Alexander Clark Real Estate

‘The Front Steps’: The Very First Road Into the Richmond

The most important thing about housing is actually transit–you’re never going to sell a house nobody can get to, and even to this day, homes in SF’s western neighborhoods struggle with the perception that we’re too far from downtown.

(Of course, for some people that’s a selling point in itself–to each their own.)

But imagine how much worse it was in the 19th century; when the original Cliff House opened, San Franciscans had more reasons to make the expedition out to the coast, but as a San Francisco Call story from 1895 reveals, the only real way to get there was by the circuitous (and now long forgotten) Ocean House Road, or else just barging ahead through the sand dunes and hoping for the best.

So in the early 1860s, some enterprising sorts put their heads together and created the first real direct road into what would become the Richmond–Point Lobos.

Presently, Point Lobos Avenue runs just a few blocks west of Lands End. But in those days Point Lobos stretched all the way to Chinatown; and it wasn’t Point Lobos Avenue, it was the Point Lobos Toll Road.

As neighborhood historian Arnold Woods puts it, roads in those days were pretty iffy–Point Lobos was just a long track of “dirt and wooden planks,” barely enough to keep wagon and carriage wheels from bogging down in the sand.

(A more civilized Point Lobos in 1922. Photo courtesy of SFDPW.)

Still, it was enough to bring visitors to the west side. Nearly two decades later, the toll company sold Point Lobos–all 160 lots of it–to the city, for the princely sum of $26,587, or just over $770,000 today.

By this point, more nearby infrastructure meant the tolls weren’t coming in like they used to. NPS reports that in 1887 the city did away with the toll booths and just renamed the whole stretch Point Lobos Avenue.

As everyone knows, a finger of Point Lobos Avenue still remains, but by the early 20th century the city decided they had a better name for the rest of it: Geary Boulevard.

And so it’s been ever since.

Back when the neighborhood was just a weird frontier space that people had to fight through to get to the beach, there was little incentive to build or live here; the old Point Lobos Road tamed the desert and made it possible to become, well, the Richmond.

So next time you’re stuck on Geary, or are endlessly waiting for the 38 to appear out of the mists, you can at least console yourself with the knowledge that thanks to that, all this is possible.

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