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Likely named for merchant William Fell
April 29, 2013 2:04 PM   Subscribe

How the streets of San Francisco got their names: a fun little history lesson, nicely formatted as a giant clickable map (with search if you just want to look up a specific street).
posted by mathowie (36 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
"I do not love thee...."
posted by BWA at 2:10 PM on April 29, 2013


"Where the streets have those names."
posted by The Whelk at 2:10 PM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


While this is great (Do NYC next!) I'm always annoyed by the monotonous and repetitive nature of US street names, the place just hasn't been around long enough to get truly oddball names grandfathered in (Street of the cat who sinned! Rue du Chat Qui Peche!) so it's just a bunch of presidents and town founders or native people who used to live there before we killed them all.

I mean sometimes you get a Shades OF Death Road outta nowhere but that's the exception.
posted by The Whelk at 2:18 PM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I saw this earlier. The best ones I've found so far are Gough, Green and Quintara.

San Francisco, like every town in France, has a street named after Victor Hugo.
posted by vacapinta at 2:18 PM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ooo. Dig this. Though I kinda hate knowing how many jerks have streets named after them.

A SF friend who used to live in Berlin in the years post-reunification said that tracing the name of a single street could give you a pretty good intellectual/political history of 20th century Germany.
posted by spamandkimchi at 2:19 PM on April 29, 2013


Although I appreciate the effort done and the interface is fantastic, there is still work to do. I noticed many streets in Bernal Heights for example are not referenced. The work has been done though.
posted by vacapinta at 2:22 PM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Conspicuously absent are notes on the many streets in downtown San Francisco which are, according to local legend, are named after popular prostitutes from the Gold Rush days. Look at the number of streets near Market Street with female first names.
posted by bcarter3 at 2:27 PM on April 29, 2013


Whoa, vacapinta, that Gough street story is amazing. I always wondered how that weird name got there.
posted by mathowie at 2:32 PM on April 29, 2013


Since this site doesn't tell me otherwise, I'm going to continue believing that the street I live on is named for a lasagna-loving cat and the nearest cross street is named for the guy who played the Incredible Hulk.
posted by madcaptenor at 2:40 PM on April 29, 2013


I had an odd moment while serving jury duty in San Diego a few years ago - on one wall was a list of every superior court judge who'd served the county. The earliest ones accounted for just about all the street names in my neighborhood.
posted by LionIndex at 2:46 PM on April 29, 2013


I wish they'd include why people in SF pronounce Clement Street "cluh-MENT".
posted by Chuffy at 2:50 PM on April 29, 2013


Is it "Gough" rhymes with "cough" or does it sound like "Go" because it seems people pronounce that one about 50/50 each way.
posted by mathowie at 2:55 PM on April 29, 2013


Really cool. I would looooove to see an ambitious project extending this to the whole US.
posted by threeants at 3:06 PM on April 29, 2013


Awesome! I've never been to San Francisco, but this kind of history appeals to me. I hope someone makes a similar site for New York or Boston, simply because I live close to those cities.

If you like this kind of thing, you might also enjoy Names on the Land, which is on a larger scale.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 3:07 PM on April 29, 2013


Hey guys! I made this map. Longtime MeFite but I'd prefer to keep that account pseudonymous so I just made this one. Let me know if you have any questions!

vacapinta, there are definitely a lot of streets still missing. I'm hopefully going to do a refresh next week, thanks for the link!

bcarter3, I tried to leave out most of the "according to local legend" sorts of histories, even though they're often the most fun, and stick to stuff I could source reasonably well. Even still reliability is tough, I came across lots of cases with multiple sources outright contradicting each other, even primary sources from the era in question. I tried to err away from perpetuating the game of history telephone whenever possible.

mathowie, I've only ever heard it as "cough," have you really heard it as "go" in SF? It's also weird how all the Spanish names in the Sunset are Anglicized. Ulloa is yoo-LOH-uh, Vicente is vie-SENT-ee, etc.
posted by veltman at 3:15 PM on April 29, 2013 [10 favorites]


Veltman, add Henry Street. That's where I used to live in Duboce Triangle, it's only three blocks long and I've always wondered how it got its name. I miss my old 'hood.

And I've only heard it as "cough" too.
posted by shoesietart at 3:28 PM on April 29, 2013


As mentioned above, Green and Gough are excellent:

Gough a milkman on a street naming board who named a street after himself and another, Octavia, for his sister!

Green "Talbot H. Green arrived in California in 1841 and became a wealthy local businessman, but in 1850-1851 it came out that he was actually Paul Geddes, a man wanted for embezzlement in Pennsylvania who had abandoned his wife and children there. He fled the city under false pretenses, later returning to San Francisco and then Pennsylvania much later and repaying his debts with the help of his friend Thomas Larkin."
posted by zippy at 3:33 PM on April 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


i always wondered about Roach Street. now i know. not what i expected! thanks, veltman!
posted by lapolla at 3:47 PM on April 29, 2013


Green St is my absolute favorite. That's like something out of a Coen brothers movie.

Broderick St is also pretty crazy - killed in a duel with a chief justice of the California Supreme Court!
posted by veltman at 3:49 PM on April 29, 2013


While this is great (Do NYC next!) I'm always annoyed by the monotonous and repetitive nature of US street names, the place just hasn't been around long enough to get truly oddball names grandfathered in (Street of the cat who sinned! Rue du Chat Qui Peche!) so it's just a bunch of presidents and town founders or native people who used to live there before we killed them all.

