Power of history

For thirty years, a house in the Pacific Heights area of San Francisco, owned by a black woman since the 1940s, was only able to use two of its three units because the Planning Department contended it was only zoned for two units.
This example came up in the last couple of days, since I returned from presenting a multiple-property submission for the National Register of Historic Sites in Sacramento.
While I was in Sacramento, the property owner was before the San Francisco Board of Zoning Appeals, being told once again not to use a third of their property.
It only took 15 minutes, while waiting to see Barry Jenkins’ Medicine for Melancholy Sunday in the Main Library, for me to visit the City Directories from the 1950s through the 1980s and demonstrate that indeed all three units had been occupied.
Now the owner can prove their point.
Saturday night, while grooving on Johnnie Taylor, James Brown and a lot of other musicians I haven’t heard since elementary school, we tried to stress the power of history during Bayview Family History Day as part of the 51st anniversary of Sam Jordan’s. It might not be the conventional place for doing historic research, but you can’t get Cajun smoked turkey in most museums I know of. And I could reflect on why Johnnie Taylor sang “I need some big head hundreds.” Clearly it was a response to how “Jody got his gal and gone.”
Over and over, property owners who didn’t know the history of their buildings have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars by not exploiting their value, being proscribed from using their value or just losing the place to the “Jodys” of gentrification.
The family of the late Sam Jordan understands that value. They’re even instilling his legacy among their grandchildren. I met one grandson who is a boxer, like Jordan was a championship light heavyweight in the 1940s. Another performed African drums, something Jordan would do after his frequent trips to Africa.
If you own a place which you even suspect is more than 50 years old, take just that minimal step of finding out who lived there originally.
Jenkins answered questions after the film. Medicine was his first film, shot in 15 days with a crew of five. He and his lead actor housesat in the Marina for a couple of weeks and decided to make the apartment part of the set. After a stint with Harpo Films, he got religion and moved from Los Angeles to San Francisco, where he absorbed the trauma of black outmigration. Jenkins’ film used a one-night stand as the backdrop to share some of the details of that outmigration.
Ed Donaldson mentioned during the panel discussion after the film that 1,200 houses in Bayview have already been foreclosed upon and 2,200 are delinquent.
This was my second time seeing the film, which originally came out last year. Jenkins shared some nuances of how he chose the black cultural attractions in the film as the lead male character attempts to convince his new found female attraction that San Francisco still had some African-American culture.
Actually, it has a lot, as those who have taken my San Francisco Black Heritage Tours can tell you.
Which leads me back to my original point. If this young man can make a movie about the heritage of the city, then it would behoove anyone who has lived here and owns property to learn about their place in the city’s lineage. With that knowledge, we can find “the big head hundreds” to keep the legacy of these families alive.l


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