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Is It ‘Geary Street’ Or ‘Geary Boulevard’? Let’s Settle This Once And For All

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Image: eng1ne via Flickr

Geary is San Francisco’s longest east-west street, but is it really a ‘Street’? Some people call it “Geary Street” and others call it “Geary Boulevard,” and even Geary’s most well-known landmarks disagree on the street’s surname. For instance, the Fillmore Auditorium lists themselves as being located at 1805 Geary Boulevard, while Union Square’s famed Pinecrest Diner is listed at 401 Geary Street. It’s the same street! Is it Street or Boulevard? Who has it right?  

The fact is that they’re both right. It is both Geary Street and Geary Boulevard — but there is a very clear delineation determining which parts are Geary Street, and which parts are Geary Boulevard. And there’s some shameful history behind why San Francisco makes this curious distinction.

As we see in the Google Maps graphic above, it’s Geary Street east of Van Ness Avenue (US 101), and Geary Boulevard west of Van Ness Avenue.

Still, that’s weird. Why do we have both a Geary Street and a Geary Boulevard?

The Transbay Blog has a fascinating history lesson for us on how the post-1906 earthquake Geary electric streetcar essentially became the first Muni line. In the December 30, 1909 election — and yes, back then we had an election on December 30 — San Francisco voters approved a bond to build a public streetcar line, starting from the corner of Geary and Market Streets and going all the way out to Ocean Beach to be called the B-Geary (as well as a second A-Geary line that turned to Golden Gate Park at 10th Avenue, and a third C-Geary that turned north at 2nd Avenue).

But in those days, while Geary Street was still “Geary Street,” what we now call Geary Boulevard was known as “Point Lobos Avenue.”

San Francisco Call, December 31, 1909 (Click for full image)

While the 1909 bond measure specifically referenced the traditional “Point Lobos avenue,” the name had just been changed to “Geary Boulevard.” Found SF published a detailed recounting of the 1909 street naming controversies, while San Francisco was being built back from its post-earthquake ruins. Many Richmond residents hated Spanish street names, Point Lobos Avenue among them.

Per Found SF:

The Richmond Banner editorialized on November 19: “If the wishes of the twelve of our “patriotic” supervisors are carried out, our Sunset and Richmond districts will soon be known as the Spanish Town of San Francisco, and ‘The Spanish will then have taken San Francisco’ notwithstanding Dewey’s victory at Manila Bay several years ago.”

“The people of Sunset and Richmond are fully aroused and will never submit to the insult and injustice heaped upon them by the majority of the Board of Supervisors.” In closing, the editor pledged, “Sunset and Richmond districts will stand together and fight this miserable surrender of American names to a finish.”

Image: Found SF

The supervisors caved, and renamed Point Lobos Avenue to Geary Boulevard (though leaving the Point Lobos name intact on a tiny strip out by what is now the Cliff House). It’s named for San Francisco’s first mayor John Geary. But starting in 1909, Geary Street had a new-name companion called Geary Boulevard, electric street cars would do the work of what we now call the 38-Geary, and people would unknowingly misname Geary Street and Geary Boulevard for at least another 110 years.

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Joe Kukura- Millionaire in Training

Joe Kukura- Millionaire in Training

Joe Kukura is a two-bit marketing writer who excels at the homoerotic double-entendre. He is training to run a full marathon completely drunk and high, and his work has appeared in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal on days when their editors made particularly curious decisions.

2 Comments

  1. Jon Emerson
    October 1, 2020 at 10:58 pm — Reply

    You’re on the right track, but there’s even more history here (and racism!) if you dig deeper.

    Geary Street actually ran until Presidio Ave until implementation of the 1909 bond measure you mentioned. Source: https://www.nps.gov/goga/learn/historyculture/vestiges-point-lobos-ave.htm

    After implementation, Geary STREET was continued until 33rd avenue, not all the way out to the Cliff House quite yet. Source: https://collections.lib.uwm.edu/digital/collection/agdm/id/7929/

    In this historical 1933 map, Geary is still called Geary Street until 33rd ave, when it becomes Geary Boulevard: https://www.davidrumsey.com/luna/servlet/detail/RUMSEY~8~1~217219~5504219

    But it was probably not racism against Hispanic culture, as it was racism against African Americans, that caused the biggest changes. After WWII, the Western Addition — a predominantly black neighborhood, began to be razed for high-rises and highways.

    “After World War II, President Truman signed the 1949 Housing Act, which authorized the demolition and reconstruction of urban neighborhoods that were considered slums. … Jazz clubs were shuttered. Businesses torn down. Two-lane Geary Street turned into a giant expressway, Geary Boulevard, slicing through the heart of the neighborhood.” Source: https://www.kqed.org/news/11825401/how-urban-renewal-decimated-the-fillmore-district-and-took-jazz-with-it

    “By the late 1950s, when it was clear that the City’s Freeway Plan was deader than the proverbial doornail, civic leaders combined desired transportation improvements with some then-popular urban renewal schemes, and the Geary Expressway was born. The plan began with the removal of the streetcar line from Market Street all the way to the Beach in 1956, and installation of the replacement 38-Geary bus line. Construction then commenced to widen Geary considerably from Gough to the already-widened area near Masonic, with a traffic underpass at Fillmore, plus construction of the Japan Center and various housing projects along the way.” Source: https://www.outsidelands.org/streetwise-roads-in.php

    This work lead to the split of Geary Street into Geary Boulevard and O’Farrell Street at Van Ness, creating the names we use today sometime in the late 1950’s.

  2. TR
    October 5, 2020 at 4:41 pm — Reply

    The big thing unanswered here is whether it is pronounced “geery” or ” Gary”

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