Social Heritage Initiatives

Cherry Blossom Festival_GEOS SF

Cherry Blossom Festival, Japantown. Photo: GEOS SF.


In a city undergoing tremendous cultural, social, and demographic changes, increasing rents and property values are pushing many long-time residents and businesses out of the city. While various communities throughout San Francisco are working to reverse this trend, significant progress cannot be made without a coordinated and concerted effort.

Conventionally focused on tangible architectural resources, in recent years the preservation field has begun to respond to calls from organized communities to develop meaningful methods for identifying and protecting intangible social and cultural resources. Recent surveys in San Francisco’s Japantown and Western South of Market (SoMa), as well as landmark nominations for such businesses as the Gold Dust Lounge and the Eagle Tavern, have indicated the necessity for a new and inclusive framework for understanding and conserving local heritage. The San Francisco Planning Department has undertaken several efforts to define and develop programs for preserving social and cultural heritage. The Department provides this working definition of the term:

Save Marcus Books (Steve Rhodes, Flickr)

Supporters of Marcus Books rally to save the historic business, a cornerstone of San Francisco’s African American community. Photo: Steve Rhodes/Flickr.

Social and cultural heritage resources, both tangible and intangible, help define the beliefs, customs, and practices of a particular community. Such social and cultural heritage resources include buildings and monuments as well as businesses, institutions, organizations, events and traditional arts, crafts, and practices. They are rooted in the community’s history and/or are important in maintaining its identity. (Memo from the Planning Department to the Historic Preservation Commission and Planning Commission from November 20, 2012)

Community Summit: “Sustaining San Francisco’s Living History”


The Palabuniyan Kulintang Ensemble performs at “Sustaining San Francisco’s Living History.” Photo: Heritage staff.

On June 15, 2013, Heritage hosted its first community summit to address concerns over the loss of social heritage resources. The goal of the summit was to initiate an inclusive dialogue within the broader community of San Francisco regarding the documentation, interpretation, and promotion of the city’s diverse social and cultural heritage and to create a platform for developing new policy and partnerships.

Keynote presenter Darlene Rios Drapkin of Urban Transformation discussed lessons from the Main Street program in culturally diverse neighborhoods in the Bay Area. Other speakers included representatives from the Alliance for California Traditional ArtsChinatown Community Development CenterFilipino American Development FoundationGellert Family Business Resource Center(USF), Japantown Organizing CommitteeLower 24th Streets Merchants Association, San Francisco Latino Historical Society, San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development’s “Invest in Neighborhoods” initiative, San Francisco Planning Department, and the Small Business Commission. Special guest Supervisor Jane Kim provided opening remarks.

The summit was made possible with generous support from the California Office of Historic Preservation and the San Francisco Planning Department.

Community Presentations

Presentations from community leaders outlining current social heritage practices are now available online. To view a PDF, please click on the name of the neighborhood below.


View of 24th Street in the Mission District. Photo: Heritage staff.

Bayview: Clyde Colen (Sam Jordan’s Bar) and Mary Brown (Planning Department)
Chinatown: Angelina Yu (Chinatown Community Development Center)
Japantown: Robert Hamaguchi (Japantown Task Force), Shelley Caltagirone (Planning Department), and Jonathan Lammers (Planning Department)
South of Market: MC Canlas (Filipino American Development Foundation)