Neighborhoods: The Hidden Cities of San Francisco

Wulzen's Pharmacy

Wulzen's Pharmacy,
Castro and Market, circa 1902
Credit: D.H. Wulzen

Neighborhoods: The Hidden Cities Of San Francisco is a television series designed to explore the rich history of this unique American city. From the earliest Native American villages of the Mission District to the ethnic neighborhood of Chinatown to the Castro, once a quiet enclave of European immigrants known as Eureka Valley, each program reveals the city as a mosaic of communities with interconnecting pasts. Each episode covers the social, political, economic and cultural movements that created this city. As we continue to grow in our appreciation of diverse cultures, Neighborhoods gives viewers a crucial sense of the traditions and diversities that link us, not only to the past but to one another.

What Is a Neighborhood?

Defining just exactly what constitutes a neighborhood is not an easy task. It can be a geographic area recognized by boundaries like a street, freeway or railroad tracks. It can be distinguished by a physical feature, like Twin Peaks in the case of Eureka Valley. It can be defined by a certain type of housing or architecture that is different enough from the surrounding housing types to stand out clearly. A neighborhood can also be defined socially -- by political groups, religious affiliations or ethnic similarities. In addition, a neighborhood may be defined by economic groupings. Nontraditional communities have more recently emerged as neighborhoods. This includes nonconformist groups such as the counter-culture, feminists, homosexuals, political radicals, student and artistic movements that have attained the requisite sense of solidarity, social cohesion and structure. These communities offer what is inherent in "neighborhood": security, services and group identity. The nonconformity does not derive from family traditions -- the association is voluntary. The neighborhood residences, businesses and social gathering spots provide refuge and allow its residents to maintain and reinforce group identities.

Many neighborhoods follow a similar evolutionary process: neighborhood inception and growth, neighborhood decay, neighborhood transformation by invasion of a new minority group, abandonment by earlier inhabitants, neighborhood revitalization.