The SoMa (South of Market) that exists today is one of artists, clubs and New York-style loft living. This incarnation is so different from the rubble it came from that it's almost impossible to see through the district's history, which is brimming with tales of shanty towns, refineries, factories, gambling and miners.
How the area got from there to here is a complicated and sometimes controversial issue. In the mid-1800s, the area south of Market Street was nothing more than a collection of makeshift shacks. It was, for all purposes, a ghetto.
But large groups of immigrants saw the potential of its undeveloped expanses and portside location and settled down to build factories and other industrial businesses. Alongside, they housed themselves in small but adequate wooden shacks.
In the late 1880s, two cable-car lines were installed, including one on Market Street. Accessibility led neighborhoods of immigrants to sprout up -- the Irish, for example, tended to settle around Third and Mission streets, while the Germans formed an enclave near Sixth and Harrison streets. Unfortunately, the potential for growth was thwarted when the area, along with the rest of the city, was dealt a devastating blow: the 1906 earthquake.
Everything from the waterfront to 11th Street was leveled, and rebuilding took longer than in other hard-hit areas such as Chinatown. Instead of thriving, SoMa reverted to being a home for society's outcasts, and it remained that way for more than 30 years.
Rebuilding was slow to come, but it finally did, as merchants once again migrated toward the cheap rents and large unclaimed spaces. Warehouses, factories and small workshops helped shape the next wave of industrial SoMa. But the segue from blue-collar to white-collar was just around the bend, as entrepreneurial types realized that the area's proximity to Union Square meant big money.
Starting in the 1960s, whole blocks were demolished to make room for new developments, which left large numbers of small businesses and retired laborers without homes. SoMa's face-lift, which included the building of the Yerba Buena Gardens complex -- which today houses the SF Museum of Modern Art and other museums -- helped foster the artistic climate it now prides itself on. In the 1980s, the remaining abandoned warehouses were quickly inhabited by artists who needed space to work and who savored the area's ridiculously cheap rents.
Today, it's home to that uniquely '90s art form: multimedia. South Park, a grassy oval surrounded by quaint buildings, is the heart of Multimedia Gulch, home to countless startups (some more successful than others) and high-tech publications.
This tech boom has made SoMa a more desirable place to live. The warehouses, which used to be affordable live/work spaces for artists, are now being converted (and built from scratch) at a staggering rate. This has led to a decline in nightlife options (in an area that was traditionally ground zero for clubbing), with live venues, late-night clubs and dive bars being shut down due to noise complaints from the new residents.