New York Elsewhere - The Morning News
The writer is completely and utterly wrong (and I assume, kidding/trolling, but maybe not). I say that because of a small crime I took part in, a civic misdemeanor that is still playing out.
In 1999, my then girlfriend (now wife) and I moved into a little garden apartment on Fulton between Central and Lyon. The neighborhood was then still widely known as the Western Addition—and with good reason because it was and is a part of the Western Addition. While it didn’t have the homeless issues that plagued (and plague) the Haight just across the panhandle, crime was still pretty bad. If you wanted to buy crack, it was very, very easy to do so on Central at Grove.
It wasn’t even remotely trendy, but we loved it for the old Victorians, some of the best in the city, and its central location. There were occasional all night house parties at The House of Love, complete with giant naked pileups in the front room downstairs, The Justice League and Storyville had great shows. The Fulton Street Bar was an oasis of pool tables and punk rock jukebox. It was nice.
At the time I worked for a soon to be ill-fated start up web magazine. One of my writers was Annalee Newitz. When I changed jobs there, she took my old gig editing the tabloid section. We were co-workers and pals. Then the whole thing went to shit, and we both moved on.*
Annalee got a job as an editor at the San Francisco Bay Guardian. This was back when Alt-Weeklies were still a Thing City People Read Every Week. And when it came time for her to put together the Best of the Bay issue in 2000, she asked me if I could write one of the neighborhood guides. Sure. But which neighborhood? We had a conversation that went something like this:
Me: I guess I could write about my neighborhood. The neighborhood association keeps pushing this dumb NOPA name—you know, like SOMA, but for North of the Panhandle instead of South of Market—but it’s a made up thing and nobody actually calls it that.
Her: That’s perfect. Can you get me 1000 words including four or five venue write-ups by Monday?
And so I wrote this thing about a neighborhood that didn’t really exist. It was (as far as I’m aware, and I could be wrong) the first time NoPa showed up in print on anything other than some huckster impresario’s real estate flyer. It was certainly among the first.
It was hard to find anything to write about in, um, “NoPa.” There were virtually no restaurants, and the few that existed weren’t any good. Did I want to write about the PopEye’s? No. Of the four things I wrote about, one was a corner store. That was what kind of neighborhood it was.
And then Fly Bar opened, which, for whatever reason, was popular with yuppies. The Justice League became The Independent. Little Star started serving deep dish. El Rico finally closed or was shut down by the health department and Little Chihuahua moved in. Cafe Abir opened a sushi restaurant, then a sake bar. The bar/brothel on Fulton closed. Storyville turned into an Asian fusion restaurant. The empty lot where Plaza Foods (and a very downmarket version of the original Fallettis) re-opened as an Albertson’s. The crack house vanished. Things changed. Look! It’s Papalote. It’s Nopalito. It’s Four Barrel. Would you care for some gelato, sir?†
I remember noticing that a check cashing place had closed and was now a gallery. That was when you could really feel the money money money coming. More so than Bar Crudo. And definitely more so than when NoPa opened.
Speaking of which…
When the neighborhood was still “transitional,” and gangsters still hung out on the corner of Grove 24 hours a day, I was walking up Divisadero** when I passed a woman standing on a ladder. She was scraping paint off of a derelict bank building that had long stood empty. I asked her what she was doing, and she told me the was opening a restaurant there. This, as it turned out, was Allyson Jossel. And at the time (I believe it was 2005) opening a Fancy Restaurant on Divis—at least on that part of Divis—was anything but a sure bet. It took courage.
And while I wish I had not been priced out of that part of town, and while Divisadero Street now makes me I groan and gnash my teeth, and while I can’t stand the detestable little shits who hang about in the parklets or the polar fleece farmer’s market, and the whole scene just depresses me and reminds me of everything I hate about the city I love(d), and, and, and…
More power to Nopa for having the guts to move there when they did—albeit many years after the neighborhood took its name.**
*One of our other co-workers was a young kid just out of Berkeley who was working 20 hour days in the art department and doing all kinds of back end work for something like $18,000 a year (in San Francisco!) named Andy Baio.
**I was on my way to my rent-a-mailbox, which I had because all of our mail and packages would get stolen. It was called the Post-All Center. And although it lost its lease and shut down, you can still see it painted on the walls of NoPa, by the then up-and-coming muralist Brian Barneclo.
***Anyway. I’m sorry about whatever role I played with the name. I know that, like the gentrification of the neighborhood itself, it would have happened with or without me. But still. For both of those things: Sorry.
PS: I swear to you I’ve had nothing whatsoever to do with naming FolSoMa.