SFlashback: Mary Ellen Pleasant, 1964

One of the sad realities of “progress” is that it often requires of us to bulldoze some of the structures that might keep history alive for us as we go about our day. In this case, a clipping from an old issue of “Jet” magazine caught our eye, highlighting the loss of one building that was linked to one of the truly larger than life figures of 19th century San Francisco.

Dated November 12, 1964, the article is headlined: “‘Frisco Home of Legendary Negro Woman Razed.” It pertains to the last home that Mary Ellen Pleasant lived in shortly before her death in 1904.

The home at 2155 Webster Street (now the Dugoni School of Dentistry) should not be confused with the big infamous mansion that is normally associated with her name (located at 1661 Octavia Street — it burnt down several decades ago), but was the place she retired to as an old forgotten woman.

Although the old Victorian home made it through the 1906 earthquake, and housed a national historical figure, it obviously must have lacked any kind of architectural significance and was probably in bad shape when it was torn down in 1964 (60 years after Mary Ellen Pleasant’s death) to make room for the dental school.

What we lack in a physical landmark we can make up for with photos, historical documents and books. So I would surely recommend reading “The Making of Mammy Pleasant,” which some credit as the definite book on this fascinating woman, who controlled a vast sum of wealth, was an entrepreneur, civil rights leader and a figure of great social speculation, gossip and myth-making.