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The History of San Francisco’s Fillmore District

San Francisco’s Fillmore District has played an important role in the city’s growth since the 1800s. The District was created in response to the overcrowding problem faced by San Francisco throughout the latter half of the 1800s. Fillmore grew immensely, and became a commercial center after the 1906 earthquake because it was on the receiving end of very little damage.

Fillmore attracted immigrants of many descents, from Jewish and Japanese to African Americans (who later brought the jazz movement to San Francisco and the West coast). The Jews came from Eastern Europe, and many opened businesses on Fillmore and McAllister. The District had three synagogues at one point, and many considered it San Francisco’s Jewish community center throughout the 20th century.

Immigrants from Japan who settled into the Fillmore District also left their mark. Geary Boulevard slowly took on the persona of a San Francisco Japantown, where Nyogen Senzaki opened the first Zendo. That’s where Zen Buddhism was first brought to the US. However, the area also has a dark side. When President Roosevelt issued Order 9066, internment camps were built and Japanese citizens were rounded up and detained.

The homes those citizens left behind eventually became occupied by African Americans, who found work at local shipyards. They became the working class of artists and musicians that grew top talent like Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holliday.

The Fillmore today remains a divisive place, as economic development stalls and gentrification looms. Much of the city is in a constant state of change, as new residents try to bring their own touch to San Francisco proper.


Bio: Retired Archbishop James Provence resides in Vacaville, where he blogs about the history of American railroads. James Provence also practices furniture making.

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