Much more than a place to get a drink, Sam Jordan’s Bar has been a gathering spot for the Bayview working class since the late 1950s, a refuge for the hungry and a center of community activism. And soon it could have an official place in city history.
The bar, located in a modest two-story building on Third Street, is no architectural masterpiece. But the effort to make it a historic city landmark is more about what happened there, what it has meant to the community, and the man whose powerful personality was behind it all.
“Everybody always feels welcome and wanted, and that’s what my dad always exuded,” Ruth Jordan, 48, said of the bar’s namesake. “And he always let everybody know — he would feed you, he would help you.”
After a stint in the Navy, the Texas-born Sam Jordan moved to the Bayview in 1947, landing a job as a longshoreman. Also an entrepreneur and avid boxer, Jordan in 1958 bought Lagrave’s Tavern — owned by French immigrants since the 1880s — and renovated and reopened it the next year as Sam Jordan’s.
The charismatic Jordan became known for mentoring local youths and other black businessmen.
At a time when bars refused to serve blacks, Jordan welcomed all races — and made women feel welcome too. In 1963, Jordan became the first black person to run for mayor of San Francisco. Running on a platform of social justice and racial equality, Jordan finished fourth in the race, but nevertheless became known locally as the “Mayor of Butchertown,” a reference to the neighborhood’s former slaughterhouse industry.
Famous visitors to the bar have included U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Herb Caen, Willie Brown, Sammy Davis Jr. and Maya Angelou.
Ruth Jordan, with her boyfriend Clyde Colen, 48, and her family, has continued to run the bar since her father’s death in 2003. But on a recent afternoon, while serving food to homeless residents, Ruth Jordan admitted that she had been ready to sell the place after the economy tanked in late 2008. She credits Colen for sparking the effort to make Sam Jordan’s a historic landmark.
“He brought it back, and people are starting to see that we’re still here, we still exist,” Ruth Jordan said.
On June 20, the Historic Preservation Commission voted unanimously to recommend landmark status for the bar. The Board of Supervisors is expected to consider final approval in September.
“We’re going to keep it until the wheels fall off,” Ruth Jordan said.
Historic locations approved by city
Of the more than 260 historic city landmarks, four have been designated since 2008.
- Carnegie Noe Valley Branch Library, 220 Buchanan St. (2008)
- Tobin House, 1969 California St. (2008)
- Metro Theater, 441 Jersey St. (2009)
- Marina Branch Library, 1890 Chestnut St. (2010)
Source: Planning Department