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

Wednesday, Mar 27 2013

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.

About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" is a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly, which he has written for since 2007. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers... more


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