Roads to Hell: S.F.'s Shameful Street Names

On June 27, 1986, a resolution named a street after Polish politician and Nobel Peace Prize winner Lech Walesa, "who has unselflessly (sic) strived through his work and dedication for the improvement of all people ...." On March 19, 2013, a resolution was introduced to un-name the street after Walesa: "The City of San Francisco celebrates the tolerance and inclusiveness that [Gay Games founder] Dr. Tom Waddell advocated throughout his life and strongly refutes the hate speech against the LGBTQ community expressed recently by Lech Walesa."

Walesa is the rare street-name honoree whose worldview has grown antiquated within his own lifetime. But San Franciscans still navigate their city via the names of other men — and they are nearly exclusively men — whose behavior we would today consider appalling. Walesa's contention that homosexuals shouldn't play a major role in Polish life is lamentable. But, to set the bar pretty low, at least he didn't commit mass-murder. To wit:

General Frederick Funston, a top commander in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War, was quoted in 1902 as boasting that he had "personally strung up 35 Filipinos without trial." He concluded that, stateside, "impromptu domestic hanging might also hasten the end of the war," and that American citizens who petitioned Congress to end the bloodshed "should be dragged out of their homes and lynched." His name lives on via two Funston Streets and Fort Funston near Lake Merced, where dog-walkers aren't required to string up their animals.

Isaac Bluxome, Jr. served as secretary for both the 1851 and 1856 "Vigilance Committees." These bodies usurped power from San Francisco's elected government, barred Australians from setting foot in the city, and hanged eight men — two of whom were forcibly dragged from their jail cells. William Coleman (whose name graces a small street in Hunters Point) was the leader of the '56 committee. Bluxome Street in SoMa is home to apartments, art galleries, and a winery Whether any Australians live there is unknown.

James D. Phelan served as mayor from 1897 to 1902 and later matriculated to the U.S. Senate. His campaign platform is one of the city's most cringe-worthy, however: Phelan's Senate re-election material blared "Save our State from Oriental Aggression" and "Keep California White." He lost, though his name is a multiple winner, adorning the Presidio-adjacent James D. Phelan Beach, the historic FiDi Phelan Building, and Phelan Street — home to City College, where Asians make up a third of the student body.

Talbot Green was a pillar of San Francisco — until 1850 or '51, when, while running for mayor, an East-Coaster claimed Green was actually Paul Geddes, an embezzler who'd jilted his wife and four (some say five) kids in Pennsylvania. Green claimed he could go east and disprove the wild accusations; he was escorted to a waiting steamer by some of the city's most prominent men. Turns out, Green was Paul Geddes. (His family took him back in.) Green Street carries his name, though for accuracy's sake it should intersect with Geddes Avenue somewhere in the east.

Charles Gough was a milk man in San Francisco in 1850. Multitasking was de rigeur in the city at that time, and in 1855 Gough was on the committee that named streets in the Western Addition. Gough likely never killed anyone — nor, as far as we know, slurred homosexuals during a TV interview. He did, however, ostentatiously name a street after himself, another after his sister, Octavia, and a third after his fellow deliveryman buddy, Leopold Steiner. Then again, given his fellow namesakes, if Gough's worst crime was forgetting the half-and-half once in a while, he's practically a saint by comparison.

 
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11 comments
jjlasne
jjlasne

The most shameful street in San Francisco is named after the murderer Lapu Lapu who killed Magellan, a brilliant explorer, in 1521 in the Philippines. That street name should have remained O'Doul, a more deserving pitcher.

