Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Jewish Fillmore: A Walking Tour
O.K., so earlier this week, together with other staff and friends from the MAGNES we did a walking tour of the Fillmore.The tour was lead by Dr. Lara Michels, Head Archivist and Librarian at the MAGNES. We did it as part of the development of the forthcoming exhibition at the Jazz Heritage Center with the working title Jews of the Fillmore. The lead funding right now on the project comes from the Koret Foundation. Koret Program Officer Adam Hirschfelder joined us on the walk. Adam's been one of the driving forces behind this cool project.
After the 1906 fire San Francisco moved into the Fillmore. The area around Fillmore Street become the city's Civic Center for a period of time. California is young. San Francisco was really just getting its groove on when the earthquake and fire hit. I mean, what? it was like 60 years old? It's a life or two from back then. And that was only one hundred years ago. And that's a life or two now.
It's interesting because a lot of California's history is: one, not really told so much and two, still really intimate.
According ot the MAGNES web site:
The Bay Area is home to the third largest Jewish community in the United States. Jews settled in Northern California since the Gold Rush and played a very significant role in the economic and cultural development of the West. Western Jewish History Center is the world's largest repository of materials documenting the contribution of Jews to the life, experience, and history of the American West up to the present.
So much of this is so personal. It reminds me of my own life, albeit from back east and very different, but the idea of memory is a shared concept. What is significant and of-interest are the communal and universal themes that arise whenever you focus on a particular "group," ethnic religious or otherwise.
More also, personally I have had the chance to hear the reminiscences of many supporters first-hand. The tiny little Central Hebrew School, pictured here for example, is a spring board for a lot of folks. Now it is a Korean Center. The MAGNES has a collection of oral histories on the subject, along with others.
The City of San Francisco did do a project at one point to place historical markers along Fillmore Street to demarcate places where local merchants once were. Many of these merchant went on to become leaders in the city's rich, cultural landscape. It made for an interesting part of our walk, to feel like you were standing "right there."
The other thing that was SUPER cool is that when we were walking around we stopped for a while to have a look at a building that was once home to the the Emanu-El Sisterhood for Personal Service.
There was a small showcase exhibition back at the MAGNES in Berkeley a couple years ago about this service agency, so I knew a bit about the story and had "lived" with it, in a sense, for a while but within the museum context.
The Emanu-El Sisterhood for Personal Service was organized by San Francisco's well-healed, often more Germanic Jewish women to help the younger, more recently arrived central European immigrant Jewish women.
Many of these young women had left their families back east because they could no longer support them and wanted them to find opportunity out west. It was a settlement house. There the young found warmth and were trained in how to entertain, read even and, well...find a spouse. Look, the real socio-sexual-political interests and issues at play here are FASCINATING. I mean these are "women doing it for themselves."
Well, anyway, we linger for so long out in front of the building that some guy comes over and says, "Do you want to come in?"
We did and it was like walking through the looking glass. It's now the Chateau Tivoli, and we were lucky to have the manager come out and engage us.
It's opulence has now been polished to a fine gaudy and it'd be a great place to stay in San Francisco.
Linda Waterfield, who was on the tour did some sweet shots from the day and posted some of them in her Flickr photostream.