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Outside Lands Podcast Episode 5: West Side Street Naming

The names of streets going south through the Richmond and Sunset Districts are alphabetical. How did that happen? The story of San Francisco's Street Naming Commission of 1909.
Outside Lands San Francisco Podcast - Jan 31, 2013

Outside Lands Podcast Episode 5: West Side Street Naming Outside Lands Podcast Episode 5: West Side Street Naming

Podcast Transcription

Outside Lands Podcast episode #5: West Side Street Naming

Originally Recorded: January 31, 2013


[Intro Music]

Woody LaBounty: Outside Lands San Francisco! I'm Woody LaBounty-

David Gallagher: And I'm David Gallagher

Woody: And we're from- where are we from, David?

David: We're from the Western Neighborhoods Project, of course!

Woody: That’s right. I think you were going to say you're from San Bruno.

David: No, I, well-

Woody: Uh, we are- this is our fifth podcast, so I think we've totally got this down now.

David: Really?

Woody: All we need is an announcer to say something like, um, “from Fort Funston to the Cliff House”-

David: -“from Lone Mountain to the sea”-

Woody: “Mighty Pacific Ocean!” and then we need some kind of background noise.

[Funny noise]

Woody: There you go, that’s good. “It’s Outside Lands San Francisco.” Uh today we are talking about- actually we're talking about something that thousands, tens of thousands of San Francisco drivers may think about every now and then, when they're going up and down 19th Ave.

David: Traffic?

Woody: Yes, they're probably thinking about traffic on 19th Avenue; they're probably thinking about those new median strips they planted with those aloe plants that are all dying.

David: What's that speed I have to go to hit all the green lights?

Woody: Right, but you can't do that either now, and there's- it's, it's a crazy place but what they're probably thinking about is the street names because, I don't know if you've noticed, David, but as you go through the Sunset District - and even part of the Richmond - there is a pattern to the street names.

David: Oh, I've noticed.

Woody: Yeah? Uh, for the people who don't know, what is the pattern?

David: It's alphabetical!

Woody: That's right! So, let's say- let's say we're coming, we're going south out of Golden Gate Park: first we hit Lincoln Way, so of course the next street is Irving! Wait, that makes no sense. But, back in the day, actually, uh, Lincoln Way used to be H Street.

David: Right,  H Street.

Woody: Right, and then Irving is I and then Judah's J, Kirkum-

David: So they started out just with alphabetical, uh, uh, names, right? Just that, just the alphabet. A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I?

Woody: Right.

David: Except there weren't any-

Woody: There were no names, it was just like H Street or, uh, B Street, yeah and then that changed. When did that change, David?

David: I think that changed in 1909. After the 1906 earthquake, there was a movement in the city to fix all the street names. There were- there were avenues on the east side, and there are avenues on the west side, and it was confusing. So they needed to rename the streets and, uh, changing those, just those alphabet letters, to actual names was one of the things they did.

Woody: Right, I know there were, like, street names that were exactly the same, but in different parts of the city. Like same Rose Lane or something and then there would be ways and avenues and so they tried to standardize this, and as part of that they, they- I guess they- it was just placeholder for the old maps of the West Side that they had numbers going one direction-

David: Yeah, I mean, those streets have been laid out since the 1860s.

Woody: Yeah, so they had all the-

David: But there was nothing there, just sand dunes.

Woody: Yeah, so I guess they decided to come up with names and, uh, and the names we have now, are those the names that they actually came up with in 1909? What’s funny-

David: Yeah, I believe they mostly are.

Woody: Mostly is right, David, because- it's funny, um, the names they came up with- and actually, I should put a little paraphrase in here for our experts: the Parkside District, uh, actually got its names before the 1909 names were put in. They came up with Ortega, um, Quintara, Taravel. Those little Southern Sunset streets were actually given their names by the Parkside District, uh, Realty Company. So they actually just barely got it-

David: Where do those names come from? I mean-

Woody: The idea was Spanish Explorers and Spanish, uh, colonial parties that came into California.

David: Oh, so, like, names from the De Anza Party, yeah?

Woody: Yeah, so these were all- they were trying to call back to this Spanish past because it seemed really romantic and sort of the only heritage that these San Franciscans thought they had. Um, but here's the funny thing - this is the funny thing I want to tell you - all the avenues that- when all the numbered avenues that go east west, you know, like 14th Avenue, 15th Avenue, they had names at one point, too, and they just went crazy cuckoo with these Spanish explorer names. They had, like, San Luis Rey Avenue and San, uh, Fernando Boulevard and all this going east to west, so it was all Spanish-

David: How many people were in the De Anza Party, I mean-

Woody: I think they, they ran out. They started just coming up with Saint names and they come up with names that they thought sounded Spanish, um, but the whole thing was all Spanish names and there was a backlash.


Woody: That's right.

David: Dun-dun-dun.

Woody: That's right, and the backlash was actually not what you would think. Uh, nowadays, I think people would be mad because they're like, “oh you're talking about all these colonial oppressors,” you know, and something like that, right?

