Our class had the chance to speak to the author of “Cool Gray City of Love: 49 Views of San Francisco,” Gary Kamiya. I was able to ask him questions about North Beach, specifically, how North Beach has changed since he last moved to San Francisco in 1971 and how he feels the North Beach is doing in preserving it’s Italian heritage.
Kamiya came to San Francisco in 1971 during what he calls the “tits and ass” era of North Beach. He explained how topless joints entered North Beach trampling the fun loving, easy going mixture of entertainment.
“North Beach has changed a lot,” he said. “North beach has been getting less and less Italian for four decades or more, probably since the 60s. It’s an organic evolution of a neighborhood.”
When Kamiya says North Beach has gone through an “organic evolution” he means how the Italians, who didn’t live in the nicest places in North Beach, were not pushed out of North Beach, but instead decided to move out to the suburbs instead. They moved out and the Chinese started to move in.
He says that when he moved to San Francisco, there were still Italians in the area, as his friend told him that every bank in North Beach had to have one teller that spoke Italian at the time. Though in the last 40 to 50 years Chinese influence crossed in and that there were definitely some Italians that moved into San Francisco, but the great Italian stronghold in North Beach is gone.
He says he doesn’t believe the city is doing much about preserving the Italian culture in North Beach like it may be doing for the Fillmore with its Jazz culture.
In his book Kamiya states, “The holy trinity of cheap sex, sketchy bars, and low rents have always attracted writers and artists, and North Beach and environs, in particular its southern edge, became San Francisco’s artistic quarter.”
North Beach known to be associated with the Beats era. Though North Beach has changed, it still is a neighborhood filled with artists and writers.
It was interesting to hear Kamiya talk about how his book came to be by exploring every square grid of San Francisco. For someone like me, who is new to the area, it was interesting to hear him talk in depth about the different parts of this amazing city.