I moved to the Alamo Square neighborhood thirty years ago when no one dared entering the park at night. Three years later I got mugged on my way home a neighbor’s. I was unconscious for four days after the doctors drilled a hole in my head to relieve blood massing on my brain. If my partner Michael hadn’t called the only doctor he knew (one of his regulars at Toad Hall where he was a bartender) I’d be a vegetable. Clearly a transition neighborhood.
I bought three flats on a lot two and a half feet wider than standard city lots. It’s a splendid building of original redwood construction. Over time I’ve rehabilitated the second floor flat and replaced the bathroom and kitchen twice on the third floor where I live. My son lives on the first floor where I’m replacing his old shower with a soaking tub and converting the two front rooms into a studio for friends and visitors. The basement has space for cars, storage and play.
I moved just as the neighborhood began recovering from redevelopment that demolished blocks of Victorians and replaced them with dangerous public housing. That process stalled when the market went bad. In the past six or so years Alamo Square has become trendy with hordes of 30-something white people who make a lot of noise and testy mothers who hate our dogs. With a famous row of Victorians on the East side of the park double decker tourist busses now crowd our streets. Parking is close to impossible.
Divisadero Street once a barren stretch of empty shops and shuttered banks is now home to lively cafes and a farmers market on Sunday. We have one trendy restaurant, a hip Cajun cafe and a specialty pizza parlor. The video rental store is closing, but the Laundromats and the barbeque smoker remain. One corner store sells organic food while the others sick to liquor, beer and cigarettes.
I’ve watched the neighborhood change mostly for the better, but because it’s San Francisco only the rich can afford it now. Without the diversity of young artists the neighborhood is poorer. It’s no longer an undiscovered gem but may represent the essence the San Francisco of 2011.