David: Hey, Taraval was a, uh, was a Native American, by the way.

Woody: right but, but the backlash back then was, was sort of like, “we're patriotic and we shouldn't have these Spanish names because we're good, white Americans and we don't want Spanish names.” So, there was a whole backlash against using Spanish terms for American streets, so they backtracked and that's why we have Irving-

David: Irving, yeah.

Woody: -Which is not a Spanish name. I think it's supposed to be Washington Irving, or something like that.

David: Oh, yeah. He was a popular writer.

Woody: Right, and then you have, uh-

David: Judah.

Woody: -Judah, and Theodore Judah was one of the, uh, businessman movers-and-shakers who got the railroads coming here. Um-

David: He's a guy that got aced out of all the, uh, all the riches of the big four, right?

Woody: That's right, he was kind of like the businessman- he was kind of the guy who made it happen and they provided a lot of the capital, but he died relatively young, too.

David: That's another podcast.

Woody: That is another podcast. Uh, Kirkham was a general, was a United States general. Uh, Lawton- oh, and then they- so they kind of, like, gave back a little bit, uh, and then they decided that the east-west streets would not have all these Spanish names, they're gonna stick with the numbers, so.

David: So that's how they got their names?

Woody: Yeah.

David: And-

Woody: But you want to ask about Lincoln, probably.

David: I do! What about Lincoln? Who's that name for?

Woody: Well, we know who that's named for, but why-

David: What's- 

Woody: Why isn't it an H Street? Why isn't it, you know, like Howard or something? Or, uh-

David:Yeah, why isn't it?

Woody: Well they, they wanted to name it after Lincoln. On the other side they actually have, uh, Fulton and that was a continuance of Fulton Street from the Western Addition, but it used to be D Street and I think just for simplicity, because it connected with Fulton going Downtown, they kept that name.

David: They kept the same name.

Woody: Yeah, but there is an H Street. There's a little couple of blocks in the Inner Sunset, Hugo Street.

David: Oh, Hugo Street? My grandfather lived near Hugo Street.

Woody: I'm assuming that's named after Victor Hugo, another foreigner.


David: Are- are we being paid by those movie guys to talk about Victor Hugo?

Woody: No, but what I like is that we're not really- you know, how many real historical facts are we giving, or are we just, like, making stuff up? Because I don't know if it's actually named after Victor Hugo.

David: I don't think so.

Woody: Would you like to sing a little from, uh, Les Miserables or something like that? No.

David: Let's let that English housewife do it for us.

Woody: English housewife. What was- uh, Susan Boyle.

David: Yeah.

Woody: See, we know her name.

David: We're not- yeah, I was leaving that empty so you could pi-

Woody: People may think we have an English housewife working here or something.

David: No, Vicki's not here.

Woody: That's an inside joke. Um, another inside San Francisco historian joke. Uh, do you have anything to add about these names of these streets? I mean, we do have some of the alphabet on the Richmond side. We have Anza and Balboa and Cabrillo - that's how we pronounce it.

David: Cabrillo, yeah. But down at- so down at the southern end-

Woody: Right.

David: -There's Wawona.

Woody: Right.

David: And then there should be an X, and there isn't, and then there's Yorba instead.

Woody: Right, people hate x-es. It's like, first of all they probably didn't have a good Spanish explorer- maybe they did-

David: I think they were gonna name it Xavier.

Woody: Well, that's the only thing I can think of.

David: Yeah.

Woody: But was there an Xavier on the, uh, one of these expeditions? I don't think so. Um, but they just ran out- they just ran out of names, I think.

David: Yeah, and they ran out of streets, too, because then you run up to, uh-

Woody: Stern Grove, kind of rocks.

David: So, 1909 all the streets dropped their letters and got names.

Woody: Right.

David: And it happened all over the city, and it gave us the street names that we pretty much have today- except for some that got renamed in the 80s, I think.

Woody: Yeah. People like to rename streets or airports or whatever, you know, there's always a naming going on.

David: Maybe the Western Neighborhoods Project needs a rename.

Woody: Our organization needs to rename or we should name a street after us?

David: Oh, that would be a-

Woody: Western Neighborhoods Project Boulevard.

David: That's right.

Woody: That's not going to happen.

David: I think we've run out of history here.

Woody: Well, I do want to say, though, that if you want to learn more about this, we actually have an article on our website, David, written by the illustrious John Freeman all about the street naming changes. So, I think you put “street name” in the search box at-

David: At outsidelands.org.

Woody: And I think you'll read more, but that's it, so thank you for being here at the Outside Land San Francisco Podcast. I'm Woody LaBounty.

David: And I'm David Gallagher. Goodbye!

Woody: Cue, cue the exit music.

David: I dreamed a dream of times gone by [inaudible].

Woody: You’re the worst.

[Exit Music]


Woody: Learn more about the Western Neighborhoods Project and more about San Francisco history at outsidelands.org.

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