A former warehouse and light industrial district, South of Market is San Francisco’s biggest tech hub. It’s not uncommon to watch entrepreneurs and Uber cars whiz by tent cities, or look out at the tallest man-made structures west of the Mississippi River rising over dilapidated auto body shops.
South of Market, often referred to as SoMa, is a neighbourhood in flux. It always has been.
Photographer Janet Delaney arrived in the summer of 1978 with her massive, old-fashioned view camera in tow. At the time, the financial sector put a squeeze on small businesses and affordable housing to make room for the Moscone Center, the city’s largest convention hall, which has hosted Apple, Google, and Microsoft special events over the years.
Delaney, a graduate student then and a professor at UC Berkeley now, wanted to capture the working class communities that made up SoMa, before they disappeared.
Delaney shared some of her images with Business Insider. You can find more on her website.
When Janey Delaney arrived in San Francisco's SoMa District in the late '70s, her rent cost $250 a month. Neighbours knew each other by name. But change came quickly.
One late fall night, Delaney (pictured) watched a demolition crew take out a hotel from which dozens of poor and elderly residents had been removed. It was her wake up call.
She decided to photograph the people who worked and lived in SoMa, before new developments claimed the neighbourhood. The Moscone Center drove that momentum.
Originally conceived of as a sports arena, the convention hall (which today stretches 600,000 square feet) sparked a long-fought battle from the city's low-income residents.
Among the hardest hit communities would be the blue-collar workers and immigrants who lived in hotel dwellings called SROs, some of the only truly affordable housing in the city.
The movers and shakers in city government argued the Moscone Center would bring in good business, Delaney remembers. San Francisco was already a popular tourist destination.
'They wanted to bring San Francisco into the -- before the word was invented -- the global market,' Delaney says. 'They succeeded. But at what cost?' she says.
Delaney set out on foot to discover interesting places in her new city. Once she found a place she liked, she would set up her tripod and stake out until she got her shot.
'Some of the small business owners lived on the streets where the business was, so there was this kind of intimacy,' Delaney says.
Many of her subjects are seen looking directly at the camera, which adds drama and character. It makes the neighbourhood's original settlers much harder to ignore.
After her camera equipment was stolen, she set out to know everyone on her street.' I wanted to know who I could trust,' Delaney says. It helped her project along.
When the Moscone Center opened in 1981, SoMa was nearly unrecognizable. 'It was built like a fortress because the surrounding area was so destitute,' Delaney says.
Today, the tech industry has co-opted the neighbourhood. Google, Twitter, Zynga, Salesforce, Yelp, Adobe, Reddit, Zipcar, and even Burning Man have offices there.
Delaney has since returned to the neighbourhood for a series called 'SoMa Now.' It focuses on the deepening gap between the wealthy and the poor.
She says the scale of development happening in SoMa now makes what she witnessed in the '70s ad '80s look terribly small. The neighbourhood will be home to the tallest commercial and residential towers west of Chicago next year.
Though she no longer lives there, SoMa holds a special place in her heart. 'I came of age in SoMa, as an artist and a woman,' Delaney says. 'South of Market is always my home.'
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