Harlem of the West
Written by Pepin & Watts

Fillmore Places

By the 1880s, San Francisco was a crowded metropolis with insufficient housing. City officials, needing to alleviate some of the congestion, decided to expand the street grid to include the area west of City Hall. They called the hundreds of new square blocks the Western Addition. Fillmore Street, which ran north-south through the middle of the neighborhood and carried a streetcar, became the commercial district. Residents began referring to the 20 square blocks around the street as "The Fillmore."

The earthquake and fire of April 1906 changed the course of the city forever. With most of downtown in ruins, the closest area left relatively untouched happened to be the Fillmore. Within days, City Hall, most of the newspapers, and many of the major department stores relocated to the neighborhood, transforming the once quiet community into a noisy, bustling urban center.

Within a few years after the earthquake, the neighborhood became a melting pot. Japanese Americans living in Chinatown before the earthquake moved to the Fillmore, settling around the few Japanese-owned businesses already in the neighborhood, and the area became known as Nihonmachi (Japantown). Filipinos, Mexicans, African Americans, and Russians joined the Japanese Americans and the Jewish population. With its integrated schools and some integrated businesses, The Fillmore soon had a reputation as one of the most diverse neighborhoods west of the Mississippi.

Once Downtown was rebuilt, and political life returned to the Civic Center Fillmore decided to fill the void by reinventing itself as an entertainment center. It was during this time that many of the theaters, dance halls and buildings that housed nightclubs were built. The Fillmore even got it's own amusement park The Fillmore Chutes as well as Acme Brewery, the neighborhood's brewery on Fulton.

Although San Francisco's African American population was relatively small until World War II, the city still managed to make its mark in jazz history. While the Fillmore was one of San Francisco's main entertainment centers from the early 1900s until the 1930s, people of color were not welcome in the bars, nightclubs, restaurants, and theaters that lined the streets. Instead, most African Americans went to the Barbary Coast, located on and around Pacific Street, adjacent to San Francisco's North Beach neighborhood. Several major dance crazes that swept the nation were invented in the Barbary Coast, and on March 6, 1913, the first use of the word "jazz" in connection with music appeared in an article about the neighborhood's clubs. By Prohibition, most of the Barbary Coast had closed down, leaving a void for Bay Area musicians

The 1933 opening of Jack's Tavern, also known as Jack's of Sutter due to its location on Sutter Street, marked the beginning of a new era in the history of African American music in the Bay Area. Soon after, the Club Alabam and the Town Club joined Jack's and the fledgling Fillmore jazz scene was born. By the start of World War II, with the explosion in African American population, dozens of additional clubs set up shop, including the New Orleans Swing Club, the Long Bar, the California Theater, Elsie's Breakfast Nook, the Texas Playhouse, and later, the Champagne Supper Club, Leola King's Blue Mirror, and Bop City. Other, established dance halls such as the California Theatre Club Restaurant and the Majestic Ballroom (renamed the Fillmore Auditorium in 1952) altered their bookings to include jazz, blues, R&B, and soul. Smaller bars such as The Doghouse, The Aloha Club, and The Big Glass Bar, usually featured records on a jukebox, or a small combo or single piano player, rather than large bands. The Long Bar, 1633 Fillmore Street, was one of the better known drinking establishments, featuring, according to Fillmore legend, the longest bar in the world, running an entire city block. The Fillmore scene began to be known worldwide, drawing Hollywood stars and famous musicians to the stages whenever they were in town.

If you can ID someone in an uncaptioned photograph or have Fillmore memorabilia you'd like to share, please contact us!
Champange Supper Club
Jimbos Waffle
Jacks Tavern