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Crowdsourcing Maps, Unnumbering Streets

August 17, 2011

Did a fun little interview on KQED about the 1905 Sanborn fire insurance maps and the geo-location alignment tool that Mike from Stamen was kind enough to build.

The easy part is done — the maps that are left are the tough ones, where streets were renamed (or never actually existed). Bayview / Hunters Point (aka Butchertown) along with the old piers by Dogpatch will be a real challenge.

I created a cheat sheet for Butchertown which should help for the numbered and lettered “South” streets and avenues, like these:

In the late spring of 1909, a street renaming commission was appointed by Mayor Taylor to clear up the long-standing confusion from similar or duplicate street names… the chairman took a strong stand against streets named only by numbers or alphabetical letters by stating that their use “is a cheap and indefensible expedient resorted to only when imagination is lacking.”

Lettered streets were expanded into words (N St South became Newhall St.)and numeric order turned into alphabetical street names (11th Ave South became into Kirkwood, 12th Ave S. turned into La Salle). Railroad Ave (and the Long Bridge) eventually became 3rd street.

(These “South” streets and avenues shouldn’t be confused with those in the Richmond and Sunset, where J became Judah, etc – if a fog-dweller wants to generate a companion index, please let me know.)

The Great 1909 Renaming was quite controversial – there were protests in the Richmond and Sunset, and a heated debate on the use of Spanish names. From the Nov 16 1909 SF Call:

Freebooters and cutthroats, these Spanish fellows!

What do we want with Spanish names, anyhow? Why, only the other day they shot a man there for speaking out the truth, and they have been the most cruel; tyrannical race In Europe. Let’s go back to Ireland, if we must get some names imported. ‘Dinan’ and ‘Conroy’ will do better than these outlandish titles of forgotten adventurers. This Spanish business is worse than the bubonic plague, but we’ll come through it in time.

IN SESF, the Catholic church got involved with renaming the streets in Bayview / Hunters Point, leading to some rather entertaining bitching. From the SF History Encyclopedia:

Led by Father O’Sullivan of All Hallows Parish, and Father Ford, a Jesuit from St. Ignatius College, the Bayview attempted to influence the street name selection. The first contention was over the use of the name of the “patriotic” Thomas Paine, of American Revolutionary and “Age of Reason” fame. When Paine was suggested for Sixteenth Avenue, South, Father O’Sullivan protested vehemently against naming a thoroughfare after someone they branded an atheist.

The Examiner quoted O’Sullivan as saying, “[Paine] was an infidel, and in South San Francisco we are all Christians.”
The Fathers really didn’t like authors:

Father Ford protested naming Thirtieth Avenue, South as Fitzgerald Avenue: “I object to making a hero of the author of pagan literature.”

The 11/27/1909 SF Call tells the story of a pirate mistaken for a priest (Sir Francis Drake vs St. Francis of Assisi).

More SF Call articles for your perusal on the ever awesome California Digital Newspaper Collection. Consider throwing them a bone – all that scanning isn’t free.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. August 17, 2011 4:32 pm

    Congratulations on your new fame!

    The Richmond/Sunset streets that are named now were actually lettered, not numbered. Judah was J Street, not 10th Avenue (which is still 10th Avenue). The only numbered ones that were renamed there were Arguello (former 1st) and Funston (former 13th).

    For more numbered streets, though, there is the 1854 Official Map, which called Polk “West First Street” and kept on numbering west from there. Julian and Albion were also 1st and 2nd Avenues in some 1850s maps that I can’t find right this second.

    • August 17, 2011 6:17 pm

      Whoops! Thank you for the proofreading – been staring at too many Butchertown maps.

  2. August 17, 2011 4:56 pm

    Your interview inspired me to spend about an hour of my workday matching up maps with the Maptcha. Don’t tell my boss.

