Harlem of the West 1940-1950, Mural by Mel Waters, 2014.” Photo: Jay Galvin

November 5, 2018; San Francisco Chronicle

For at least five years, NPQ has been reporting on the impact on nonprofits of skyrocketing real estate prices in San Francisco (see here, here, and here.) So, it’s encouraging to see a large public space—the Fillmore Heritage Center—being reactivated by two nonprofits, with an assist from the city’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development.

On November 5th, the center reopened its doors after sitting vacant for about three years. Two nonprofits, the New Community Leadership Foundation (NCLF), based in the city’s Black community and the San Francisco Housing Development Corp., are leading a six-month pilot program to bring “live music, community events, and housing and financial empowerment workshops to the sprawling building, on Fillmore Street south of Geary Boulevard.”

The space has struggled through its past lives, including two iterations as a jazz club. The neighborhood surrounding the center has long been known as “the Harlem of the West,” with its many jazz clubs and Black-owned businesses. But those clubs and businesses need a spark to remain successful, and those involved with the project are hoping the re-opened center will provide that spark.

In October 2017, NCLF issued a news release describing its goals for the center:

The New Community Leadership Foundation (NCLF), an African American-led 501c3 community organization, announced today that it is accepting applications for founding members of the Fillmore Heritage Center Oversight Board (FHCOB) to monitor the sale of the property and protect the rights of the stakeholders that the Fillmore Heritage Center was intended to serve. Applications will be accepted from November 2nd-December 4th, 2017.

“This community has suffered for decades since the City’s ‘redevelopment’ projects displaced thousands of African Americans and destroyed countless black-owned businesses,” says NCLF Vice President, Lily Robinson. “We were told that the Fillmore Heritage Center would be an anchor point for rebuilding our neighborhood economy. We expect and demand for that to happen.”

San Francisco District Five Supervisor Vallie Brown is optimistic that the two nonprofits will turn the space into an economic and cultural anchor for the neighborhood. David Sobel, executive director of the San Francisco Housing Development Corp., says the group intends to help local residents to access on-site counselors, as well as provide workshops on renting, credit repair, rental readiness, and first-time homebuying. Sobel notes, “For us, it is as simple as doing the right thing for the Fillmore community, and ensuring that there are arts and entertainment and food and culture.” Those amenities will largely be developed by NCLF.

Meanwhile, city leaders will be watching closely to see if the two nonprofits can deliver on their promises. Joaquin Torres, director of the Office of Economic and Workforce Development, had this to say: “We want to see something active, not just for its own sake, but for a greater purpose. It’s thrilling to have the doors open and the lights on, and people to benefit.”—Eileen Cunniffe