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Industrial San Francisco in the 1970s

"I was there..."

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Listen to an excerpt from "San Francisco Labor in the 1970s" read by author Jesse Drew:

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by mp3.


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Previous stop: Friday of the Purple Hand
Next Stop #4: Occupied Ohlone territory


San Francisco in 1970 still had a strong traditional blue-collar working class based in construction, transport, warehousing, food production, and manufacturing. It is hard to imagine today, but the Bay Area as a whole was still very much an industrial center, bustling with automobile and truck manufacturing, oil refining, canning, brewing, baking, ship repair, steel and smelting, and more. Large heavy industrial plants included American Can, Peterbilt Truck, Mack Truck, Caterpillar Tractor, International Harvester, Brockway Glass, Owens-Illinois, General Motors, Ford Motors, AAA Shipyards, and assorted iron and steel works.

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Hamm's Brewery, 1964, at 1550 Bryant Street.

Photo: San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library

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Rail cars at Bryant, Alameda, and Treat Streets, 1964, adjacent to Hamm's Brewery.

Photo: San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library

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Bryant and Alameda, former Twinkies factory (now Uhaul) at right), 2014.

Photo: Chris Carlsson

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Bryant and Alameda with #27 streetcar turning, 1930s.

Photo: C. R. collection

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Bryant Street MUNI Storeroom which stretches to Alameda (where the small tower indicates the Continental Bakery, home of the Twinkie in later years) and is visible in the two photos above, still in use in 2014, seen here in October 1928.

Photo: San Francisco Metropolitan Transportation Authority archives

Many sights, sounds, and smells of San Francisco from that decade no longer linger. In the 1970s freight trains still rolled stealthily through the streets of the Mission under cover of darkness, moving finished goods out and raw materials in. One could smell the cloying sweet smell of white bread, as union workers moved tens of thousands of loaves of Kilpatricks Bread from dough to ovens to market on 16th and South Van Ness. On foggy mornings, a thick corrosive mist of vinegar would descend over the vicinity of Best Foods on Florida Street, as union workers bottled mayonnaise and other condiments. Malt and hops steam from the beer breweries made one’s nose flare, as would the acrid, burnt smell of coffee roasting in the MJB and Hills Bros coffee factories in the South of Market.

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Hills Brothers coffee factory just north of the Bay Bridge, n.d.

Photo: San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library

In the early morning, shiny tanker trucks would block sidewalks with their hoses pumping syrup and chocolate into the side of the brick Hostess plant on Bryant, producing Twinkies and HoHos for the West Coast. Hundreds of workers clocked into the Schlage lock factory in Visitation Valley. Levi’s Jeans still had sewing operations in San Francisco. The bright lights of welding torches from the AAA Shipyards would flicker across from Mission Bay piers, where fisherman and happy-hour blue-collar workers would pry open Rainier Ale and Mickey’s wide mouths. Itinerant workers and bohemians could still try their luck in the ILWU hiring hall, vying to unload ships that tied up on the San Francisco docks.

by Jesse Drew, from his essay "San Francisco Labor in the 1970s, in the anthology "Ten Years That Shook the City: San Francisco 1968-78" (City Lights Foundation: 2011), edited by Chris Carlsson.

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