The Performant: Whose story?

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Sifting through the past at The SF History Expo

If history is a tale written by the victors, one wonders who San Francisco’s victors are. A chimeral concept as much as a destination, represented by a Phoenix rising from its own destruction, San Francisco has been lauded as a land of opportunity and “the city that knows how,” and detracted as “ingrown (and) self-obsessed,” a “golden handcuff,” and a “Babylon-by-the-Bay” ever since it surfaced in the national consciousness. A city where eccentrics are celebrated, “family values” extend beyond heteronormativity, and the very real threat of natural disaster colors the mundane with an idealized wash of importance.

This past weekend, the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society’s SF History Expo offered a gateway to the various and colliding stories of San Francisco for people interested in delving into what lies below the surface of the present day, assembling around forty exhibitors and presenters in once spot, to confab, to network, to recruit, and to educate.

Held in San Francisco’s Old Mint, built in 1874 and a rare survivor of the 1906 earthquake, just wandering around the building is a rare treat. The lower level is a veritable warren of small rooms, former vaults with ominously heavy doors, slippery stone floors, old graffiti, and no ventilation, situated off a long brick corridor lined with gas lamps.

Upstairs the rooms are larger, airier, with high ceilings and plenty of light streaming in through large windows, encircling a rather bleak courtyard like a prison exercise yard with high sandstone walls. Crowded with exhibitors, the smallish rooms overflowed with maps, pamphlets, sepia-toned photographs, and glass cases of ephemera,

In a central room, folks from Actions Past in period dress gave demonstrations of Victorian parlor arts, while down the hall the volunteers from the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park encouraged people to hoist the mainsail on a scale model of historic scow schooner the Alma. At one end of the hall, four neighborhood historical societies from Portrero, Bernal, Visitacion Valley, and the “Western Neighborhoods” (including the faraway lands of the Sunset and the Outer Richmond) shared one room, while on the opposite end the “Guardians of the City,” a historical society dedicated to the Police and Fire departments, rubbed elbows with proponents of “alternative” histories, Shaping San Francisco/FoundSF and Thinkwalks.

Despite this welcome nod to the stories of the typically underrepresented, it did highlight the fact that of all the neighborhood and community historians in attendance, there was hardly a radical element to be found. To be fair, organizations such as the Chinese Historical Society and the GLBT Historical Society did have tables, so the event wasn’t completely devoid of more-than-geographic diversity, but it still could have used a few more nods to the Tenderloin, the Bayview, the Fillmore—or even just a single Sister of Perpetual Indulgence in Victorian drag.

Still, the value of assembling so many various stories under one roof shouldn’t be underestimated. If we consider history not as a static and one-sided document, but a constantly evolving perspective, then the opportunity to compare and contrast a variety of viewpoints has to start somewhere, and who better to spearhead the conversation than a roomful of enthusiasts each advocating the awareness and preservation of a different one?

Most important and interesting to the conversation was probably the attendance of so many amateur historians who gathered around each exhibit to share their personal perspectives on the overviews being offered. One hopes that their contributions to the collective chronicle will not go uncollected, so that future voices will not go unheard.

Comments

Hi, thanks for sharing.

