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]


About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started, a simple way to give back every day.