A Brief History of Russian Culture in the Bay Area

By Zachary Kelly

Assistant Director of the Institute of Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies, UC Berkeley

The first Russian settlement in the contiguous United States was in Northern California at Fort Ross (Росс Крепость), founded in 1812 as part of the Russian-American Company in what is now Sonoma County, 90 miles north of San Francisco. In waves, various groups of Russians have been making their way to San Francisco and the Bay Area, from the time of Russian Imperialism to the age of Google.

The Russian community has historically had a strong presence in San Francisco. The main neighborhood is the outer Richmond District, tucked between the Presidio and Golden Gate Park. Despite the changing demographics of many San Francisco neighborhoods, there are a few landmarks that keep the outer Richmond a Russian neighborhood, including cathedrals, restaurants, and delis. There is at least one newspaper still active – Кстати – serving as a Russian-language news source in the Bay Area. Heading east from the outer Richmond is the Consulate General of the Russian Federation in San Francisco, one of four consulates in the United States. And looking west from the outer Richmond, not only will you see the ocean, but you will also stumble upon a small community of Russian seniors, replete with shops and other necessities resembling Brighton Beach.

In recent years, there has been a surge in Russian events around the Bay Area. Famous performers such as Zemfira and Mummy Troll have recently toured through San Francisco and Berkeley. The bar Neck of the Woods hosts Russian Karaoke and other small-level events. The Pacific Film Archive has run several film series on Russian and Soviet cinema. The most recent program was an overview of Andrei Tarkovsky’s films – “The Poetry of Time: Andrei Tarkovsky.” Cal Performances at UC Berkeley was fortunate to host the Mariinsky Ballet and Orchestra in their performance of Cinderella. In 2017 Би-2, Звери, and Александр Розенбаум will come to the Bay Area. On February 3 there will be a one-time performance of “Мой внук Вениамин” in San Francisco at the Scottish Rite Masonic Center. A simple Google search in Russian or English will direct to all the events in the Bay Area.

Finally, Russian studies also has a long history in the Bay Area. There are strong interdisciplinary programs at both the University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford University. The Slavic Department at UC Berkeley was founded in 1901, one of the first departments of its kind in the United States. Slavic at Stanford followed soon thereafter in the 1940s. Both universities house Title VI-funded National Resource Centers dedicated to Russia, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia. Stanford is also home to the Hoover Institution, founded in 1919, which houses one of the richest Russian and East European archives in the world. San Francisco State University also has a Russian language program with additional courses available in relevant area studies.

Enjoy your time in San Francisco while at AATSEEL 2017. Twitter is right up the street from Parc 55 and Instagram is down by Stanford, but #санфранциско is definitely ready for your arrival!

Place to eat:

Katia’s Russian Tea Room – 600 5th Ave., SF (Tell Katia that Zach says hello)

Café Europa – 4318 California St., SF

Russian Renaissance Restaurant – 5241 Geary Blvd., SF

Red Tavern, 2229 Clement St., SF

Russian Deli Eliseevksi, 4605 Geary Blvd., SF

Cinderella Bakery & Café – 436 Balboa St., SF

Moscow & Tbilisi Bakery Store – 5540 Geary Blvd., SF

**If you’re staying at the Parc 55, please take MUNI or an Uber/Lyft out to the Richmond District – walking is not recommended for many reasons. The 38 bus picks up near the hotel, goes directly to all the destinations listed above, and will bring you back to the hotel.