Hollow City: The Siege of San Francisco and the Crisis of American Urbanism

Hollow City: The Siege of San Francisco and the Crisis of American Urbanism

This book was published in 2000 but seems more relevant than ever, words by Rebecca Solnit and photos of the destruction of the city by Susan Schwartzenberg. After a few intro pages showing demolition and construction, Solnit opens the first essay talking about Fly bar on Divis having just opened and St. John Coltrane Church getting evicted. Sixteen years later, the Fly bar seems like a relic of a more peaceful time, and Coltrane’s church is fighting another eviction from its newer location on Fillmore. “Growing income gap,” “new San Francisco run for the dot-com workers [now called techies],” and “artists are a controversial subject” ring just as true today.

She includes an interview with Chris Carlsson that ends with his bemoaning how far we’ve come from the fight for the 8 hour workday: “Your job is to work as much and as long as you can in the labor market. It’s a laughable predicament, and there’s not much time to find your way out of it, it’s a bit of a rat’s maze. And that’s speedup. We are living through the greatest speedup in human history, and nobody’s even saying it out loud.”

Suddenly, I turn the page and am confronted by memories of one of my first jobs in the city. Schwartzenberg infiltrated the offices of Netcentives, the company that offered me a strike price of $90 for each of my options which were ultimately worth $0 by the time I could exercise them (dot bomb!). She includes pictures of the kitchen area, the nap room, the pool table, and interviews someone who says “The company is in e-marketing. We provide loyalty solutions. We build the technology that makes people come back to a website. We think of it as a tool that manages loyalty between customer and company.” In a few months, I would be one of the few remaining employees, roving the deserted office space looking for abandoned toys and computer monitors to scavenge.

After delving into the horrid history of the redevelopment of the Fillmore district, Solnit veers into the territory of the avant-garde, North Beach. While this area is firmly associated in history’s mind with the Beats, turns out most of them lived elsewhere, like the Western Addition. Michael McClure says that people left in ’56 or ’57 when the “beatnik” thing got started, because of the tour buses. The beats then headed to Western Ad, where ironically tour buses circle like sharks around Alamo Square. From this essay learned there was a short film about the 1964 removal of Jay DeFeo’s The Rose from her studio at 2322 Fillmore (after the landlord jacked rent from $65 to $300).