Phiz Mezey documents turbulent times in San Francisco

The 1960s and ’70s were among San Francisco’s most exciting times. Photographer Phiz Mezey’s 82 photos in “We Live Here,” on view at the Main Library, document with feeling and perception some of the period’s defining events and prominent personalities.

Her photos of the lengthy 1968-69 San Francisco State University student strike — in which protesters demanded more minority representation — are filled with action and detail. They capture police marching with clubs, strikers being beaten and a demonstrator talking through a bullhorn.

Another series of images details the “Redevelopment of the Western Addition,” an urban renewal effort that did not go the way planners in the 1940s and ’50s forecast.

Many buildings were demolished, but little rebuilding occurred, and the area — with a 60 percent black population — was vacant for decades. Although $50 million was spent, redevelopment efforts ultimately destroyed thriving minority communities and displaced residents permanently from San Francisco.

In one captivating redevelopment scene, Mezey focuses on a window of a Jewish butcher shop. Behind the Hebrew lettering, the store’s interior can be seen.

“We Live Here” also includes expressive portraits of prominent personalities of the era: Martin Luther King Jr. sits deep in thought. Three prominent Buddhists and poets — Philip Whelan, Michael McClure and Diane DiPrima — lunch at a cafe. Writer James Baldwin struts his stuff.

Some rich images don’t fall into particular categories. One reveals a special moment between Beb and George Bratt, who has Alzheimer’s disease.

Another is a picture of a eucalyptus tree in the Panhandle. While the subject itself isn’t particularly exceptional, in close-up focus, gigantic and textured, it has personality.   

Mezey, in her 80s and retired, continues to take photographs. According to the American Society of Media Photographers, she has several books to her credit, including “Something That’s Happening,” a 1968 volume about desegregating the Sausalito School District featuring her photos and words by the schoolchildren.

Presented by the San Francisco History Center, the show also includes historical objects from the library’s collection.


We Live Here: San Francisco, 1960s-1970s

  • Where: Jewett Gallery, lower level, Main Library, 100 Larkin St., S.F.
  • When: Noon to 4:30 p.m. Sundays, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Mondays and Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, noon to 5:30 p.m. Fridays; closes June 2
  • Admission: Free
  • Contact:
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