Noe Valley: From Horner’s Addition to Boomer Outpost

Noe Valley has evolved from a collection of dairy farms into a quiet, sunny and wealthy neighborhood.

“Two loving hearts were united in the bonds of holy matrimony in a Noe Valley mansion last night — although the father of the blushing bride threatened to blow the top of the bridegroom’s head off a few hours before the ceremony,” states a San Francisco Call article from 1889. The father was arrested for his threats, and the couple allegedly threw a wild party until 1 a.m. at their home at 1403 Church St.

San Francisco’s rich history as a turn-of-the-century destination for those with big dreams has made for some wild stories over the years. But Noe Valley — a hilly, largely-residential neighborhood west of the Mission and south of the Castro — is rarely featured in the media.

Unlike the Tenderloin and SoMa, which drew thousands of sailors to bars and businesses while their ships were in port, Noe Valley was initially used for its natural agriculture. It was consolidated with the Castro, Glen Park, and Diamond Heights into a 4,400-acre ranch, christened Rancho San Miguel. José de Jesús Noe was gifted the land in 1845, as part of a settlement following the Mexican-American War. But it doesn’t appear he was wealthy; his occupation was listed as a “farmer” in old documents, and within a decade of the sale, he began selling parcels off to developers.

John Meirs Horner and his brother William J. Horner bought much of the ranch, fencing it off and creating streets and blocks. It’s John Horner who’s responsible for many of the neighborhood’s street names: Elizabeth, Duncan, Clipper, and Valley were all his choices. Today, much of the area is still referred to as Horner’s Addition by the city’s tax assessor, in part due to the historic nature of around 100 houses within the boundaries of 21st to 25th streets, and San Jose Avenue to Guerrero Street.

With this wave of development and small plot sales came the Irish, who opened boarding houses, stables, and farms. Public transit was installed nearby in the Mission and the Castro. The area slowly populated, but experienced a boom after the 1906 earthquake, when people displaced from other neighborhoods settled in Noe Valley. As the population has increased, the area has become wealthier, as affluent families have moved in, grabbing its (once) ample supply of single-family housing.

Today, Noe Valley is an often-sunny, walkable neighborhood filled with strollers and dogs, and the attending signposts of gentrification in San Francisco: juice bars, avocado toast, and third wave coffee. The neighborhood is scant on new pedestrian or bike infrastructure, but few collisions occur. The Saturday farmers market features neighborhood kids playing in their bands and a notice board filled with notifications about events at the library and obituaries for local dogs. The neighborhood newspaper, the Noe Valley Voice, has somehow survived the scourge of print media closures and remains in print 42 years after its launch. When asked to describe its stereotypical resident for a San Francisco Chronicle column, Chronicle reporter J.K. Dineen, who lives in the neighborhood, kept it short and sweet: “Prius-driving baby boomers and Tesla-driving techies with IPO money.”


What To Do

You will not find a vibrant nightlife in Noe Valley, but you will find plenty of charming stops. On your next free sunny afternoon, we recommend you hop on the J-Church or 24-Divisadero for a tourist-like excursion. Stop in at Omnivore Books on Food (3885 Cesar Chavez) for the latest Alison Roman cookbook, or Folio Books (3957 24th St.) for the latest New York Times bestseller. Breakfast at the decades-old Chloe’s Cafe (1399 Church St.) or Noe Valley Bakery (4073 24th St.) can’t be missed — though newer spots like Vive la Tarte (4026 24th St.) and Mahila (1320 Castro St.) are also solid choices. If you’re in the mood for a movie, your trip to Noe Valley would be remiss without a visit to Video Wave of Noe Valley, a video-rental shop (4027 24th St.) that stands as one of the last such stores in San Francisco.

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