3rd & Mission, San Francisco

Looking south on 3rd Street from Mission Street in San Francisco, 1961 (top) and 2011 (bottom)

These two photos are taken from near the same spot 50 years apart -- looking south down 3rd Street from Mission Street in San Francisco. A close look at the blonde brick building on the left allows you to make the connection.

I get a kick from these 'then and now' comparisons. When your pictures and stories about a neighborhood's past fill your head, walking down a street is like walking down ten streets at the same time and any one of them can present itself at anytime.

Thanks to OldSF.org for developing a fantastic tool to explore a large portion of the San Francisco Public Library's photo archive. The story of how their project came to be is an example of the volunteer spirit that makes the internet awesome.

So what the story behind 3rd Street's transformation? How was this neighborhood south of San Francisco's financial district, one filled with rooming houses, pawnshops, bars, cafes, and parking lots redeveloped into an area of museums, fine hotels, large-scale retail, a convention center, a public garden, and a few pockets of affordable housing?

The SF Redevelopment Agency's summary of the 87-acre project seems rather flimsy. An historically rich account can be found in Rebecca Solnit's Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas (see Map 12 and accompanying text, pp. 85-90).

Photographs from Ira Nowinski's No Vacancy and Ben Pease's map are folded together with Solnit's beautiful prose, including perspectives from Jack London, who was born near 3rd & Brannan in 1876, and Jack Kerouac, who lived near 3rd and Howard and worked at the trainyard at 4th and Towsend for spell during the 1950s.

To the left: a slice of Pease's map detailing the neighborhood's buildings and uses in 1960. Clicking the audio/media tab of the UC Press page leads to an audio interview with Solnit and UC Press Art Director Lia Tjandra about Infinite City.

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