23 Sep 2021

History Comes Alive During Free Walking Tour of Yerba Buena Neighborhood

Luisa Tetrazzini was introduced early on in the Walking Tour of the Yerba Buena neighborhood as the international operatic superstar that signaled to the world that San Francisco was on its way to recovery following the devastation of the 1906 earthquake and fires.

To the delight of the tour-takers, Tetrazzini made a surprise appearance about halfway through the tour, serenading them with her lovely voice as they arrived at the plaza that is surrounded by the Four Seasons, the Contemporary Jewish Museum and St. Patrick Catholic Church on Mission Street.

OK, so it wasn’t the actual Luisa Tetrazzini, who would be 150 years old if she were still alive today. Rather, it was one of the actors who at various stops of the tour portrayed historical figures that were instrumental in shaping Yerba Buena Gardens into what it is today.

The actors, who seemingly popped out of thin air to provide unique perspectives about the neighborhood, gave the tour an interactive experience that was both informative and fun.

“The actors, which I didn’t expect, definitely made it a more lively experience,” said Andy, a San Francisco resident who enjoys learning about the City’s unique neighborhoods.

The nonprofit Yerba Buena Community District has been sponsoring the free, 90-minute tour since 2018 as a way to promote the neighborhood and its past.

“The history is one of the neighborhood’s greatest assets,” said Richard Ciccarone, a director with the nonprofit and one of the architects of the tour.

“I wanted to bring certain aspects of the neighborhood and its history to life,” he continued, “so we have actors portray historical figures, and they tell a bit more of the story and make it more personal. As someone taking the tour, you’re not hearing stories in a flat way like you would from a history book.”

Besides Tetrazzini, other historical figures covered in the tour include … well, you’re just going to have to put on your walking shoes and take the tour to find out.

Key stops on the tour include Lotta’s Fountain, the Palace Hotel, the alleyways named for some of San Francisco’s most infamous women and, of course, Yerba Buena Gardens. The settings reveal a colorful backstory teeming with defiance, innovation, rebirth and, yes, debauchery.

“The information we provide isn’t what you’re going to get from history books,” Ciccarone said. “San Francisco was the original Barbary Coast, and it was called that for a reason. There was a real lawlessness that helped forge the City, and that is in the DNA of the streets.”

Nancy Rizzo of Washington, D.C., recently took the tour to become more informed about San Francisco, where she will soon spend more time on business.

“I wanted to understand the culture and the history behind this city because anybody can sell great shopping malls or wonderful restaurants,” she said. “(Our tour guide) did such a beautiful job of painting a very different San Francisco.”