4400 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94112

The 1930s Excelsior afforded a virtual trip across the world in a matter of minutes: streets with names such as Paris, Lisbon, and Madrid—conjured by developer Emanuel Lewis to lure families from smaller, inner-city dwellings—lined the hill. (Other international street names, including China and Japan, were changed to Avalon and Excelsior following anti-Asian sentiment in the late nineteenth century that gave rise to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.) On the model, the neighborhood is in its infancy, with empty lots and blocks leading up to John McLaren Park. Visible is the Jewish Home of San Francisco at Silver and Mission Streets, originally built as a two-story Victorian in 1871 and rebuilt in 1923 in a Georgian Revival style designed by Samuel Lightner Hyman; it is now undergoing a massive expansion and renovation as part of the San Francisco Campus for Jewish Living. Also visible is the Granada Theater, built in 1922 in Italian Renaissance style, complete with murals, and closed in 1982.

Not visible is Islais Creek, which began at the intersection of Cayuga Avenue and Regent Street before being diverted into a culvert and covered by San Jose Avenue and Alemany Boulevard, and eventually Interstate 280. The model also reveals nothing of the Excelsior’s legacy as one of the last vestiges of working-class San Francisco: the Germans, Irish, and Italian immigrants who filled the neighborhood in the 1880s have given way to predominantly Latino and Asian communities today. Excelsior means “ever upward” in Latin, reflecting the American dream that has brought so many people to build their lives and communities in one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the city.

Historical Photos

All photos courtesy of the San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library.

Scale Model Installation Photos

All photos courtesy of Beth LaBerge.

Neighborhood Mixtape

Branch Events

February 12th, 2019: Yes, I Live Here!

February 16th, 2019: Build It: Lego City

February 19th, 2019: Reading the Model at Excelsior