San Francisco, once a blue-collar town, has changed in recent years as the port and manufacturing faded away. Now it's a city of service industries, with old neighborhoods next to new high-rises.

"A big city for people who don't like big cities," says Neil Olson, a management consultant for lawyers, who moved to San Francisco 20 years ago.

Like any city, San Francisco has its downside -- it is losing its middle class and its children. The number of kids in schools has declined from 93,000 in 1968 to 54,500 now, according to Supervisor Ed Jew, who was elected from the Sunset District last fall on a platform of trying to hold on to families and small businesses.

The city's streets are full of beggars, and some of the homeless sleep in the doorways of swanky shops at night. Sometimes 21st- century San Francisco looks like Charles Dickens' 19th-century London.

The golden times of the past also had their dark sides. In the Bonanza days of the 1870s, the largest hotel in the country was built in San Francisco, the rich drank champagne and built gingerbread palaces on Nob Hill, the city was stained with anti-Chinese riots, and the Barbary Coast was a dark and dangerous place of drugs, prostitution and crime.

"The place was full of contradictions," Charles Caldwell Dobie wrote in "San Francisco, A Pageant."

San Francisco of the here and now has contradictions, too, many of them shaped by economic forces.



Internet Ronin said...

First unionized city in the United States (or something like that). By the Irish, like Kearney, in order to drive out the Chinese.

I guess it was blue collar town, but it always had a large service industry/white collar contingent. After all, it was the financial capital of the western United States for about 100 years.

So many interesting facets. Does anyone call it Baghdad by the Bay any more? ;-)

chuck b. said...

And the Irish still exert a strong unionized presence here. We've had contractors do several jobs around the house...all of them turned out to be Irish, except some tilers who were Mexican. And most of the movers in the phone book are Irish-owned, and it's Irish kids who show up to do the work.

Huge swaths of San Francisco were/are blue collar--neighborhoods you don't hear about much if you don't live here. My neighbor is a retired car mechanic. A car mechanic couldn't move into this neighborhood today.

And there used to be a lot of shipping and military in SF; all gone now.

Susan Harris said...

Oh, Chuck, you poor guy having to wait 3 hours, though I see you did persevere. Hey, where's the amusing commentary, tourguide?

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

We were JUST talking about San Francisco. I lived there in the 60s for a number of years and was wondering how it had changed since then. Very interesting.