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Photographing the Beginning of the End of 'Old San Francisco'

Janet Delaney's "South of Market" series documents an early wave of the city's transformation—in the 1970s.
"David, Father Leo Joseph’s Roommate, 60 Langton Street, 1981"
"David, Father Leo Joseph’s Roommate, 60 Langton Street, 1981"Janet Delaney

Janet Delaney was a 26-year-old photography student when she arrived in San Francisco's South of Market neighborhood in 1978. Then, SoMa was still home to working-class immigrant families, small-business owners, artists, and a vibrant gay/leather community. With relatively low rents, "it had a long history of being a port of entry to the city," says Delaney. "There's a quote from one of my neighbors that I love: 'South of Market was a place where you could get yourself together.'"

But SoMa was already changing, as the city moved forward with decades-long plans to redevelop the area. The then-under-construction Moscone Center, a 700,000 square-foot convention-plex, attracted Delaney as a photographer interested in architectural forms. But as Delaney thought about the thousands of homes demolished to make way for the Center (which ultimately became the axis of the neighborhood's transformation), she soon focused her lens on her neighbors. Their existences in SoMa were in peril, too.