Predatory preservation

Testimony, Land Use Committee, San Francisco Board of Supervisors, Monday, May 2, 2011

Deep inside the context statement for the first historic district in San Francisco Jackson Square is a streetscape drawing of the buildings with the year of construction atop each building. Most fall between 1907 and 1910 and have detailed descriptions.
Oddly, 550 Pacific has the notation 1906, but no description.
Nowhere in the document, which led to the national register designation, are African-Americans mentioned.
Yet, a 1910 memo by the then-police chief Jesse B. Cook lists eight of the establishments in the 400 and 500 block of Pacific Street as owned by “colored,” including 550 Pacific, known as Purcells.
If you’ve never heard of Purcell’s, you’d be surprised to know it was the most famous nightspot in the country, subject of scholarly dissertations.
However, the way that San Francisco has perverted the National Historic Preservation Act has contributed in no small way to the City shrinking from 11 percent African-American in 1971 to a level that prompted the Outmigration report.
I’ve provided you with draft copies of the context statement which is the result of four years of research by our team and on the screen you’ll see the slide show of buildings.
But I’d most like you to hear the African-American property owners who have watched as predatory preservation has robbed their community heritage; and failed to help them protect their neighborhood legacies.
I’m joined by Clarence Williams, who has single-handedly restored Club Long Island to the grandeur that the Kennedys projected in the late 1950s; Ruth Jordan, whose father Sam Jordan was known as the Mayor of Butchertown; Greg Johnson of Marcus Books, in a building that once housed Jimbo’s Bob City and other long-time owners.
They’ll tell you that the requirement that this certified local government provide an equal opportunity to historic preservation has not been met.
This is such an important issue that it deserves a specific hearing, and we would suggest your meeting in June around the time of Juneteenth.