By Judith Kahn
An article in the San Jose Pioneer, dated Sept. 15, 1897, points out that few of the people living in San Francisco at the time knew much, if anything, about how the streets were named.
“Outside of a few prominent streets … and those bearing the names of presidents, little seems to be known among San Franciscans as to whom and what the pioneers were whose names remain on the maps of their city,” the article said.
Although much more is known today than in 1897, there is more knowledge to discover as to the origins of street names in San Francisco. Finding out the history of street names in San Francisco has always been problematic, especially since the 1906 earthquake destroyed many city records, along with a new City Hall.
According to Louis K. Lowenstein, in his book “Streets of San Francisco,” a researcher is still left to intuition, judgement and even wits in the search for how streets got their names.
In 1882, some 28 alleys and courts and more than three dozen streets were given new names, but there are no records explaining how that occurred.
In 1909, a committee of the SF Board of Supervisors gave almost 100 streets new names. Streets were named after people of all occupations: explorers, surveyors, military personnel, mayors, millionaires and prominent, influential citizens. Such is the case of the street names in the Sunset District.
Neighborhoods in the Sunset, with a population of more than 85,000, include Golden Gate Heights, Inner Sunset, Parkside and Parnassus Heights.
From 1860 through 1890, before the commercial development of the Sunset, it was composed of a few dairies, ranches, roadhouses, dynamite factories that kept exploding and an early elementary school.
On the west side of Golden Gate Heights, Carl Larsen, one of the earliest settlers in the Sunset, had a chicken ranch. Today, a part of that property, located at 19th Avenue and Ulloa Street, is where Larsen Park is located.
The origin of the district’s name is not clear.
In 1889, Wendell Easton, a real-estate developer, was the first person to advertise a block for sale in the “Sunset Heights.” Easton associated a sunset with the Sunset, and said his inspiration for the phrase Sunset came from these words:
“The golden hued sun, as it bids good day to the western slope and dips itself gracefully into its evening bath in the placid Pacific, throws its last kisses prior to its final dip upon these, the truly Sunset Heights.”
Another story is that the Sunset got its name from the 1894 California Midwinter Fair, which was held in Golden Gate Park. The fair site was known as “The Sunset City.”
A third claim of the origin of the district’s name is that it was declared by the Sunset District Improvement Club, which met at Ninth Avenue and H Street in 1895 and whose members had just witnessed a magnificent sunset.
The streets in the Sunset were named in recognition of people from all occupations, particularly people who contributed to the history of California or the building of the City.
Kirkham Street was named to honor the Quartermaster Corps Brigadier Gen. Ralph W. Kirkham, who fought in the Mexican War of 1847 and the Civil War.
Irving Street was named to commemorate Washington Irving, who was called the “father of American literature.”
Judah Street was named in honor of Theodore Judah, a civil engineer, who arrived in San Francisco in 1854. He constructed California’s first railway, from Sacramento to Folsom, and designed a railroad route over the Sierra Nevada.
Sloat Boulevard was a tribute to Commodore John Drake Sloat, who was in command of a U.S. Navy squadron in the Pacific in 1846.
Portola Drive was named in recognition of the first Spanish governor of California, Gaspar de Portola, who marched north from San Diego in 1769, in command of the first party of Europeans to see San Francisco Bay.
Quintara Street’s name is thought to have been selected by the Parkside Reality Company, which developed the Parkside District around the turn of the 20th century. The developers liked the way the name sounded.
Rivera Street was designated in recognition of Fernando Rivera y Moncada, who was second in command to Portola, He was the governor of California from 1773 to 1777, and opposed the early settlement of Yerba Buena (now San Francisco).
Taraval Street was named in remembrance of Capt. Juan Anza’s Indian guide during the 1776 journey to northern California.
In honor of Victor Hugo, the French poet, dramatist and novelist, whose writing strongly influenced French public opinion, Hugo Street was named.
Lawton Street commemorates Henry Lawton, who became the military governor of Santiago, Cuba after its surrender in the Spanish-American War.
Santiago Street is thought to be named for the Santiago sailing ship, which visited San Diego and Monterey hauling provisions and personnel for Captain Juan Anza’s expedition of 1776.
Lincoln Way was named in honor of Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth president of the United States.
San Francisco is always in the process of naming and renaming streets, to honor new heroes or outstanding citizens or to remove the names of those deemed unworthy by today’s standards.