home to quite as many Japanese as you might expect. Japantown was once the equivalent of Chinatown, but the Internment of Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor allowed a wave of Jewish immigrants to buy up the cheap properties and change the character of the neighborhood. Despite the demographic shift, the neighborhood retains a distinctly Japanese feel in much of its architecture and restaurants. The Kabuki Theatre [L9] remains one of the favorite big movie houses to catch the latest mainstream or independent film.

In general, however, the Western Addition is one the most diverse communities with roughly two out of five residents being African American, a third white, and a quarter Asian.

Alamo Square

Being home to the famous Painted Ladies, Alamo Square might seem like a typically swanky SF neighborhood. Don’t let the row of seven Victorians that stand gable to gable along the edge of the park foul you, however. Until recently, the area had its share of gangs and crime. Despite this, the famous tourist attractions have long been a favorite movie spot with the Painted Ladies being the pretend home of the television show, Full House (it was actually filmed in studios in SoCal) among others. Alamo Square Park itself also offers one of the great spots for taking in the panorama of the city and is a frequent destination for shutterbugs. Part of the park is designated as a free leash zone and thus is frequented by local dog lovers.

Alamo Square definitely has a younger, hipper feel than much of the rest of Western Addition and you see this reflected in the eateries around Alamo Square Park. Just one block down from the Painted Ladies, for example, you find Alamo Square Seafood [L10] a romantic date spot. On the other side of the park, also on Grove is Bar Crudo [L11], a raw bar for those who are averse to cooking the food they ingest. In addition, for those who don’t like traditional chairs when drinking hot beverages, there is the Bean Bag Café [L12]—a definite burn law suit in the making. Divisidero Street is an eclectic jumble of soul food, barbecues, vegetarian, and pizza places.

In terms of being a place to live, the Western Addition continues to have the up-in-coming feel that it has long had. It’s a place that people are willing to take a chance on but that still has completely arrived.