SFCentric History: The Stories & Figures Behind Some of SF’s Street Names
San Francisco is an old, iron safe filled with gold, glory, disaster, and secrets. SFCentric History is a column, by SF writer V. Alexandra de F. Szoenyi, that digs in the vaults of local history and shares the sensational people, places, and things that rocked San Francisco.
We drive along several San Francisco streets, day by day, without knowing the backstories of their names. While the origins of popular streets such as Mission, Sutter, and Fillmore may be more obvious, there are other streets that are more random. Let’s take a look at 10 more obscure streets and why the are named thus.
Laguna is Spanish for “lagoon.” This street was named for Laguna Pequeña, later referred to as Washerwoman’s Lagoon, where women would wash their clothes (located at the intersection of Greenwich and Gough Streets). Some of the neighborhoods that Laguna runs through are the Marina, Japantown, and Hayes Valley.
Bonifacio Street was named for Andrés Bonifacio, leader of the 1856 Philippine Revolution, and President of the Tagalog Republic. The revolutionary founded the Katipunan, a secret society which fought against the Spanish rule. The street is located in the SoMa Pilipinas Filipino Cultural Heritage District of the city.
Ellert Street is named after Levi Richard Ellert, San Francisco’s mayor from 1893 to 1895. He was also the first San Francisco and/or California native to serve as mayor. The street is located in Bernal Heights.
There has been a long-standing rumor that all the alleys in SoMa with female names, i.e. Minna, Fella, Jessie, etc. are named after women of the night. However, Jessie Street is actually named after Jessie Benton Fremont, writer; political activist; daughter of Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton; and wife of politician, explorer, and soldier John C. Fremont.
Joost Avenue runs parallel to Monterey Boulevard in the Sunnyside neighborhood. It is named after Behrend Joost, the man responsible for the city’s first electric railway–the San Francisco and San Mateo Railroad Company, which began service in 1892.
Imagine having the first house in San Francisco. This was the fate of Jacob Primer Leese, who has a street named after him in Bernal Heights. The pioneer, rancher, and entrepreneur was the second (non-native) permanent resident of San Francisco, which was then called Yerba Buena, and built its first permanent house in 1836 (where Grant and Clay is now). He also built a business on Montgomery Street, between Clay and Sacramento Streets. Leese also married General Vallejo’s sister, María Rosalia Vallejo.
Macondray Lane is part of the larger, historic Russian Hill-Macondray District. It is a two-block pedestrian lane that was named after businessman Frederick William Macondray, the man who imported grapevines, including Zinfandel vines, to California in 1852. Macondray Lane was the inspiration for Barbary Lane in the book Tales of the City.
It seems like every city or town has a Main Street to denote, well, a main street. The Main Street in San Francisco (in the South Beach/Rincon Hill neighborhood), however, is actually named for a person, Charles Main. Charles was a carriage and harness maker, and half of The Main & Winchester Saddlery & Harness Company. Among other achievements, Main was also director of the San Francisco Central Railroad, and was responsible for the widening of Kearny Street.
San Francisco is a literary city. It is no surprise then, that an avenue in the Mission District is named after a novel. Ramona was a book written in 1884 by Helen Hunt Jackson, about a half Native American, half-Scottish girl who grows up in Southern California after the Mexican-American War. The popular book on the plight of the Mission Indians led to the naming of streets, schools, even a town, after Ramona.
The Western Addition’s Zampa Lane is named in honor of ironworker/bridge worker Alfred Zampa. Zampa helped build the Bay Bridge, the Carquinez Bridge (part of it was renamed in his honor), and the Golden Gate Bridge (which he survived falling off of).