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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 # 430: Jesse B. Cook

    The Jesse B. Cook collection at the Bancroft Library is an amazing assortment of photos and ephemera spanning early 20th century San Francisco. Jesse Cook himself also has a fascinating, but complicated history. Learn how he compiled this cherished collection as one of San Francisco's earliest and prolific scrapbookers. (Outside Lands San Francisco Podcast May 15, 2021)
  • Streetwise: West Side Businesses

    Small, family-run businesses give our neighborhoods their unique flavor. Frank takes a subjective look at a few of the places that helped shape our west side communities, some that are still going strong. ( May 5, 2021)
  • Podcast # 428: Fun-Tier Town at Playland

    The western themed, Fun-Tier Town was added to Playland at the Beach in 1960. It featured rides that were designed to be enjoyed by younger children. And for special occasions, there was a large room in a western motif, where parents could purchase a party package (food and favors) that could host 20 or more sugar-fueled screaming kids. (Outside Lands San Francisco Podcast May 1, 2021)
  • Podcast # 422: Balboa Street Businesses

    We take another virtual stroll down a Richmond District business corridor, Balboa Street. Where else but on this Pod can you visit both beloved, but lost businesses and learn about those that endure to this day? Become a WNP member and join us on the live podcast each week, plus other great benefits of membership. http://outsidelands.org (Outside Lands San Francisco Podcast Mar 20, 2021)
  • Podcast # 418: Clement Street Businesses

    Clement Street in the Richmond retains the charm of a San Francisco neighborhood where local businesses are an integral part of the community. This week, Nicole, David, and Michael take a virtual stroll down the eastern end of Clement to highlight some of the many long-standing businesses located there. (Outside Lands San Francisco Podcast Feb 20, 2021)
  • Podcast # 416: Levin Family Theatres

    The neighborhoods of the West Side would not be the same without their local movie theatre and we have the Levin Family to thank for them, from the Alexandria to the Coliseum to the beloved Balboa and many more... Nicole, Arnold & David tell the story of this arts-devoted family. Plus an all-star live audience Listener Mail. (Outside Lands San Francisco Podcast Feb 6, 2021)
  • Podcast # 415: Sand Dunes of the Outside Lands

    That the west side of San Francisco was covered in sand dunes will come as no surprise to regular listeners. Michael Lange joins Nicole and David to tell us how the City transformed the expanse of sandy, wind swept land into the Richmond and Sunset we know today. (Outside Lands San Francisco Podcast Jan 30, 2021)
  • Podcast # 411: Woody's Farewell Podcast

    As 2020 comes to a close, we bid a fond farewell to podcast co-host, Woody LaBounty. After 8 years and over 400 episodes, Woody regales us with a few more stories of growing up on the West Side of San Francisco. (Outside Lands San Francisco Podcast Dec 27, 2020)
  • Podcast # 410: Historic Moments in 2020

    In a year like no other in our lifetimes, Nicole, David, and Woody take a look back at the historical highlights of 2020. (Outside Lands San Francisco Podcast Dec 19, 2020)
  • Podcast # 405: French Hospital

    French Hospital has a misty past with its origins in the early 1850s. Its current location on Geary Street dates back to the turn of the previous century and continues to serve the community today. (Outside Lands San Francisco Podcast Nov 14, 2020)