How Japanese was Cottage Row?

The 1930 U.S. Census shows Cottage Row occupied by Japanese-Americans.

SOME NEIGHBORHOOD CRITICS of a plan to create a memorial Zen rock garden on the Sutter Street side of Cottage Row have disputed historical sources that say Cottage Row was primarily occupied by Japanese-Americans before they were evacuated and interned during World War II.

The critics are wrong.

A review of census records and city directories shows that Cottage Row was almost exclusively occupied by residents of Japanese descent from 1920 until they were incarcerated in 1942.

The 1920 U.S. Census shows that five of the six cottages had residents with Japanese surnames. That was still the case when the 1930 census was taken.

The San Francisco Street Directory listings of Pacific Telephone Co. from 1933, 1936 and 1940 confirm the overwhelming Japanese presence on Cottage Row.

“The six cottages were almost exclusively Japanese,” said architectural historian Bridget Maley, who retrieved and reviewed the census records and city directories from the pre-war era.

“There are also lots of Japanese names in the adjacent blocks of Sutter, Webster and Bush,” Maley said.

EARLIER: “Cottage Row Zen garden sparks a fight

  • Jeff Staben

    I want to thank the New Fillmore and Ms. Bridget Maley for at long last putting to rest questions raised by a small number of individuals who do not wish to see a Zen rock garden dedicated in the Cottage Row Mini Park (Sutter Street area) that would honor San Francisco’s long and exciting history and cultural heritage on the 110 year Japantown anniversary.

    The information you published (1920 U.S. Census and San Francisco Street Directory listings), overwhelmingly shows that Japanese-Americans lived on Cottage Row. As a matter of fact, several families continue to live here and in the neighborhood, including Paul Osaki, executive director of JCCCNC.

    Let’s hope this project will now move forward without any further needless meetings and ridiculous assaults made by a handful of naysayers.

    Thank you for adding another piece of rich history in the Fillmore District and to our local community — great reporting and publication.

    Jeff Staben
    No. 1 Cottage Row

  • Jan Bolaffi

    Kudos to the diligent work of the New Fillmore and to architectural historian Bridget Maley for finding and publishing the census records of 1920 and 1930. These records, as well as city directories from 1933 to 1940, show that almost all of Cottage Row residents were indeed of Japanese heritage. Hopefully this latest report will finally lay to rest the specious arguments about who really lived there and when. A little bit of sunlight is always welcome.