"SoMa" redirects here. For the SoMa in Vancouver, see South Main. For the Roach & Rich album, see Soma (Steve Roach & Robert Rich album).
South of Market
Neighborhood of San Francisco

Buildings in the South of Market neighborhood
Nickname(s): SoMa
South of Market
South of Market
Location within Central San Francisco

Coordinates: 37°46′38″N 122°24′40″W / 37.77722°N 122.41111°W / 37.77722; -122.41111Coordinates: 37°46′38″N 122°24′40″W / 37.77722°N 122.41111°W / 37.77722; -122.41111

 • Board of Supervisors Jane Kim
 • State Assembly Tom Ammiano (D)
 • State Senate Mark Leno (D)
 • U.S. House Nancy Pelosi (D)
 • Total 2.07 km2 (0.800 sq mi)
 • Land 2.07 km2 (0.800 sq mi)
Population (2008)[1]
 • Total 10,490
 • Density 5,063/km2 (13,113/sq mi)
ZIP Code 94103
Area code(s) 415

South of Market (or SoMa) is a relatively large neighborhood in San Francisco, California, United States located just south of Market Street and contains several sub-neighborhoods including South Beach, Mission Bay and Rincon Hill.

Name and location

Its boundaries are Market Street to the northwest, San Francisco Bay to the northeast, Mission Creek to the southeast, and Division Street, 13th Street and U.S. Route 101 (Central Freeway) to the southwest.[2] It is the part of the city in which the street grid runs parallel and perpendicular to Market Street. The neighborhood contains many smaller neighborhoods such as South Park, Yerba Buena,[3] South Beach, and Financial District South (part of the Financial District), and overlaps with several others, notably Mission Bay, and the Mission District.

As with many neighborhoods, the precise boundaries of the South of Market area are fuzzy and can vary widely depending on the authority cited. From 1848 until the construction of the Central Freeway in the 1950s, 9th Street (formerly known as Johnston Street) was the official (and generally recognized) boundary between SoMa and the Mission District.[4][5] Since the 1950s, the boundary has been either 10th Street,[6] 11th Street,[7] or the Central Freeway. Similarly, the entire Mission Bay neighborhood is sometimes counted as part of SoMa,[8] sometimes not. Excluding the entire Mission Bay neighborhood puts the southeastern boundary at Townsend. Redevelopment agencies, social services agencies and community activists frequently exclude the more prosperous areas between the waterfront and 3rd Street. Some social services agencies and nonprofits count the economically distressed area around 6th, 7th, and 8th streets as part of the Mid-Market Corridor.

The terms "South of Market" and "SoMa" refer to both a comparatively large district of the city[9] as well as a much smaller neighborhood.[10] The smaller neighborhood apparently consists of the largest contiguous portion of the South of Market area that, at any given point in time, is in the early stages of gentrification, and still retains much of the older character of the larger district.

While many San Franciscans refer to the neighborhood by its full name, South of Market, there is a trend to shorten the name to SOMA or SoMa, probably in reference to SoHo (South of Houston) in New York City, and, in turn, Soho in London.

Before being called South of Market this area was called "South of the Slot", a reference to the cable cars that ran up and down Market along a slot through which they attached to the cables. While the cable cars have long since disappeared from Market Street, some "old timers" still refer to this area as "South of the Slot".[7]

Since 1847, the official name of the South of Market area has been the "100 Vara Survey" (alternately "100 Vara District") or simply "100 Vara" for short (with "100" sometimes spelled out). Since the mid-20th century,[11] the official name has been gradually forgotten, and today is found mainly in history books, legal documents,[12] title deeds, and civil engineering reports.[13]


