Crossing the Street
Have you ever wondered about all the other meals prepared by families on the same stove where you cook your meals? Or looked up as the fog rolls in and thought about the people who stood in about the same place and watched those same cooling drifts move toward them, hundreds of years ago?
Our one block street in the Portola is lined with houses that look just like ours -- all built in the 1930s with wrought iron balconies and Fiestaware colored bathroom tiles. When we moved to our house in 1996, we were curious about both the past and present; we wondered how we could reach out and get to know our current neighbors and also learn about those who lived here before us. Later that year, we volunteered to have precinct elections in our garage and to work the elections in order to meet our neighbors.
The demographics of the neighborhood have changed a lot since many members of original families have passed away and new neighbors have moved in. Every generation of Portolites reflects global immigration and relocation patterns, waves of change that bring dynamic cultural richness.
Luckily, the first day we moved in, Ed Kiramidjon, the “mayor” of our street, visited us several times. As one of the few older men in the neighborhood, he volunteered helping out the thirteen different widows who lived in a two-block radius of our homes. He did light plumbing, electrical work and carpentry. Immediately upon our arrival he began to care for us and the widows cared for us, too.
The late Hazel Laine was one of the widows on our block. She also shared Portola history with us. Hazel’s family moved to the Portola when she was an infant, just after the big Earthquake of 1906. Her family lived in a tent while her father built their first home in the neighborhood. She described to us Poppy Hill and Pansy Hill, the early Jewish community on San Bruno Road, and talked about taking lunch to her father at the tannery during his lunch break. When she had kids of her own, they would all go down to Hunters Point together to buy shrimp from Chinese fishermen and then swim in the Bay. She told us about the local Italian nurseries and Maltese merchants. She also described the streetcars that connected this neighborhood with downtown San Francisco for work. “Those fellas downtown they don’t care anything about us,” she would say. During Prohibition, Hazel helped dismantle backyard liquor stills. It seemed the police themselves would give neighbors warnings prior to their raids. She knew the little-known history of Simpson Bible College on Silver Avenue (now Cornerstone Academy). After the Angel Island Immigration Station’s administration building burnt down in 1940, many mainly Asian immigrants were detained on this campus until the U.S. changed its immigration policies in 1943. She helped lead the campaign to rebuild St. Elizabeth’s Church and was the matriarch of a large, spirited family.
Hazel’s template for Portola history shaped our outline of the maps that make up this atlas. We’ve learned a lot from native Portolites who were born and bred here. And, like ourselves, many of our neighbors come from other places: the American South and the Midwest, Armenia, Burma, China, El Salvador, Germany, Greece, Indonesia, Italy, Lithuania, Malta, Mexico, Peru, the Philippines, Spain, Vietnam, other California communities and other San Francisco neighborhoods. We’re grateful for the personal histories they’ve all shared. As histories rinse away with each successive generation, a tracing or echo is left and guides the content for this atlas.
Crossing the Street is a way to trace the past and the present of the Portola and to tie it together. We seek to bring neighbors together and to push ourselves to take that little extra step, to cross the street and extend oneself, even if it means giving up a little time and a little privacy.
Kate Connell and Oscar Melara
Book and Wheel Works
Crossing the Street, was a produced by a small laborhood: Connell and Melara together with Lorraine Leber, production manager, Derrick Miller-Handley, graphic designer, Kathleen Coll, editor, Sibila Savage photographer, Carrie Galbraith, bookbinder, Lee Whitfield, carpenter, Huang Shao Wu, calligrapher, as well as collaborators Lorene Anderson, Beth Connell, Rayna Garibaldi, Yi Liang, John Seckman, Amber Straus, Gustavo Vazquez, Angie Webster, staff of the Portola Branch Library and of the San Francisco Public Library system and Maciel Printers.
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