Western Neighborhoods Project is dedicated to the history of San Francisco's Richmond, Sunset, OMI and West of Twin Peaks districts.   read more ...

A Short History of the Richmond District

San Francisco's Richmond District neighborhoods include Anza Vista, Inner Richmond, Lake Street, Lands End, Laurel Heights/Jordan Park, Lincoln Park/Fort Miley, Lone Montain, Outer Richmond, Presidio Terrace, Sea Cliff, and Sutro Heights.

The Richmond District lies between the Presidio and Golden Gate Park, and runs west from Lone Mountain to Ocean Beach in the northwest part of San Francisco.

Cemeteries had been established around Lone Mountain in the 1850s and 1860s, but very few people lived west of them in the foggy sand and scrub. In 1863, the Point Lobos Toll Road and Cliff House were built, bringing traffic and some roadhouses, racetracks, and dairymen to the area. Traveling west to visit the beach and view the sea lions on Seal Rocks became a popular weekend recreation.

In 1866, Congress passed the Outside Lands Act, officially adding the western half of the peninsula to the City of San Francisco and leading to the creation of Golden Gate Park. The park brought more weekend visitors and new transportation lines west, but full-time settlement on the sand and chaparral so remote from downtown was slow through the 1870s.

In the early 1880s, a nucleus of a growing residential neighborhood formed along Clement Street from Arguello to 6th Avenue. After being frustrated with the generic “Outside Lands” used for years, residents and real estate men began calling the area “Richmond.” One story for the origin of this new name is that early settler George Turner Marsh called his large home and grounds at the southeast corner of 12th Avenue and Clement "Richmond House," because the landscape reminded him of his hometown of Richmond, Australia. (Other sources credit a neighborhood booster named George Fletcher for suggesting the name.)

The Richmond experienced slow but steady growth over the next twenty-five years, with large institutions such as hospitals and orphanages moving into the area attracted by the relatively inexpensive available land. New cable and electric streetcar lines formed to deliver passengers to the park, to the beach, and Adolph Sutro’s new Cliff House, Sutro Heights, and Sutro Baths. After the 1906 Earthquake and Fire, the displacement of thousands of San Franciscans downtown and a refugee camp along today’s Park-Presidio Boulevard brought scores of new settlers to the area.

Between humble working-class cottages filling the rolling sand dunes, two of San Francisco's most prestigious residential enclaves were created. Baldwin & Howell made Presidio Terrace off Arguello Boulevard starting in 1905, and John Brickell Company worked with a number of firms to make Sea Cliff beginning in 1913.

By the 1910s, a local improvement group, worried the neighborhood would be overshadowed by the rise of the city of Richmond in the East Bay, had the neighborhood’s official name changed to "Park Presidio." So it was called in newspapers and many city records throughout the 1920s, but “Richmond” stuck with people. In 2005, the city changed the name officially back.

For years, the Richmond families were primarily of Irish and German ancestry, with a large Jewish population. In the 1950s, Chinese-American families began moving west from Chinatown. While there had been a "White Russian" community in the district for over sixty years, after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, the Russian community in the Richmond swelled. Today, many maps identify parts of Geary Boulevard as “Little Russia.”

Richmond Articles

  • Podcast # 228R: Tradr Sam

    In honor of the recent makeover of Tradr Sam, please enjoy this classic episode on the favorite west side watering hole. (Outside Lands San Francisco Podcast Feb 9, 2024)
  • Streetwise: Fountains of the Western Neighborhoods

    Take a tour of west side fountains with Frank Dunnigan. ( Feb 8, 2024)
  • Podcast # 526: Carbarns

    Learn all about the former street and cable carbarns of the west side with special guest Drew Moss. (Outside Lands San Francisco Podcast Feb 3, 2024)
  • Streetwise: Looking Back 100 Years

    Frank Dunnigan kicks off 2024 by looking back at 1924. ( Jan 16, 2024)
  • Streetwise: Nighttime San Francisco

    Frank Dunnigan takes a tour through scenes of the west side after dark. ( Dec 11, 2023)
  • Streetwise: Thanksgiving

    Frank Dunnigan considers all the west side locations that we can be thankful for. ( Nov 14, 2023)
  • Podcast # 523: Gary Parks

    The Alexandria Theatre's 100th anniversary is upon us, so Nicole talks with theater preservationist and expert, Gary Parks, about his life and movie palaces. (Outside Lands San Francisco Podcast Nov 11, 2023)
  • Streetwise: Costumed Western Neighborhoods

    Frank Dunnigan explores the many ways that the west side dresses for the occasion. ( Oct 13, 2023)
  • Podcast # 518: Michael Durand

    Nicole talks with the person keeping newspapers alive in the Outside Lands, Michael Durand, owner and editor of the Richmond Review and Sunset Beacon. (Outside Lands San Francisco Podcast Sep 30, 2023)
  • Podcast # 517: Clement Pubs Part 2

    We're taking another drink on Clement Street as Nicole & Arnold share the history of two more buildings that house two more of our favorite watering holes in the Inner Richmond District. (Outside Lands San Francisco Podcast Sep 23, 2023)