Alexander Clark Real Estate

‘The Front Steps’: Naming Richmond Streets

A city like San Francisco needs hundreds of street names, and you run out of obvious ones surprisingly quickly. On top of that, people turn out to have very strong opinions about what goes on the street signs around their homes.

That being the case, you might wonder how we ended up with the names we did. For the Richmond this turns out to be a much longer and more baffling story than most people expect, but before we dive into that, here’s the rundown on your block:


Anza Street: When the Spanish sent Juan Bautista de Anza to scout for a location for the Mission and Presidio in what is today San Francisco, he also brought along Father Pedro Font, who named the nearby creek Arroyo de Los Dolores, and thus de Anza’s expedition ended up naming a number of SF landmarks, although notice that both “Font” and “Dolores” ended up on street signs long before he did.

Arguello Boulevard: Perhaps scandalously in this context, José Darío Argüello founded Los Angeles. Well, in fairness, he did a lot of other things too; but we’re certainly not going to let this one slide.

Balboa Street: There is some disagreement on this point, but the street is almost certainly named after early 16th century Spanish explorer Vasco Nuñez de Balboa. As a conquistador, Balboa was mostly invested in hoarding gold and slaves, so actually it’d be fine if the namesake turned out to be someone else.

Cabrillo Street: Yet another Spanish explorer, and yet another person we’d probably rather avoid any honorifics for today. Could be worse, though: Apparently they pitched “Custer” for this street at one point.

California Street: No points for guessing this one, although if non-San Franciscans are ever confused by why California Street is miles away from the streets named for other states it turns out the answer was an attempted land rush that didn’t work.

Fulton Street: Local historian John Freeman says that Fulton Street bears the name of Robert Fulton, inventor of the steamship. Fulton was one of many people at the time hunting for a workable steamboat design; his first vessel broke in half and sank in 1803, and a year before that he tried to create a submarine for Napoleon that also sank.

Funston Street: How many years did you live in the Richmond before you noticed there’s no 13th Avenue? Instead we get a street named after Brigadier General Frederick Funston, who was acting commander of the Army in the Presidio after the 1906 earthquake.

Geary Boulevard: Probably everyone knows that John W. Geary served as San Francisco’s first mayor and also our last alcalde (which was basically the same thing). Years later he served as a general in the Union Army during the Civil War and survived being shot with a cannonball.

Great Highway: Apparently a lot of people assume that the Great Highway is a federal road on account of the name, but before the Highway Act this word had a much more general meaning.

La Playa Street: Of course, like the rest of the western neighborhoods, the Richmond was itself once essentially a playa, so this one is almost redundant.

Lake Street: O course Mountain Lake is right there, although what a lot of people don’t realize is that Mountain Lake Park is actually separate from the surrounding Presidio.

Point Lobos Avenue: This one is a little bit mixed up, as Spanish explorers named Point Lobos for the barking of nearby sea lions, which are indeed called “lobos” (wolves) in Spanish. The “lion” designation is an English foible.

Seal Rock Drive: And of course you can read all about the history of Seal Rock and the fact that there are actually no seals there at all right here in the Richmond Review.

And of course the rest are easy, because they’re all just numbered avenues.

But wait, is that actually so easy? More on that struggle in the future.

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