Harlem of the West

The San Francisco Fillmore Jazz Era

About Harlem of the West

San Francisco’s Fillmore District was once one of the most multi-cultural and vibrant entertainment neighborhoods west of the Mississippi. But by the 1960s, this community virtually vanished due to one of the largest redevelopment projects in the country. The story of the neighborhood was largely lost until the 2006 publication of the book “Harlem of the West: The San Francisco Fillmore Jazz Era,” (HOTW). Since then, the authors Elizabeth Pepin Silva and Lewis Watts have received numerous requests by the community, scholars, and schoolchildren, asking for access to the book’s full interviews and materials, and people within the community have come forward with new stories and photographs. In response, the HOTWSF Project has been launched.

The Harlem of the West SF Project includes three components:

  1. Book- In 2006, Chronicle Books published the first version of the book, “Harlem of the West: The San Francisco Fillmore Jazz Era.” A tiny website was launched and an exhibit was created from the materials gathered for that early book. Unfortunately, after two pressings, the book was put out of print. Responding to an ongoing demand, Pepin Silva and Watts decided to create a new edition of the book, adding in newly discovered photographs and memorabilia, as well as additional interviews with those who lived and played in the Fillmore at the height of its glory.
  2. Website- A new website has also been created so that anyone around the world can hear the entire recorded interviews of people featured in the book, plus view photographs and additional stories of the neighborhood. 
  3. Exhibit- The exhibition marks the return of the popular Harlem of the West exhibit. This exhibition was organized by the Museum of Performance & Design (MPD) and was originally displayed at MPD in 2006 in conjunction with the publication of a book of the same title from Chronicle Books. Curated by the book’s authors, Elizabeth Pepin Silva and Lewis Watts, the new exhibition features nearly sixty rare archival photographs of the Fillmore at its height in 1940s and 1950s, including photos inside of famed clubs such as Jimbo’s Bop City
The HOTWSF Project's goal is to enhance the general public’s understanding of how and why the Fillmore came to be and how redevelopment ended this thriving, integrated neighborhood. The Project is a platform for the Fillmore's musicians, nightclub owners and residents of the 1940s and 1950s to tell the neighborhood’s history in their own words, as well as feature rarely seen photographs and memorabilia. We hope that community members will continue to contact us and be able to contribute to the site, keeping it alive, relevant, and growing. Please email us if you have a story to tell, photographs to share, or can identify anyone in the photographs.