That said, I bet we could find a town in Britain small enough that every road name is of the form "[town] road" where the town is whatever the next town you come to down that road is. Perhaps with an interruption for 'High Street' in the center.

Actually, in Bristol, VT, Main Street is a block long. At one end it turns into East Street and at the other West Street. So there's an intersection where West/Main Streets meet North/South Streets. There actually are some other roads, but they had to get more creative naming them.
posted by hoyland at 4:37 PM on April 29, 2013


And Gough named Octavia and Steiner after his sister and BFF respectively.

Now I want to find out where these people are buried.

Once I took part in a treasure hunt that gave directions for addresses that did not exist, like the intersection of two parallel streets or halfway between two streets that are windy and miles apart.

The answer was the old city cemetery, where half the street name donors are buried.
posted by Doroteo Arango II at 4:41 PM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I lived near Shafter and Lawton streets in Oakland for years before reading a history book and discovering that those are names of US generals who helped subdue the Phillipines in the Spanish American war (one closely associated street is named "Manila".)
posted by telstar at 5:07 PM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


> (Street of the cat who sinned! Rue du Chat Qui Peche!)

Oh man, I hate to do this to you, but it's actually the cat who fishes (pêche, with a circonflexe—probably named after a shop or inn sign). But yeah, old Parisian street names are the best; as I wrote here:
Yes, my impression is that London is about the best of the big cities at preserving old street names. Paris still has quite a few, but the nineteenth century wiped out scads of wonderful old names; I can't recommend strongly enough (to those interested in such things) Jacques Hillairet's Dictionnaire historique des rues de Paris (in two volumes), which has an index of disused names that can cause a sob to well up in the nostalgically inclined as one turns the pages: where now are the rue du Pet-au-Diable ('Devil's Fart Road'), the r. du Petit-Hurleur and the r. du Petit-Huys de la Foire, the r. du Pied-de-Biche and the r. du Pied-de-Boeuf, the place des Trois-Maries and the r. des Trois-Maures? How I hate rational, civic-minded planners!
posted by languagehat at 5:16 PM on April 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Fishing cats are just as cool as sinning cats.
posted by The Whelk at 5:16 PM on April 29, 2013


Gough rhymes with cough.
posted by gnutron at 6:10 PM on April 29, 2013


If you're wondering how to pronounce Gough – whether you're a non-native speaker of English or from another part of the US – I'm here to help.

Gough sounds like these words.
posted by zippy at 7:06 PM on April 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


No love for Vermont Street, the real crookedest street in San Francisco?
posted by jonp72 at 7:41 PM on April 29, 2013


"Jasper O'Farrell
A civil engineer who completed a key survey of San Francisco in 1847 that determined much of the modern street layout, including the diagonal boulevard of Market Street. O'Farrell is believed to have named several streets, including Market, Sansome, and Filbert Streets, after streets in Philadelphia, where he had previously lived."

What they don't mention is that O'Farrell decided to make Market Street very wide, which. now, is very nice. At the time, the planned wide street made a lot of property owners lose a lot of land. So they set up a lynching party and headed off to his house! He managed to escape on a ferry to Sausalito, and stayed there until their anger cooled down (From "A Guide to Mysterious San Francisco").
posted by eye of newt at 8:38 PM on April 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


The lack of imagination is not the only thing blocking more variation in street names. The relative lack of new development in cities already chock a block full. In Natick, MA there was a new development built post WWII. Streets in the community are named for the major battles in Europe and major Island battles in the Pacific theater.

My dream is to either convince a developer or better yet become one who names their streets. Parker, Wayne, Banner, Ward, Grimm, Stark, Blake, Rogers, Curry, etc.
posted by Gungho at 6:06 AM on April 30, 2013






O'Farrell is believed to have named several streets, including Market, Sansome, and Filbert Streets, after streets in Philadelphia, where he had previously lived.

Except he spelled Sansome wrong. (In Philadelphia it's Sansom, with no E.) The web site also says that SF's Lombard is named after Philly's Lombard.

There are also Walnut, Locust, and Spruce streets very close to each other in Presidio Heights; I suspect a Philadelphia connection here.

And while we're talking connections between Philly and SF streets: SF's Geary is named after the first mayor of San Francisco - who was also a governor of Pennsylvania. The streets in South Philadelphia are named for Pennsylvania governors, so he's got a street named for him there too.
posted by madcaptenor at 9:37 AM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm disappointed that they don't have the history of this little street. I've always meant to walk down it, but for some reason I've never gotten all the way there.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:58 AM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Looks like it used to be Zoe Place, which might put it in the "streets named for prostitutes" category.
posted by madcaptenor at 11:02 AM on April 30, 2013


It's Gough like cough and it's one of the two streets I know of that mark you as obviously new to the city if you pronounce them incorrectly (kind of like Houston in New York.) The other is Kearny, which is pronounced like kerning + -ing + y, and not ever ever ever kEYrny.
posted by aspo at 11:37 AM on April 30, 2013


My favorite San Francisco street name: 6th Avenue.

No, not that one. This one.
posted by alexei at 1:48 PM on April 30, 2013


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