In 1847 Washington A. Bartlett, alcalde of the pueblo (village) of San Francisco, commissioned surveyor Jasper O'Farrell to extend the boundaries of the pueblo in a southerly direction by creating a new subdivision. At the time, the streets of San Francisco were aligned (approximately) with the compass points, running north to south, or east to west. Each block was divided into six lots 50 varas on a side. (A vara is about 33 inches.) O'Farrell decided that the streets in the new subdivision should run parallel with or perpendicular to the only existing road in the area, Mission Road (later Mission Street), and thus be aligned with the half-points of the compass, i.e., northeast to southwest, and northwest to southeast. O'Farrell also decided to make the new blocks twice as long and twice as wide, with each lot 100 varas on a side. Finally, O'Farrell created "a grand promenade" linking the old pueblo with the new subdivision, Market Street.[14] Since then, downtown San Francisco north of Lower Market Street has been officially known as 50 Vara, while the South of Market area is officially known as 100 Vara.[11]

During the mid-19th century, SOMA became a burgeoning pioneer community, largely low-density residential, except for a business district that developed along 2nd and 3rd streets, and emerging industrial areas near the waterfront. Rincon Hill became an enclave for the wealthy, while nearby South Park became an enclave for the upper middle class.[15] By the early 20th century, heavy industrial development due to its proximity to the docks of San Francisco Bay, with the advent of cable cars, had driven the wealthy over to Nob Hill and points west, as the neighborhood became a largely working-class and lower-middle-class community of recent European immigrants, sweatshops, power stations, flophouses, and factories.

The 1906 earthquake completely destroyed the area, as many of the quake's fatalities occurred there. Following the quake, the area was rebuilt with wider than usual streets, as the focus was towards the development of light to heavy industry. The construction of the Bay Bridge and the U.S. Route 101 during the 1930s saw large swaths of the area demolished including most of the original Rincon Hill.

From the late 19th century to the mid-20th century, the South of Market area was served by several streetcar lines owned by the Market Street Railway Company, including the No. 14 Mission Street electric railway line, the No. 27 Bryant Street line, the 28 Harrison, 35 Howard, 36 Folsom, 41 Second and Market, and the No. 42 First and Fifth Street line.[16]

Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, South of Market was home not only to warehousing and light industry, but also to a sizable population of transients, seamen, other working men living in hotels, and a working-class residential population in old Victorian buildings in smaller side streets and alleyways giving it a "skid row" reputation.[17]

The waterfront redevelopment of the Embarcadero in the 1950s pushed a new population into this area in the 1960s, the incipient gay community, and the leather community in particular. From 1962 until 1982, the gay community grew and thrived throughout South of Market, most visibly along Folsom Street. This community had been active in resisting the City's ambitious redevelopment program for the area throughout the 1970s. But as the AIDS epidemic unfolded in the 1980s, the ability of this community to stand up to downtown and City Hall was dramatically weakened. The crisis became an opportunity for the City (in the name of public health) to close bathhouses and regulate bars---businesses that had been the cornerstone of the community's efforts to maintain a gay space in the South of Market neighborhood.[17]

In 1984, as these spaces for gay community were rapidly closing, a coalition of housing activists and community organizers started the Folsom Street Fair, in order to enhance the visibility of the community at a time when people in City Hall and elsewhere were apt to think it had gone away. The fair also provided a means for much-needed fundraising, and create opportunities for members of the leather community to connect to services and vital information (e.g., regarding safer sex) which bathhouses and bars might otherwise have been ideally situated to distribute.[17]

Redevelopment plans were first planned in 1953. These plans began to be realized in the late 1970s and in the early 1980s with the construction of the conference center, Moscone Center, which occupies three blocks and hosts many major trade shows. Moscone South opened its doors in December 1981. Moscone North opened in May 1992, and most recently Moscone West in June 2003.

With the opening of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1995, the Mission and Howard Street area of the South of Market has become a hub for museums and performances spaces.

