Reflections on the History of Hayes Valley
10 July 2020
At PROXY we are reflecting on the history of this site and our role in contributing to a different future for our city. The white supremacist foundations of our country continues to have tangible effects on the development and composure of cities across the country, including San Francisco. And we are confronting the legacy of explicitly racist lending policies and urban planning programs that shaped Hayes Valley and the Western Addition over the 20th century.
“It has a highly congested population consisting of Japanese, Russians, Mexicans, Negroes, etc. having a very low income level. In the north-central part of the area is the largest concentration of Japanese in the City, and Negroes predominate in its northwest section. The southern part is much less affected by the racial situation which has been described, and has many of the qualities of Area D-4.”
While white San Franciscans could access capital to purchase homes or improve their properties, redlining denied this access to their Black and new immigrant counterparts. A cycle of growing disparity ensued.
The suppression of Black San Franciscans’ path to wealth and opportunity took another dramatic turn following World War II, when the City enacted a redevelopment plan for the Western Addition focused on the historically Black area around Fillmore Street, then celebrated as the
This was not by mistake. In 1947, the City commissioned local planner Mel Scott to create a plan for “revitalizing” the Western Addition. In his 70-page report, Scott notes:
“The presence in the Western Addition District of a high proportion of negro and foreign born families presents a special problem…. In view of the characteristically low income of colored and foreign-born families, only a relatively small proportion of them may be expected to occupy quarters in the new development.”
This travesty took place just a short walk away from the corner of Hayes and Octavia where PROXY sits today. (Read more about this regretful chapter in this neighborhood’s history — and the incarceration of Japanese Americans that preceded it — in this
These are only two of countless instances of white supremacist policies suppressing the Black community of San Francisco. As a site born out of another legacy of racial injustice, the proliferation of freeways, PROXY is a part of this system. It is not simply enough to recognize this reality: We must work to actively dismantle it — like the freeway where PROXY now stands — and remake it. As a curatorial experiment, we can continue to show films and host installations from a range of diverse perspectives. As a physical space, we need to ensure that Black San Franciscans feel welcome in this place, and that our offerings fully embrace the entirety of our city. This isn’t something that is a quick fix: we are committing to a longer learning process, one that will benefit from ongoing community collaboration.
This is an excerpt from PROXY_in between, an ongoing digital curatorial initiative for these in between times. You can check out the first two editions