Excelsior is a small, often overlooked neighborhood in San Francisco. It’s named for the Latin translation of “ever upward” — appropriate given Excelsior’s sunny new outlook in the housing market.
In 2017, real-estate site Redfin named Excelsior the second hottest neighborhood in San Francisco, based the ranking on increases in internet traffic to listings there. Excelsior homes typically sell in 19 days at 111% of the listing price. The median sales price was $890,000.
I visited Excelsior to see why the under-the-radar neighborhood is making a splash.
Located in the city’s southern end, Excelsior has been called the “Siberia of San Francisco.”
Source: San Francisco Chronicle
The mostly residential neighborhood isn’t on the way to anything. You won’t find startup offices or trendy restaurants in Excelsior. It’s one of the last areas without a Starbucks.
But with the median home sales price topping $1.5 million in San Francisco, prospective homebuyers are giving Excelsior — an enclave for the working class — a second glance.
Source: San Francisco Business Times
Fifty years ago, the neighborhood served as a refuge for Irish and Italian immigrants who came to the US looking for work. They could afford homes in the far reaches of the city.
Some say there was even an Excelsior accent. “You dropped the R’s, and G’s. You put things in a draw, instead of a drawer,” one local told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2010.
People can still buy an affordable home in Excelsior for under $1 million, but that could change soon. The median home sales price has reached $890,000, up 86% from 2012.
Some residents of Excelsior welcome the tech boom. While the cost of living has gone up in recent years, gentrification could bring new shops and restaurants to the area.
Mike Tufo was born and raised in Excelsior. He returned to the neighborhood six years ago to open an Italian-style deli along the main drag, as a way of giving back to the community.
Tufo remembers a few years back when Starbucks tried and failed to put a coffee shop up on Mission Street. Some locals successfully pushed back against the chain’s invasion.
Tufo told Business Insider that he wished Starbucks had won that battle. Its presence would have validated Excelsior as a nice place to live and deterred homeless people (who already occupy parts of Mission Street) from further settling in Excelsior, Tufo said.
Calabria Bros. (of which there are no brothers — Tufo just liked the name) specializes in meats and cheeses imported from Italy and sandwiches made for hearty appetites.
I tried the Jake, a combination of hot capocollo, salami, prosciutto, sopressata, mozzarella, oil, and vinegar on a sour roll. It cost $12.75 and provided me with food for two meals.
The section of Mission Street where Calabria Bros. sits is marked by boarded-up windows and empty storefronts. There is little to do on the Excelsior’s main drag.
A historic movie palace opened in 1921 but was later converted into a Goodwill store.
Markets Along Mission Street sell fruit and vegetables at bargain prices.
A mural on Mission Street celebrates the life of Jerry Garcia, lead guitarist of The Grateful Dead and a native of Excelsior. His former homes are marked with plaques in his honor.
As you move uphill and away from Mission Street, Excelsior becomes almost entirely residential. The streets are named for countries along one axis and cities on another.
Because of the neighborhood’s steep climb, nearly every house comes with a view of the city. Glimpse between the houses and you’ll find a beautiful, if not foggy, expanse.
A single-family home on Athens Street was hosting an open house when we passed by it. We saw half a dozen people stream through the front doors in the first few minutes.
The three-bedroom, two-bathroom cottage was listed for $899,000 on Redfin. Given the competitiveness of the housing market, it could go for as much as $100,000 over asking.
Its biggest perk was a massive private deck off the master bedroom.
Excelsior has some charms. At 317 acres, John McLaren Park is the second largest park in San Francisco. Its meadows, grassland, and wetland habitat offer a retreat from city life.
It has a reputation as a dumping ground for bodies. But McLaren Park has received much needed TLC in recent years, with new funding going toward its restoration.
McLaren Park occasionally makes headlines as a crime scene. In April 2016, the body of Nicole Fitts was found near a playground in the park. Her two-year-old daughter is still missing.
The community got a morale boost when “Jerry Day” — a daylong annual celebration of the late Grateful Dead guitarist — returned to McLaren Park in August.
Source: San Francisco Chronicle
The intersection at Athens Street and Avalon Avenue was once where people threw out their garbage and old furniture. In 2017, neighbors pooled their resources to plant new shrubbery and make over the staircase with technicolor tiles donated by a local artist.
Source: SF Curbed
Now the neglected hillside is an adorable public space.
It’s too soon to call Excelsior an urban playground for hipsters and tech workers.
You can still buy a small coffee and a doughnut from Glaze Donuts for less than $3.
But things are changing in the “ever upward” neighborhood.