Sunday, June 10, 2007

FOOTPRINTS From Bayview History

Some landmarks remain...
others are footprints in memory.

They are all signposts to our present and inspiration for our future.
What kid wouldn’t want to go see three horror movies back-to-back along with cartoons at their neighborhood movie theater? Many current Bayview Hunters Point residents remember doing exactly that. The Chiller Dillers, as they were called, brought together kids from all over the neighborhood to scream with delight at the Bayview Theater on the east side of Third Street between Quesada and Palou.

Activities for youth were prevalent then, and the entire community shared the responsibility of caring for and correcting neighborhood children. The area known as “Hilltop,” was alive on warm afternoons with kids sliding down hillsides on burlap and cardboard. The area boasted its own cinema, the Hilltop Theater, part of the bustling commercial center just finished in 1944 to service nearly 25,000 public housing occupants.

The oldest continually running business in the neighborhood is Mazzei’s Hardware, a family-owned store which was started in 1936 by Italian immigrants. Still located at 5166 Third Street, the store has weathered everything from the Great Depression to recent Third Street Light Rail construction.

All Hallows Catholic Church on Newhall and Palou was built in 1886, survived the earthquake in 1906 and a lethal fire that consumed its community hall in 1964, and remains a picturesque fixture nestled in the Bayview hills. It’s part of the Bayview’s rich religious history. Today, St. Paul of the Shipwreck on Jamestown Avenue, which was founded by Maltese immigrants, has a predominantly African American congregation. Other important centers of faith in the neighborhood include Providence Baptist Church and True Hope Baptist Church.

The Bayview Opera House Ruth Williams Memorial Theatre, established 1888, is San Francisco’s first and oldest opera house. Well-known vaudeville acts and old time minstrels frequented the venue during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, and community-based programming continues to this day. In the late 1960’s, it was a movie house operated by the African American group San Francisco Youth Organizers. Danny Glover and Mel Steward raised money to remodel the building in the late 1970’s, and founded the respected Bayview Actors Guild there.

The Bayview Branch Library is emblematic of the changing face of the neighborhood, and of the community’s historic commitment to education - an important stepping stone to a better life for African Americans, immigrants, and all working class families. The branch is now named for a San Francisco clerical employee, Anna E. Waden, whose bequest made possible the cooperative community project that resulted in the current building at Third and Revere where a Sinclair gas station stood. Constructed in 1969 under the leadership of its first librarian, George Alfred, the library still traces its roots to a humble storefront facility opened in 1927. Now, a major renovation of the current branch is on the drawing board.

The Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood is rich with physical assets. India Basin, the northern-most tip of the neighborhood’s waterfront, can be traced to a 1868 map. It is where Jack London’s ship, The Snark, was built, and where the film “Blood Alley,” starring John Wayne was filmed. It is now, as it was historically, a mixed use area for business and recreation.

The Quesada Gardens, a community-building project of the Quesada Gardens Initiative, is a centerpiece open space just off of Third Street. It is just one of many community-based projects creating safe spaces for public gatherings in the neighborhood. Candlestick Point Park is another open space, and helps serve the recreational needs of residents along with the nearby Monster Park stadium.

Many important homes, businesses and civic structures now exist only in the memories of residents, and in scattered photographs. Mount St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Orphans Asylum, built in 1912 on the hill known as Silver Terrace, is one of those buildings. Some residents remember it clear as day as it was a distinctive and stately place, the Bayview’s premiere western landmark, and full of life given the hundreds of boys and girls it housed over the years.

Photo courtesy of Tricia O'Brien's "San Francisco's Bayview Hunters Point," Arcadia Publishing

The Neighborhood History Project needs contributions of photographs and memorabilia about the Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood. Leave a comment here or send a message to

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