  3. aidan permalink
    August 17, 2011 5:40 pm

    We really need to get the next level of maptcha with the 1905 Sanborn maps, that is, distorting the image such that the property lines more closely match the property lines today. At least roughly set the block outlines to match. The Sanborn maps do not have street widths to scale by a long shot… and I REALLY want the overlay of this in Google Earth

    • August 17, 2011 7:09 pm

      Patience, grasshopper! The alignment is but the first step in our journey.

      Let’s just say Mike and I had dinner with David Rumsey last night and this was one of the many things we talked about (along with some RIDICULOUSLY COOL things which I can’t tell you about yet – OMGWTFBBQ cool.)

  4. Joe Thomas permalink
    August 17, 2011 7:08 pm

    Another name change tip: Point Lobos is now Geary Avenue.

    • Concerned Guajolote permalink
      August 17, 2011 9:12 pm

      I didn’t realize until today that Point Lobos was Geary, and I was outraged, my first thought was a ballot initiative to restore the original. They also changed Japan and China Aves to Avalon and Excelsior — there is something kind of pleasantly 40s about those names, like if we happened to have a street named Breivik and had to rename it to something and chose iAvenue.

    • August 17, 2011 10:31 pm

      If it makes you feel any better, a little nibblet of Point Lobos still lurks between 39th & 48th.

      Funny, I just noticed the Japan and China Aves today.

      Should be interesting to see what streets get renamed over the next 106 years.

    • Concerned Guajolote permalink
      August 17, 2011 10:54 pm

      That does make me feel much better, I keep learning today. I didn’t even realize that Geary changes names at that point, and I am pretty attached to that area. We must have all been assigned the same problem maps because I got a crash course on Butchertown and other spots of SE shore right as you were researching and posting this, as well as one at Point Lobos and 15th Ave.

      BTW what is the status of BurritoVision? Do you have any other ideas for apps you’d like to see?

    • August 18, 2011 12:00 am

      There was another Japan Street too, the current Colin P. Kelly. That one was renamed during World War II, and I think was probably the first honorary street naming to use someone’s full name.

    • August 18, 2011 5:15 pm

      Regarding BurritoVision, I see two steps.

      First would be a simple version that takes any one georeferenced map and displays and rotates it based on your location and direction. We could theoretically do this using the placements.

      BV would figure out your location, see if there is a map available, determine the direction you are pointing, and rotate the image dynamically.

      Step 2 would be displaying a tiled or carpeted map set. Same display as above, but we need to crop and glue the maps into a carpet first (to rotate around 24th and Mission, we need four different maps.

      Toggling map sets would be another feature – 1886 Sanborns vs 1905 vs 1915…

      We should discuss this over beer sometime.

  5. August 18, 2011 1:47 pm

    Just really very awesomely cool in every way. KQED chose a great subject indeed and the right people to flesh it all out…

    Change is cool (horse and buggy cum auto shops!), and like you were quoted, “That’s how it works. You say ‘hey, that’s interesting,’ and you start doing research online and suddenly its 4am.”

    Name changes are especially interesting! Racism, misguided patriotism and other sad -isms shakes things up even more. My favorite of the three alphabetized street sets (that I know of) in Sunnyside ends at Genessee, but used to contain an H street, which was changed to Ridgewood during the War. (II) It was Hamburg.

  6. August 19, 2011 3:01 pm

    The San Francisco Municipal Reports (1908-1909) has the official “Changes of Names of Streets” (the report is on pages 1456-1466)
    The San Francisco Public Library digitized these reports with the Internet Archive.
    For another view of the 1909 controversy – use your San Francisco Public Library card to access the San Francisco Chronicle Historical database

  7. pchas permalink
    August 20, 2011 11:21 pm

    Another area where streets today are different from when they were originally platted is Diamond Heights. The rectilinear Noe Valley street grid was planned to extend up over Diamond Heights and down into Glen Canyon. There are still some vestiges. The block of Goldmine east of Diamond Heights was Valley Street.


  1. Dogpatch Howler › Meet Me At Kentucky and Sierra

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