View segment on Jacinta Vlach. Produced by Spark for This Week in Northern California. Original air date: February 2010. (Running Time: 6:35)
Inspired by the images and voices of San Francisco’s famed Fillmore District, with The Fillmore Project choreographer Jacinta Vlach and composer Howard Wiley reclaim the vanished heyday of the Western Addition neighborhood’s fabled jazz era and offer a glimpse into its future.
Known for such sharply evocative works as Animal Farm and Abjection in America, Vlach — a San Francisco native who trained at the North Carolina School of the Arts and the Alvin Ailey Dance Center — melds contemporary dance and idioms with issues of social justice and identity politics. A community activist and educator who has performed with dancemakers as diverse as Ronald K. Brown and Robert Moses, Vlach doesn’t shy away from tackling the tough questions that face modern audiences about race, gender, and politics.
Spark visits the dance studios where Vlach rehearses with members of her collective, the Liberation Dance Theater, and Wiley, an accomplished jazz saxophonist whose family once lived in the Fillmore. Photos, stories, music, and relics of the 1940s, when jazz greats like Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, and Etta James haunted the clubs along Fillmore Street, are all part of re creating the sense of a bygone community, a community that was erased and forcibly reengineered.
Once known as the “Harlem of the West,” the Fillmore district was home to a large African American community that migrated to the vacancies left by Japanese Americans interned during World War II. A push for urban renewal in the 1950s, though, led to the area’s being declared “blighted,” and in the 1960s, the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, under Justin Herman, marked 60 square blocks for demolition. Using the power of eminent domain, the city claimed houses and businesses, largely peopled by African American citizens, and either razed or uprooted and carted away the buildings, leaving open swaths of land, some of which remained empty for nearly 40 years.
Some 883 businesses were closed, 4,729 households were forced to leave, and 2,500 Victorian homes demolished, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Through the 1960s and 1970s, developers built low-income housing blocks and some storefronts, and on January 1, 2009, the $50 million redevelopment project — one of the largest urban renewal efforts on the West Coast — was declared completed. But despite the establishment of several jazz clubs, including Rasselas and Yoshi’s, as well as restaurants and businesses on and near the historic Fillmore Street, many residents continue to feel that the Western Addition has been left with only the shell of what had once been a vibrant, lively home for music, art, and community.
The Fillmore Project, both a tribute to the legacy of the Fillmore neighborhood and a view of its continuing struggle to reinvent itself, premieres at Yoshi’s as part of Fillmore Jazz Week in July 2010.