The area has long been home to bars and nightclubs. During the 1980s and 1990s, some of the warehouses there served as the home to the city's budding underground rave, punk, and independent music scene. However, in recent decades, and mostly due to gentrification and rising rents, these establishments have begun to cater to an upscale and mainstream clientele that subsequently pushed out the underground musicians and its scene. Beginning in the 1990s, older housing stock has been joined by loft-style condominiums, many of which were built under the cover of "live-work" development ostensibly meant to maintain a studio arts community in San Francisco. During the late 1990s, the occupant of the "live-work" loft was more likely to be a "dot-commie", as South of Market became a local center of the dot-com boom, due to its central location, space for infill housing development, and spaces readily converted into offices.[18]

A major transformation of the neighborhood was planned during the 2000s with the Transbay Terminal Replacement Project, which broke ground in August 2010, and is planned to be open by 2017. In addition, new highrise residential projects like One Rincon Hill, 300 Spear Street, and Millennium Tower are transforming the San Francisco skyline. In 2005, the Transbay Joint Powers Authority proposed to raise height limits around the new Transbay Terminal.[19] This led to proposals for more supertall buildings, such as Renzo Piano's proposal for a group of towers that includes two 1,200-foot. (366 m) towers, two 900-foot (274 m) towers, and a 600-foot (183 m) tower. The 1,200-foot (366 m) towers would have been the tallest buildings in the United States outside of New York City and Chicago.[20][21] Renzo Piano's complex has since been cancelled, and replaced by a newer project entitled 50 First Street, to be designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM). In addition, the Cesar Pelli and Hines Group have also proposed another 1,070-foot (366 m), 61-story office tower.[22] The Transbay Tower, as it is referred to, is scheduled to break-ground in late-2013, and be completed by 2016 at the earliest.

Attractions and characteristics

The neighborhood is a vast and diverse stretch of warehouses, auto repair shops, nightclubs, residential hotels, art spaces, loft apartments, furniture showrooms, condominiums, and technology companies.

Despite the Dot-Com crash of the early 2000s, major software and technology companies have headquarters here, including Ustream, Foursquare, Wikia, Wired, GitHub, Sega of America Inc., CNET Networks, Twitter, Square, Trulia, Dropbox,, IGN,, BitTorrent Inc., Yelp, Zynga, Airbnb, Rapleaf, Sony Entertainment Network and Advent Software among others. The area is also home to the few Big-box stores in San Francisco such as Costco, REI, Nordstrom Rack, and Best Buy.

SOMA is home to many of San Francisco's museums, include SFMOMA, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and the Museum of the African Diaspora. The Cartoon Art Museum, the children's Zeum, and the Contemporary Jewish Museum are also in the Yerba Buena area. The Old Mint, which served as the San Francisco Mint from 1874 to 1937, has been restored and is schedule to reopen to the public in 2012 following an 8-year renovation. The Center for the Arts, along with Yerba Buena Gardens and the Metreon, is built on top of Moscone North. Across Howard Street, built on top of Moscone South, is a children's park featuring a large play area, an ice skating rink, a bowling alley, a restaurant, the Zeum, and the restored merry-go-round from Playland-At-the-Beach. The children's park and Zeum are joined to Yerba Buena Gardens by a footbridge over Howard Street.

Many small theatre companies and venues add to the cultural attraction of the SOMA, such as the Lamplighters, The Garage, Theatre Rhinoceros, Boxcar Theater,[23] Crowded Fire Theater, Off-Market Theaters, FoolsFURY Theater, and Climate Theater.

Because of its Gay Rights history, the Folsom Street Fair is held on Folsom Street between 7th and 12th streets. The smaller and less-commercialized but also leather subculture-oriented Up Your Alley Fair (commonly referred to as the Dore Alley Fair) is also held in the neighborhood, in late July on Folsom between 9th and 10th streets and in Dore Alley between Folsom and Howard. Also home to the annual How Weird Street Faire featuring dancing and costumes, held in early May along seven city blocks including Howard and Second streets.[24]

Public health facilities in the area include the South of Market Health Center.[25] Those seeking sexual health make use of the district's San Francisco City Clinic to get STD tests and treatment in addition to counseling and condoms.

Because the streets in the area are aligned with the half-points of the compass, people's sense of direction tends to get skewed 45 degrees clockwise. Thus, while driving towards Market Street, people have the sense that they are driving "northbound" even though it is actually northwest, the same principle applying to the other three cardinal directions.

See also

San Francisco Bay Area portal


External links

  • LiveSoma Community & News Site
  • Sharing Leather History Through a Board Game
  • Transbay Joint Powers Authority Official Site
  • South of Market Information
  • Foundsf Category:SOMA
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