Excelsior, Latin for “ever upward,” is an appropriate name for the San Francisco neighborhood, given its hilly geography and recent press. Business Insider profiled the sleepy district this month, calling it “one of the hottest housing markets in America.” While that may be true, locals know it to be much more than just another Bay Area neighborhood on the cusp of gentrification.
South of Bernal Heights and about a 10 minute drive away from the Mission, Excelsior is uniquely located near many urban delights, yet is still considered ‘suburban’ for San Francisco. Below are 11 photos depicting the area’s distinct character during the 20th century.
Family photo at 399 Athens Street, circa 1910
The borders of the Excelsior were bound on April 15, 1869 when the Excelsior Homestead was registered at city hall.
A collapsed bank that killed three, 1914
Many of the streets in Excelsior are named after the capitals of countries, such as Athens, London, Paris, Vienna and Madrid. Emanuel Lewis and his daughter Jeannette had the honor of naming the streets. Emanuel built and sold 200 houses in the area following the 1906 earthquake.
Excelsior Avenue and London Street, 1918
After the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, some of those names were unfortunately changed. India, China and Japan Streets became Peru, Avalon and Excelsior.
A rare tranquil view down Mission Street, 1917
During this time period, a large number of Irish and German immigrants lived in the neighborhood. Mission Street was, and still is, a major thoroughfare for businesses.
Picnickers enjoying the view of Excelsior and a grazing cow, 1926
At 312.54 acres, McLaren Park is the third largest park in all of San Francisco, surpassed only by the Presidio and Golden Gate Park. The park was originally known as Mission Park, as noted in the photo above, but was renamed McLaren Park on November 29, 1926.
Dedication of McLaren Park, 1927
Originally, McLaren Park was supposed to have an 18-hole golf course, equestrian trails, playing fields and a possible relocation of the San Francisco Zoo. However, the bond measure to raise funds for the park didn’t pass in the November 1928 election.
Boys playing on Lisbon Street, 1927
OpenSFHistory has multiple photos of these neighborhood kids playing in the middle of Lisbon Street, sometimes dressed up in wizard costumes or playing a game of street hockey.
McLaren Park construction, 1934
During the 1930s, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) funded construction for a scenic drive through McLaren Park, and in 1946 the Board of Supervisors established its current 318-acre boundary.
Looking down on the Excelsior from Paris Street, circa 1944
McLaren Park also had a reputation for being a dumping ground for dead bodies. Despite volunteer programs and new amenities aimed at making the park safer, the area has seen several murders over the past few years.
4666 Mission Street, 1951
The Excelsior is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in San Francisco. In a 2011 report conducted by the San Francisco Planning Department, 49 percent of the neighborhood’s inhabitants identified as Asian, 30 percent as Latino (of any race), 26 percent as white and 21 percent as other or two or more races.
Mission Street and Silver Avenue, 1972
In a SF Weekly essay from 2014, reporter Joe Eskenazi nails down the in-between friction the neighborhood still faces: “The old-timers pine for the Excelsior of their memories. And the newcomers desire the neighborhood their very presence has helped to erase.”