Read an Excerpt
San Francisco Is
A Melting Pot
San Francisco holds the largest concentration of Italian-Americans in the U.S., and their impact
on the city has been incalculable. Since the first wave of immigration in the 1880s, Italian names
have become dominant in city politics and business. The Italian population is now spread
throughout the city, but scores of Italian restaurants and cafes are still found in North Beach, the
original Italian district.
Largely through the racist restrictions which forced them into Chinatown during the late 1800s,
San Francisco's Chinese have long been one of the largest and most visible elements in the city's
ethnic mosaic. Traditionally, almost all have been of Cantonese origin, although the easing of Chinese
immigration restrictions by the U.S. in 1965 brought settlers from some of the country's far-flung
regions -- a fact evinced by the expanding selection of regional Chinese cuisines offered in Chinatown's
Chinatown may provide a spiritual home for San Francisco's Chinese, but many have departed for
middle-class lifestyles in the Richmond District, where Clement Street holds some of the city's best
Chinese bakeries and restaurants.
Strong links between the U.S. and the Philippines enabled Filipinos to study and work in America
in comparatively large numbers. Many arrived during the 1920s to labor on California farms, while others
achieved American academic qualifications which led to powerful positions in theirhomeland.
Since the end of World War II, when its Japanese-American population returned from internment
camps, the Japanese community of San Francisco has consistently numbered just under 2 percent of the
city's total population, currently around 12,000. Few of them, however, actually live in Japantown,
where Shinto and Buddhist temples, Japanese shops, restaurants, and social centers nevertheless
provide a focal point for the community and a site for its festivals.
California's Asian population increased by a startling 127 percent in the 1980s, a significant
proportion of which came from the countries of Southeast Asia. Recent waves of Vietnamese,
Cambodian, and Laotian immigration have resulted in a proliferation of new businesses -- mostly
restaurants -- in the Tenderloin, carrying the promise of regeneration in this run-down neighborhood.
Spanish is more prevalent than English on the busy streets of the Mission District, which was
settled in the 1940s by a Latin American population lured northward by the prospect of work in
shipyards and in other industries stimulated by the war. Latin Americans now comprise 14 percent of
the total population; around 50,000 live in the Mission District.
The livestock of 19th-century Russian peasants who migrated to escape religious persecution became
a feature of the Potrero Hill area until the late 1950s. More in evidence today are the cafes and
bakeries dispensing Russian specialties in the Richmond District, which gained a significant community
of urbanized Russians settled during the Soviet era. The neighborhood's magnificent Cathedral of the
Holy Virgin is the main Russian Orthodox church in the western U.S.
Protected from earthquake damage by its thick adobe walls, Mission Dolores dates with dignity from
the 18th-century Spanish settlement and is easily the city's oldest structure. The only other evidence
of Spanish-era building survives as a small section of adobe wall which forms part of the Presidio's
Architectural refinement was the last thing on most people's minds in Gold-Rush San Francisco. But
among the great influx of arrivals aiming themselves at the gold fields were a number of highly
trained architects who, when fortune eluded them, took up their trade in the growing city.
As new residential areas sprang up to house the booming city's more affluent population, innovations
in mechanized carpentry were allowing wood to be shaped in ways previously impossible. San Francisco,
by now the West Coast's major port, received shiploads of mail-order building materials, and pretty
wood-built Italianate homes -- modeled on Italian villas and commonly marked by extended porches
and Corinthian columns -- arose during the 1860s as the favored dwellings of the wealthy.
Stick and Queen Anne
Through the 1870s and 1880s, the Stick style -- which involved the use of flat wooden boards to
emphasize the building's vertical lines -- was increasingly favored over simple Italianate. Desire for
greater ornamentation led to a prevalence of Stick-Eastlake homes, so named for their elaborate
decoration inspired by the work of British designer Charles Eastlake.
By the 1880s, the extravagant towers, turrets, and sharply gabled roofs of the Queen Anne style
were popular in high society. Each decorative flourish -- stained-glass windows were a definite plus
-- was seen as an indication of the owner's financial standing.
Approximately 14,000 Victorian houses survived the 1906 earthquake and fire -- as well as more
recent efforts by developers to raze them -- and roughly half have been fully restored by their owners.
The main groupings of these wood-built houses are found in Pacific Heights, the Western Addition,
Haight-Ashbury, the Mission District, and Russian Hill.
The fire which followed the 1906 earthquake destroyed much of the city, including the Financial
District and the area around it. Forsaking stone walls for terracotta facades and adapting
classical themes into what became a new American urban architecture, the rebuilding of the Financial
District was characterized by ground-level glass fronts intended for retail purposes and upper stories
holding office space. Of numerous remaining examples, some of the best are on the lower sections of
Sutter Street and Grant Avenue.
In 1925, the completion of the Pacific Telephone Building, its cultured profile still visible just
south of Market Street, heralded another new look -- one of stepped-back towers and art deco
decoration echoing Eliel Saarinen's award-winning Tribune Tower in Chicago. Though stunted by the
Depression of the 1930s, this phase of building began studding the Financial District with tall towers
which poked above surrounding rooftops to become visible from all over the city.