Dexter
Dexter

If naming a street after yourself is a sin, add Storrie St. (off upper Market St.) named after the contractor who worked in the area, and Harney Way (named after Charles Harney, who built Candlestick Stadium).

suedeshirttravel
suedeshirttravel

You left off Folsom Street, named for Joseph Folsom, quartermaster of Stevenson's Regiment of 1847, who also cheated the late William Leidesdorff's surviving mother out of a million-dollar land inheritance. You neglected to mention Gough's role in hunting Edward McGowan in and around Santa Barbara in 1856 for the Committee of Vigilance. Why not also mention Lyon Street's namesake Nathaniel Lyon, a U.S. Army officer infamous for leading the Bloody Island (Clear Lake) Massacre of Pomo Indians in 1850. And of course there's so much that could be said negatively about pioneers Sam Brannan (who so cleverly sited the new town of Sacramento on a flood-prone river course where anyone could see driftwood lodged high up in the nearby trees) and John Sutter, the latter a liar of international renown, a serial defaulter of business loans, a Native American enslaver and womanizer, and a drunkard. Even the mostly respectable T.O. Larkin, namesake of Larkin Street along Russian Hill, attempted in at least three cases I've found to obtain land tracts (one encompassing the entire Presidio of San Francisco) using fraudulent Mexican titles.

sloloris
sloloris

You left out a big one:  Cesar Chavez Street.  Cesar Chavez was a criminal who, while he was in Mexico on numerous occasions, harangued the peasant populace to emigrate to the United States illegally and refuse to learn English and to have children so that couldn't be kicked out.

hplovecraft
hplovecraft

I'd expect to see an article with this tone in SFBayGuardian. This is a humorous piece , I

gather ?

sousrob
sousrob

I think the reason Funston receives this honor is not due to his work in that war, but for his actions and choices when the 1906 earthquake hit.

jmtakeuchi
jmtakeuchi

March 29, 2013

Joe Eskenazi:

The Isaac Bluxome, Jr. section of your article "Roads to Hell" in the March 27-April 2 issue of SF Weekly does a disservice to history in general and to the Vigilance Committees in particular. At the time the committees were formed the government of San Francisco was the most corrupt imaginable including the police and judiciary. It may be of particular interest to you that journalists who spoke out against them were murdered as in the case of James King, editor of the San Francisco Bulletin, by James P. Casey, the convicted criminal who controlled much in both state and local government, and who was tried and hung by the 1856 committee. The Vigilance Committees should be seen less as random bands of vigilantes and more as an “Occupy” movement. For more information see the Virtual Museum of San Francisco: http://www.sfmuseum.org/searchresults.html?cx=017537146380771376400%3Apkfl8lk2x8k&cof=FORID%3A11&ie=UTF-8&q=vigilence+committee

J. M. Takeuchi, Jr.

Berkeley, CA

suedeshirttravel
suedeshirttravel

@jmtakeuchi You have some reading to do to round out your knowledge of the 1856 Committee of Vigilance: especially Kevin Mullen's 'Let Justice Be Done' and 'Vigilantes in Gold Rush San Francisco' by Robert M. Senkewicz. Senkewicz's book shows how the merchants and businessmen who led the VCs benefitted financially from their revolutionary acts. Mullen's book challenges the conventional wisdom about the crime wave, as well as the effectiveness of law enforcement in the early 1850s, that the VCs ostensibly fought. You should also read Edward McGowan's 'Narrative,' which describes his flight in 1856 from capture by the committee in San Francisco and later in Santa Barbara.

joe.eskenazi
joe.eskenazi

@jmtakeuchi Sir or madam -- 


I think reasonable people can agree that there is a middle ground between acquiescence  to corrupt government and an armed takeover, kangaroo courts, and executions. 

Your analogy to an "Occupy" movement is interesting, but I'm not sure how well it works -- what with the hangings and all. 

I appreciate your commentary and the links to the informative article, 


JE

suedeshirttravel
suedeshirttravel

@joe.eskenazi The 1856 VC was an overtly political body who used public opinion, enflamed by outrageous "journalism" from newspapers in the pockets of the city's businessmen, as well as the theater of public hangings as a cover for breaking up (and actually banishing) the city's key Irish-American politicos, thus ending the local political influence of David Broderick's organization (though he was later elected U.S. Senator by the legislature).

 
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