Posted by used handphone on Apr. 11, 2013 @ 3:56 pm

Gallagher has a good point -- let's see more articles telling about events ahead of time! And list all of the groups that participated. And let everyone know that most of these folks give of their own time and funds to produce exhibits and to be at the Expo. If anyone is concerned that a group was left out, we challenge them to develop their own exhibit for next year -- and join the fun!
Here are the groups that worked hard to provide exhibits and education to the public for free:
• Actions Past
• Art Deco Society of California
• Bernal History Project
• California Audiovisual Preservation Project
• California Genealogical Society
• California Historical Society
• Chinese Historical Society of America
• Crossroads Irish American History Archive
• Friends of the Cable Car Museum
• Friends of the National Maritime Museum Library
• GLBT Historical Society
• Golden Gate National Recreation Area
• Golden Gate Park Preservation Alliance
• Greek Historical Society of the San Francisco Bay Area
• Guardians of the City
• Henry W. Coil Library & Museum of Freemasonry
• Hysterical Historical San Francisco
• Living New Deal Project
• Market Street Railway
• National Japanese American Historical Society
• Native Daughters of the Golden West
• Potrero Hill Archives Project
• Presidio Historical Society
• San Francisco Architectural Heritage
• San Francisco Bay Area Jewish Genealogy Society
• San Francisco City Guides
• San Francisco Environmental History/EPA
• San Francisco History Association
• San Francisco History Center/San Francisco Public Library
• San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park Association
• San Francisco Media Archive
• SF Genealogy
• SF Ocean Edge
• Shaping San Francisco/FoundSF.org
• Telegraph Hill Dwellers
• Thinkwalks
• Treasure Island Museum Association
• USS Hornet Museum
• The Victorian Alliance of San Francisco
• Visitacion Valley History Project
• Wells Fargo
• Western Neighborhoods Project

Posted by Golden Gate Park Preservation Alliance on Mar. 07, 2013 @ 4:05 pm

The History Expo is an event put on by the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society, custodians of the Old Mint, they are largely responsible for what groups appear there. As for neighborhood histories, the groups you mentioned are entirely run on volunteer basis and only a few, Western Neighborhoods Project included, have actual non-profit status. They were started by interested individuals who want to tell the story of their respective neighborhoods. Some run part time out of people's homes, some have actual offices, some exist primarily on the internet, but all have lively, informed, and dedicated individuals giving their time to telling San Francisco's story.

I'd say that the reason areas like the Bayview, Tenderloin, Fillmore, heck, why not include Portola, Haight-Ashbury, Western Addition, Noe Valley, Hunters Point, even the Mission District don't have representation at the History Expo is that no individuals have come forward to create groups to tell their story. Believe me, I got asked repeatedly where the table was for every one of those neighborhoods and I told people that guessed it was up to them to get one for next year.

Any of the groups involved would be happy lend their expertise to any individuals wanting to start such a group.

One thing I love about the History Expo is that it lets people know that there are others out there who are interested in neighborhood history and there is a value to sharing what you know about the City we love. I was there for 7 hours each day, gave up my weekend, but heck, I'm a zealot. I was happy to do it, sharing what I know and learning new things the whole time. (and thanks, by the way, for picturing "Fat Boy" here, the other 363 days a year he stands right behind my desk)

I just wish you had written an article a week or two ago about upcoming the History Expo and helped us make it better, rather than writing a review of the shortcomings after the fact.

Posted by David Gallagher on Mar. 07, 2013 @ 3:23 pm

The History Expo is an event put on by the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society, custodians of the Old Mint, they are largely responsible for what groups appear there. As for neighborhood histories, the groups you mentioned are entirely run on volunteer basis and only a few, Western Neighborhoods Project included, have actual non-profit status. They were started by interested individuals who want to tell the story of their respective neighborhoods. Some run part time out of people's homes, some have actual offices, some exist primarily on the internet, but all have lively, informed, and dedicated individuals giving their time to telling San Francisco's story.

I'd say that the reason areas like the Bayview, Tenderloin, Fillmore, heck, why not include Portola, Haight-Ashbury, Western Addition, Noe Valley, Hunters Point, even the Mission District don't have representation at the History Expo is that no individuals have come forward to create groups to tell their story. Believe me, I got asked repeatedly where the table was for every one of those neighborhoods and I told people that guessed it was up to them to get one for next year.

Any of the groups involved would be happy lend their expertise to any individuals wanting to start such a group.

One thing I love about the History Expo is that it lets people know that there are others out there who are interested in neighborhood history and there is a value to sharing what you know about the City we love. I was there for 7 hours each day, gave up my weekend, but heck, I'm a zealot. I was happy to do it, sharing what I know and learning new things the whole time. (and thanks, by the way, for picturing "Fat Boy" here, the other 363 days a year he stands right behind my desk)

I just wish you had written an article a week or two ago about upcoming the History Expo and helped us make it better, rather than writing a review of the shortcomings after the fact.

Posted by David Gallagher on Mar. 07, 2013 @ 3:22 pm

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