The Excelsior: San Francisco’s Last Great Neighborhood
GUEST POST BY: JESSE MCGRATH
A little over a year ago, along Geneva Avenue right around where it meets Mission on the border of San Francisco and Daly City, a small but significant addition was made to the typically grimy scene. Seemingly overnight, Geneva’s sidewalk had been peppered with at least half a dozen tiny stone planter boxes, each filled with several young succulents. In most places, this type of city-lead beautification would be a welcome sight, but San Francisco is not most cities. In San Francisco, fancy planters appearing out of nowhere are a kiss of death. It means your neighborhood has been targeted as “up-and-coming” or “ideal for expansion”. If you have been in the Bay Area for longer than ten minutes, you know that this translates to only one thing: you are about to get priced the fuck out of your home.
But before you close this tab to escape yet another depressing break down of the gentrification of San Francisco, fret not, because this story has a happy ending. The Excelsior district (and by association, the neighboring Crocker-Amazon area) is still incredible. It is, as a matter of fact, San Francisco’s last great neighborhood.
The rapid changing of the Bay Area’s socio-economic climate over the last decade has been well-documented, and at this point there is very little that anyone could add to that discussion. But the change is undeniable. Much of what made San Francisco great has changed entirely to accommodate the new residents, or moved to the greener pastures of the East bay.
That’s part of what makes the Excelsior so special: it has somehow avoided this city-wide overhaul. In the face of soaring rent prices and mass exodus, a small flicker of San Francisco as it once was, remains alive. As San Francisco’s long-time residents and communities have been divided and conquered in basically every neighborhood in the city, the Excelsior has only grown tighter. There are block parties and community events. Many of the residents also work in the area, creating a small-town feel that is usually impossible to achieve within any metropolitan city, much less one that has been so subject to drastic change in recent years. Aside from the tragic pricing out of local watering hole Doctor’s Lounge last year, businesses and residents have not felt quite the same pressure from gentrification as the rest of the city *knocks on wood so vigorously that he splits his desk in half*.
But this little paradise isn’t just excellent because it has fought off the pressure of “New San Francisco”; even disregarding what is happening all throughout the Bay Area, it’s hard to argue there is a better place to live. According to the real estate website Zumper, the Excelsior has the lowest average monthly rent in all of San Francisco for 1-bedrooms, and is the only neighborhood that is still under 2,000 a month. Despite this, crime in the Excelsior sits at about city average, benefiting heavily from having stroller-laden Bernal Heights to act as a buffer between it and the Mission. And with easy access to the 14, 54, 43, 8, and Balboa Park Bart, getting anywhere else is easy. That’s if you want to leave, which is unlikely, as this neighborhood is equipped with all of the San Francisco requisites: A legit dive bar (The Broken Record), an upscale gastro-pub (The Dark Horse Inn), a solid sandwich shop (Calabria Bros), and a highly underrated and inarguably dank taqueria (Taqueria Guadalajara).
I don’t really know how the Excelsior got to this point, and to be honest, it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that the morning after those shiny new planter boxes had been installed, the ones with the succulents that screamed “this is the future site of a Google Bus stop”, they were filled with a thick layer of fresh garbage. Less than 24 hours after their installation, everything from candy wrappers to old Muni transfers had nestled in nicely with the new greenery. The Excelsior is defined by its grit and resilience, and that trash was a small but significant reminder that things aren’t going to change. At least not yet.