South of Market is a portrait of San Francisco's SoMa district just over 30 years ago.

At the time, it was a blue collar neighborhood.

Now it's home to many Silicon Valley companies.

But photographer Janet Delaney doesn't resent Silicon Valley's elite for invading San Francisco. She recognizes that it's a city of transplants, and this is simply the latest wave.

But she does resent the box stores that have hurt the diversity of the urban ecosystem.

Click here to preview the new Fast Company

Want to try out the new

If you’d like to return to the previous design, click the yellow button on the lower left corner.

What San Francisco Looked Like Before The Dot-Coms Invaded

South of Market is a provocative new photo book that’s 30 years of controversy in the making.

Facebook, Apple, and Google are making headlines for flooding San Francisco with highly paid laborers, driving up real estate prices while taking over public bus stops to privately shuttle employees out of town to work. Truth is, the culture clash between Silicon Valleyites and San Francisco locals has been going on for decades.

Nowhere is this better documented than in the new MACK photo book South of Market ($50), by photographer Janet Delaney. After moving to San Francisco’s South of Market (SoMa) district in 1978, she witnessed firsthand as her eclectic, blue collar neighborhood in the heart of the city gave way to the then-new Moscone Convention Center (which you probably know best these days for hosting Apple and Google events). From 1980 to 1982, she photographed her streets almost every week in documentation and protest—that was, until rent grew to high, and she relocated to the Mission District.

"There are still auto repair shops and some light industry," Delaney says of SoMa today. "But now they are side by side with fancy tattoo parlors, high-rise apartment complexes and warehouses converted to startup offices—and a whole block of big box stores like Costco and Bed Bath & Beyond."

More than 30 years later, her photographs are an incredible time capsule, painting San Francisco as an idyllic, if gritty, melting pot, decorated with leisure suits, big cars, and Pabst signs before Pabst was drank ironically. Meanwhile, in the periphery, steel beams emerge from the ground, signaling the first notes of change.

"For some the images in the book evoke a mythic past, idealized as a better place and time. That is not my goal," Delaney tells Co.Design. "I want this book to acknowledge how essential a sense of place is…[and that] the homogenization of a city through big box stores or a monoculture of any sort is not what makes cities dynamic. It is bad urban ecology."

Delaney isn't bitter about the latest influx of Silicon Valley’s elite. Rather, she sees them as any other San Franciscan immigrants, from the merchant marines of the 1930s, to the beat poets of the 1950s, to the flower children of the 1960s, to the gay men of the 1970s.

"Each new group creates its own dynamic in this rather small town," Delaney says. "As the tech work force gets a bit older, many will stay in the city and truly invest in it on all levels."

Already, Facebook and Google have given in to local pressure and begun paying for use of public bus stops. And it’s impossible to walk San Francisco’s streets—even in the heart of the Mission—and not feel the impressions of the Valley’s digital fingerprints. In this sense, you can’t judge Silicon Valley’s immigrants as being inherently less culturally significant than their predecessors without being judgmental yourself. Whether or not young, privileged coders prove to be as inclusive as the flower children of the '60s and the homosexuals of the '70s remains to be seen.

Learn more here.

[Hat tip: Mother Jones]

[Photos by Janet Delaney]

Add New Comment


  • Fahq Fas'buq

    The construction of Moscone Center heralded irrevocable change for South of Market. George Moscone himself opposed the construction of the convention center because it would cause mass displacement. After he was murdered, the City went ahead with the construction anyway, demolishing the many residence hotels and apartments in the area, and in an irony bitterer than hipsters' taste for Pabst, named the center for the slain mayor. This was back in the '70s, around the same time that the Port decided to scale back shipping and receiving to concentrate on tourism, due to an inability to compete with the booming ports in San Pedro and thereabouts. This led to an exodus of blue-collar jobs to the East Bay, as the industries supported by the Port fell like dominoes. When the dot-coms began buying up warehouse space South of Market, a lot of it had been sitting empty and derelict for a long time.

  • Beverage Mc

    Change is constant, but I like '88 better. Alas, I've yet to find a better place...

  • mmmpigsfeet

    people dont drink pabst ironically. its cheap. the whole hipster pabst thing is hackneyed . next.

  • Sete Amerioca

    The premise of the article's title is totally wrong. As a resident of SF before the first dot-com boom in the 90's I can tell you SF was not "invaded" by dot-coms. They were started there. SOMA was a run down part of the city. The startups went there because they could get office space cheap and because the warehouse space offered an informality enjoyed by the people working in what was a new industry.

    Furthermore the author's assertion that "Facebook and Google have given in to local pressure" is inaccurate. I"ve read other news sources that pointed out that those companies approached the city first but the city ignored them.

    San Francisco's problem is that it doesn't build new housing. The rich home owner don't want high rise apt. buildings next to their fancy victorian and edwardian homes.

    disclosure: I am not a silicon valley or SF tech. worker and I no longer live in the great city of San Francisco.

  • Stanley Manley

    Yup, I keep waiting to see Dirty Harry or Frank Bullitt somewhere in the shots.