Eureka Valley-Dolores Heights is primarily a quiet affluent residential neighborhood, which includes the famous Castro and Liberty Hill sub-districts. This neighborhood is bordered by the Church Street on the east, 22nd Street on the south, Twin Peaks on the west and Market Street on the north.
Eureka Valley was originally part of an 1846 land grant to Jose Jesus Noe, the last Mexican alcalde of San Francisco. Noe sold off portions of his over 4,400-acre ranch in the 1840s and 1850s, but it was not until several decades later when the land was subdivided into lots and residential development started. An installation of the cable car line in 1887 provided the spur that kicked off the residential construction – primarily small wood-frame cottages and two-story flats. Eureka Valley escaped destruction in the 1906 Earthquake and fire, mostly because the fires were stopped at Dolores Street. After the 1906 earthquake, thousands of earthquake refugees began purchasing lots and erecting cottages and flats in the area. The momentum continued after the completion of Twin Peaks Tunnel in 1918 and the Municipal Railway's J Church streetcar line in 1917.
For almost a century this neighborhood was mainly a working-class, family oriented community primarily occupied by the Scandinavians, Irish and Germans who established homes, farms and small businesses in the area. From 1910 on, the neighborhood was largely known as “Little Scandinavia” owing its name to a large number of residents of Finnish, Danish, Norwegian and Swedish ancestry. The 1930s brought an influx of Irish, Italian and other foreign settlers, with the area gradually becoming a mixed working class neighborhood.
Changes came in the first two decades during and after World War II. The U.S. military dishonorably discharged thousands of gay servicemen from the Pacific Theater in San Francisco during World War II because of their sexuality. Many settled in San Francisco, establishing gay community in many areas including Polk Street, the Tenderloin and south of Market Street. The 1950s saw large amounts of families moving out of the Castro to the suburbs to take advantage of the newer and roomier housing, leaving behind large amounts of properties, including large Victorian houses and creating attractive locations for gay purchasers. In San Francisco, this migration was fueled by the loss of the blue-collar jobs when commercial activity at the port of San Francisco declined and manufacturing jobs left for suburban industrial parks.
The Castro’s rise as a gay mecca began during the late 1960s with the Summer of Love in the neighboring Haight-Ashburry district in 1967. The two neighborhoods are separated by a large mountain, topped by Buena Vista Park. The hippie and free love movements had fostered communal living and free society ideas. The 1967 gathering brought tens of thousands of middle-class youth from all over the United States to the Haight which saw its own exodus when well-organized individuals and collectives started to see the Castro as a safe oasis from the massive influx. As a result, in the 1970s, the gay community created an upscale and fashionable urban center now primarily known as the Castro District, named after the landmark theater by that name near the corner of Castro and Market Streets, mostly concentrated in the business district that is located on Castro Street from Market Street to 19th Street, extending down Market Street toward Church Street and from Church Street to Eureka Street.
The activism of the 60s and 70s forged a community with sizable political and economic power. There were, however, tense and sometimes violent clashes with the police, and the assassination in 1978 of openly gay San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk was a turning point in the community's history. Milk's death and the impact of AIDS brought the community together and made activists of almost everyone, the Castro became not just open but celebratory about its thriving gay and lesbian population.
Today, the Castro is a bustling neighborhood with great restaurants and busy nightlife. While its population is still heavily gay, the changing times – gays now feel more accepted and free to live where they choose in San Francisco – brought an influx of straights, primarily families with young children who like the sense of community and who feel safe here.
Dolores Heights is a hilly neighborhood named after Dolores Heights, a hill within the neighborhood. It borders The Castro to the north, Dolores Park to the east, Noe Valley to the south, and Upper Market to the west. Parts of it are so steep that the Muni Metro J Church line has to be routed through Dolores Park and into the Liberty Hill area before rejoining Church Street in Noe Valley at 22nd street.
Many streets within Dolores Heights are dead-end cul-de-sucs connected by steep staircases with beautiful views. As a result, the area has become a favorite for morning boot camps. It is an affluent and quiet neighborhood with a mixture of Victorians, apartment buildings, and detached houses. Benefiting from Twin Peaks blocking the strong winds and fog found almost year-round in San Francisco, Dolores Heights remain relatively warm, sunny and fog-free.
Liberty Hill is another sub-district in Eureka Valley-Dolores Heights neighborhood (with a slight overlap into the Inner Mission) deserving a separate mention. Liberty Hill Historic District is bound by the 20th, Mission, Dolores, and 22nd streets and contains some of the most intact historic residential blocks in San Francisco. This area offers tremendous views and one-of-a-kind residences.
The significance of the district goes back to nineteen century when it essentially became one of the earliest residential suburbs of San Francisco, with development starting the 1860s and continuing until the turn of the century. Its Victorian houses, set back from the street with their front and rear gardens, enhance the suburban feel and provide fine examples of middle-class residential housing in the late 19th century. Liberty Street and Hill Street offer a wonderful display of Victorian residences – see, for instance, 45,49,58 and 70 Liberty Street as well as 34 and 69 Hill Street, with a few more located along Guerrero Street (e.g. 827, 845, 900 and 915 Guerrero Street).
Almost 70% of the 293 buildings in the Liberty Hill district are Victorian, with 42% being Italianate, 20% - Stick and 8% - Queen Anne styles (for the summary of San Francisco’s architectural styles please refer to the corresponding section of this website). The area still retains a suburban feel, with lots of street plantings and some houses on Fair Oaks Street set back so far they have full-on front yards.
The Eureka Valley-Dolores Heights neighborhood has an average Walk score of 96 and average Transit score of 92.
The below links provide further details on these neighborhoods and their attractions: http://www.sfgate.com/neighborhoods/sf/castro/ (The Castro);
http://www.sfcityguides.org/desc.html?tour=48 (Liberty Hill).
The content displayed above was partially derived from a book by Rand Richards “Historic Walks in San Francisco. 18 Trails Through the City’s Past” as well as