The Arty Semite

Slideshow: Jews of the Fillmore

By Renee Ghert-Zand

  • Print
  • Share Share
Courtesy of The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life

With the opening of San Francisco’s Jewish Community High School of the Bay’s (JCHS) new building on Ellis Street in 2002, the city’s organized Jewish community finally returned to the Fillmore. Only local Jewish history buffs appreciated the significance; the neighborhood in which the school is situated — now called The Western Addition — was once San Francisco’s Lower East Side, albeit on a smaller scale than the section of Manhattan to which it is compared.

It is almost impossible to imagine that in this city, where today there is no kosher butcher shop or kosher bakery, and Hebrew schools struggle to get students to attend at all, there were once two synagogues, three kosher restaurants, four Jewish bakeries, five kosher meat markets, three Jewish delicatessens, one Jewish liquor merchant, and a central Jewish afternoon Talmud Torah which students attended six days a week. All within a two-square block area, no less.

“It’s not by coincidence that we brought the ‘Jews of the Fillmore’ exhibition here,” explained Allison Green, Program Coordinator at the San Francisco Bureau of Jewish Education’s Jewish Community Library (JCL). The library is located at JCHS, just blocks from what was once the hub of this legendary neighborhood, during its heyday from 1906 to 1945. Jews first started moving into the area after their homes south of Market Street had been destroyed in the Great Earthquake and Fire, and began moving away even before the national post-World War II exodus from the inner cities to the suburbs.

View a slideshow from ‘Jews of the Fillmore’:

Originally created by Lehrhaus Judaica and the Judah L. Magnes Museum and shown at the Koret Heritage Lobby of the Jazz Heritage Center at 1330 Fillmore Street from July to October 2009, the exhibition is on view at JCL through February 27. The neighborhood, although very Jewish, was also home to other ethnic groups, and by the mid-20th century had become the city’s focal point for jazz music. Not only was the Fillmore akin to the Lower East Side, it was also known as the “Harlem of the West.”

The vibrancy of life in the Fillmore comes through on nine panels adorned with archival photographs, primary documents and snippets of oral history. Along with evidence of religious observance and recognizable scenes of early 20th century Jewish education, commerce and Yiddish Theatre (a 1928 production of “The Dybbuk” was directed by Nahum Zemach, founder of the famed Moscow Habimah Theater), are artifacts highlighting the socialist and communist activity in the neighborhood.

On display, as well, are reproductions of items telling the story of the biggest celebrity to emerge from the Fillmore, virtuoso violinist Yehudi Menuhin. Classical music was not the only kind that flourished in the Fillmore. Young people from all over San Francisco flocked to the neighborhood to hear jazz and dance to the latest popular tunes at the Dreamland Rink (later to be known as the Winterland). The venue also hosted sporting events, especially boxing prize fights. Moviegoers had their choice of seven movie theatres that lined an eight-block stretch along Fillmore Street.

In conjunction with the exhibition, JCL is hosting a number of lectures and presentations on the history of Jewish life in San Francisco, and on the West Coast in general. Among them will be “The Fabulous Fillmore,” a talk on November 18 by Fred Rosenbaum, curator of the exhibition and author of “Cosmopolitans: A Social and Cultural History of the Jews of the San Francisco Bay Area.”

Those curious about the Fillmore as it once was are strongly advised to visit the exhibition, because very little of the original neighborhood remains. Today’s Western Addition bears little resemblance to the Fillmore. Most of the Jewish landmarks and communal institutions, as well as many of the Victorian homes in the area, fell victim to San Francisco’s urban renewal efforts in the 1950s and 1960s. If the Jewish Community High School is any indication, however, like in the Lower East Side, the Fillmore’s Jewish presence may be making a modest comeback.

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Yehudi Menuhin, Winterland, Urbanism, Urban Renewal, The Western Addition, Slideshows, The Dybbuk, San Francisco, Nahum Zemach, Lower East Side, Lehrhaus Judaica, Judah L. Magnes Museum, Jewish History, Jewish Community High School of the Bay, Jazz Heritage Center, History, Harlem, Fred Rosenbaum, Habimah Theater, Bureau of Jewish Education Jewish Community Library, Fillmore, Exhibits, Ellis Street, Dreamland Rink, Allison Green

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight":
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here:
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.