My cousin Joe, a San Francisco native who is currently directing a feature film that is deeply rooted in the city’s history, told me the following story, which takes place in a San Francisco neighborhood called Hunter’s Point:
“So this happened in Hunter’s Point, the very furthest edge of the city. Before it was a black neighborhood it had been like, Italians and some Chinese like fisheries and there were uh, Italian fishermen out there.
And apparently, right across from uh, where we’re gonna film our movie, there were two victorians and uh, two sisters who lived in each of them. And, they would apparently- the story, it was told to me by one guy who said they had these huge shouting matches that they would come out once a month and they would have these- this huge fight in front of the whole neighborhood and he claimed it was because their periods were timed…and they would have this huge fight and they’d go back into their homes and everything would be fine. But one day they had a fight that was so big, one said ‘I’m gonna burn your house down! I hate you!’ And then she lit her sister’s house on fire, and then her house caught fire ‘cause they were right next to each other and their houses burned to the ground. So it was kind of biblical or something.
But that was told to me because there’s like all these mysterious fires in Hunter’s Point that people have kind of tried to understand why they happen, and the guy that told me this–one of them, two guys told me–one who told me was like a former um, fireman and he said that uh, there were all these mysterious fires in Hunter’s Point and he thinks they’re arson. He thinks they’re uh, landlords trying to burn out their tenants. So anyways that’s somehow linked to this weird story of sisters–Italian sisters. But yeah, I like imagining that ‘cause now it’s a- it’s a burned out lot.”
This story can be classified as a legend, because it may or may not be true, and is supposed to have occurred in a real place. It is also a sort of origin story, because it explains the presence of an otherwise mysterious landmark– in this case a burned out lot–that neighborhood residents are familiar with. Hunter’s Point is, as Joe says, at “the very furthest edge” of San Francisco, and as such is one of the last neighborhoods in the city to begin fall victim to gentrification. The tensions over shifting neighborhood dynamics are such that some residents theorize that corrupt landlords are committing arson to keep up real estate prices, and these tensions may contribute to the popularity of legends describing former neighborhood conflicts.