When planning a trip to San Francisco, the Richmond district probably isn’t the first or even third location on your list of places to go. It is often brushed over as a residential area, but the different layers of the Richmond offer different looks into a neighborhood that has grown from originally being a community of Russian, Irish and then Chinese immigrants.
Outer Richmond stretches from the Pacific Ocean to Park Presidio and is sandwiched between Golden Gate Park and the Presidio, although often foggy its charm lies in the hyperlocal shops and cafes. Unlike the Inner Richmond, on the other side of Park Presidio, the Outer Richmond caters specifically to its residents and not tourists, i.e. the reason you won’t find many tourists here. Family and or one-man cafes are frequent here and the rolling hills of endless houses pictured on San Francisco post cards are replicated among the neighborhoods in this district.
The Inner Richmond is closer to downtown and with its array of restaurants and bars, clearly feels more like a big city. The Inner Richmond starts on the right side of Park Presidio and ends before Fillmore Street, and although it’s still a mainly residential area, walk three blocks in any direction and not only will the look of the houses change, but so will the language you hear around you.
A bit of history on the Richmond:
Originally developed in the late 19th century the Richmond only really began booming with residential housing after the 1906 Earthquake. Since then Russian, Chinese, and Irish immigrants have filled the neighborhood with the diversity that still exists today. A neighborhood that gathers together for a farmers market every Sunday and according to Seedstore Owner Jennifer Huie, “It’s safe and it feels like a community. You know all your neighbors.”
“Just the people and the pockets of diversity,” said Sergeant Lee of SFPD when asked about his favorite part of the Richmond. SGT Lee is not only stationed in the Richmond but he also grew up there and recalled always loving the diversity it held. A common feeling shared with the other Richmond residents I spoke to.
“I love how eclectic it is and how there are so many different cultural aspects..It’s kinda like its own city,” said Sophie Wasacz a 20 year resident of the Richmond.
On Geary Street, the busiest street of the district, the combination of old and new, east and west blend effortlessly. The cuisines range from Dim Sum, to Korean BBQ, to Mediterranean, to Italian, to Ethiopian and back and all fight for a spot in the most popular part of the neighborhood. Temples and churches of almost every kind can be found on Geary Street and the number of buses that are constantly stopping to pick people up create the background noise of the Richmond.
Along with the restaurants are the random furniture stores, bookstores, flower shops, ice cream parlors, and everything else that makes a great neighborhood. While some shops give the appearance of being popular community hubs, others have seen better days, but all coexist in a frenzy of cultures. Although all of these elements might seem like they clash, they fit together in a way that no other district can make them. After seeing a Chinese Medicine Clinic I happened upon the Internet Archive, a non-profit organization that records such things as web pages and online music and books. Later I drank boba from a little cafe on Geary and then ate Thai food and donuts on Clement street.
“There’s a lot of community involvement,” said Tomika Anderson, Manager of Administration at Internet Archive.
“A fair amount of teachers bring their students,” agreed Christopher Butler, the Office Manager at Internet Archive.
Despite the Richmond having a reputation as a family oriented district only 23 percent of the residents in Outer Richmond and 21 percent of the residents in Inner Richmond have families with children according to the American Community Survey 2005-2009.
Although the majority of the Richmond community is not children, there are well over 10 schools throughout the district and many more ways to connect residents within the community no matter their age. Richmond/Senator Milton Marks Branch Library, a public library built in 2009, which offers the Richmond community, adult computer classes, preschool storytime and other activities that bring the community closer together.
“We have a lot of collections in English, Chinese, and Russian so we mostly serve those communities,” said Richmond/Senator Milton Marks Branch Library employee Dorothy Kimmel. Although a libraries tend to attract families, Kimmel said that the library usually mostly serves seniors and displaced people.
The Richmond also includes a YMCA.
“Every Y serves a type of community, this one is more family and the elderly.” said YMCA employee Antonina Belorusets.
Overall, my sample of the Richmond district provided me a look into the appreciation that so many people have for the district. The worst I heard about the district was that it was “underappreciated” and “kind of out of the way” said Cole Rayo from Green Apple Books. But even that could be a compliment to the effortless intersectionality of cultures and people that populate the Richmond.