The History Behind the Streets of San Francisco
By: Dan Rosenbaum
Photo by Danny Manniche.
We love our history. In a city that ushers in the future with technology, we still hold on to what has made us who we are. Just look up and you'll see the well-preserved Victorians and Edwardians that dot our city. We celebrate milestones. The Golden Gate Bridge turned 75 last year and we held 75 different celebrations.
Our history is everywhere, including our streets. Not because of the epic car chases that have taken place (Bullitt), but who they are named after. Here is the history behind the names of some our most popular streets...
9. Geary Boulevard
A main cogway for locals and visitors alike, Geary Streets snakes through the city from downtown to the Richmond neighborhood. The street that is dotted with some of the city's best dim sum joints, is named after John W. Geary, the first mayor of San Francisco.
8. Van Ness Avenue
Van Ness Street is the city's life preserver. Because of the wideness of the street, the fire that ensued after the 1906 earthquake could not jump it, preserving the other half of the city from further advantage. Van Ness Street is named after another mayor, James van Ness.
7. Polk Street
Hop one street over to the east from Van Ness and you've hit the lively Polk Street, a street populated by many restaurants and bars, spanning from Nob Hill through Russian Hill. Polk Street is named after James Polk, the US President who led the US to victory in the Mexican-American War, which is how California became part of the US.
6. Fillmore Street
Named after another president, Fillmore Street, which was the national center for jazz in the 1940's and 50's and dubbed the "Harlem of the West," is littered with great music venues, boutique shops and delicious restaurants today. The president the street is named after is Millard Fillmore, who officially California as a state of the union.
5. The Embarcadero
A heavily-trafficked street and one with a spectacular view that just got busier with the opening of the new home of the Exploratorium. The Embarcadero harkens back to the city's Spanish Roots. The word, Embarcadero, comes from the Spanish verb, embarcar, means to embark.
4. Hyde Street
If you've seen a picture of a cable car traveling down the hill towards Fisherman's Wharf, then you know about Hyde Street. Named after George Hyde, a captain's clerk in the US Navy. In the early days of the city, he became San Francisco's third alcalde (the equivalent of mayor).
3. Haight & Ashbury
The epicenter of the counter-culture movement and the Summer of Love, Haight and Ashbury have ties back to the city's early residents. Haight Street is presumably named after Henry Haight, although it is unclear because there were three Haight brothers. Henry Haight was an early pioneer of the city and the manager of Page, Bacon & Co, a reputable bank back in the day.
Ashbury Street is named after Munroe Ashbury, a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors from 1864-1870.
2. Lombard Street
One of the curviest streets in the city (the curviest is actually Vermont Street in Potrero Hill) and the most popular street among visitors has no link to San Francisco. It is actually named after a street in Philadelphia.
1. Market Street
The main artery of the city, Market Street touches everyone's day. Market has seen some much history from the parades to marches to celebrations. It has seen it all. So what's the history behind the name our most important street? It is likely named after Market Street in Philadelphia too. Jasper O'Farrell, the civil engineer who surveyed the city in 1847, named many of today's major streets, used to live there.
Wanna take a deeper dive into the history of our streets? Head over to Noah Veltman's map.
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We have found a most unlikely place to spend an hour or two playing in the rain and learning about history at the same time: Fort Point. It is the perfect place to let little ones jump in puddles, play hide and seek and then rest on a bench.
Weekends in San Francisco are never the same. You can always look forward to something different. But at the end of the day, you leave with the same feeling. A feeling you can only find in the City. Don’t miss these events this weekend.
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