As a lindy hopper and a jazz enthusiast living in San Francisco, I am embarrassed about how little I know about the historic Fillmore District. In the 1940s and 1950s this area was known as the “Harlem of the West” because of the large number of Black-owned businesses, particularly supper clubs, dance halls, and after-hours jazz session spots. With names like Bop City, Club Alabam and the New Orleans Swing Club, you could catch live jazz, blues and rhythm&blues from Friday evening straight to Monday morning.
I just finished Harlem of the West by Elizabeth Pepin and Lewis Watts, a large-format book full of fond remembrances of the Fillmore District during that time from people who lived through it. The book is crammed full of incredible photos from the era, images of a time when Black men wore suits and hats and women sported elegant dresses for a festive night out.
While I really enjoyed the book, I wanted to know more about the dance styles and practices of that time. I presume people were dancing some version of lindy hop. But how did they learn, who were the prominent dancers, how integrated was the dance scene? So many questions.
Some of my favorite photos from the book.
Next stop for me is the KQED documentary about the neighborhood that was produced a few years ago. I think I might have some connections over there….
2 thoughts on ““The Harlem of the West”: Learning about the Fillmore District”
Floyd Dixon mentions the Primalon (Ballroom) and its address in his 1950 b-side “San Francisco Blues”
Thank you, Barry. How did you find this? My grandparents owned the Primalon Ballroom