The Western Addition Senior Center is a community center located in the heart of the Fillmore District at Turk & Fillmore Streets.
Since the mid-1970s, the Western Addition Senior Center has provided meals, organized activities, and facilitated help with social services to senior citizens in and around the Fillmore neighborhood.
Our team (Caleb, Dylan, and Annachiara) visited the Western Addition Senior Center for three months in 2019. At first, we were unsure of how our presence and media project would be received by the seniors. We explained to them that our goal was to tell the stories of those who live in the Fillmore: about how they have seen the neighborhood change, what challenges they have endured, experiences of the memorable times with family and friends. But we found, as we spent time during lunch hours with the seniors getting to know them, they were more than happy to share their stories with us and for those who would access the site and listen.
Shashi Dalal, a lifetime Fillmore resident and former journalist, was the senior who acted as our ‘wingman’ to introduce us to fellow seniors who would be interested in spending time and telling their stories.
We recognize that the seniors are a valuable asset to the Fillmore neighborhood and San Francisco as a whole. They have seen the neighborhood change and morph through its most important times. We hope that our interviews with them share the wealth of knowledge they possess.
Activism was a central topic in all of the conversations we had with the seniors we met. To them, it is important to work in and for the community, especially when there are several factors affecting the Fillmore and Western Addition neighborhoods, not necessarily always for the better.
Mr. Ulysses J. Montgomery, 92 – Civil Engineer
Mr. Montgomery was one of the first seniors we met. He is a man who has seen so much change first hand in the Fillmore and Western Addition, as he was one of the main civil engineers who worked against redevelopment for the African-American community. He was one of the first Black engineers to be licensed in the state of California. Mr. Montgomery lives by the words “by and for the people,” as every thing he has done in his career as an engineer and building consultant has directly benefited the communities he has helped.
Mr. Cliffton Johnson Hyson, 56 – Community Artist
We met Cliffton one Friday afternoon as we were leaving the Senior Center. We saw him walking with his large Canson sketch pad tablets, and asked if we could take a photo of his colorful artwork. He told us about his contributions to a future art mural depicting mayor London Breed and her roots. Our interview with him turned into an almost two-hour long conversation as Cliffton spoke about moving to the Fillmore in the 80s, how he got into art, and how he has seen the African-American community in the Fillmore and Western Addition be treated over the years.
Mr. Paul Willis, 75 – Community Activist
Paul Willis firmly believes in being informed about government and civic issues on a national, state, and local level. He told us that every citizen of the United States should visit Washington D.C. before visiting anywhere else. He has been involved in volunteer programs in the Hunter’s Point and Bayview neighborhoods, and also attends the Western Addition Senior Center weekly to meet with longtime friends.
The Wester Addition Senior Center
Artist Statement – Caleb d’Oleire
“With this project, we documented how the Black community has been affected by disparities in housing, health services, education, and income in the Fillmore neighborhood; but particularly through the lens of the Senior Center. For my photo essay, I knew I wanted to recreate my first impression of the Senior Center from months prior: severely understaffed, functioning with inadequate funding, and just overall lacking the proper attention that seniors deserve. This was my intention: to photograph the Senior Center in a melancholic light, highlighting empty spaces, empty chairs, unconventionally attractive spaces, and dated technology.”