March 09, 2005
I've realized recently that after five years of living in the bay area, I don't know my way around San Francisco. I know that there are neighborhoods with names like Richmond and Western Addition, but I have no clue where they are in relation to anything else. I can just about manage to find the Financial District, which is the geographical equivalent of finding one's ass with both hands. Yesterday I tried to remedy this by poring over a Google map, Wikipedia's excellent article on San Francisco neighborhoods, and this slightly vague but quite helpful area map. The resulting increase in geographical understanding has shed a considerable amount of light on something which I'm now going to use as an excuse to tell one of my favorite stories.
About four years ago I bought myself a ticket to a Dashboard Confessional show in the city. I was going alone with no car, but it looked on paper like an easy walk from the BART station to the venue, so I wrote down some directions and headed out. Five minutes from BART I found myself lost: which way was I supposed to turn on this street? I didn't know any of the landmarks or the streets I was supposed to pass, so I wandered back and forth for a while worrying and finally decided to ask someone.
Let me explain something here. This was the height of my androgynous indie-punk phase, and I was dressed as follows: battered dirty work pants sprouting wallet chains in all directions, cuffs rolled up to show battered dirty boots covered in duct tape, and one of my many messy, short, awkward home haircuts. It was raining. I was damp, bedraggled, and hunched over in my hoodie which, I will admit, had a pair of crossed pistols on the front under the words "Drink, Smoke, Fight!"
Let all of this not distract you from the fact that I was a girl alone at night in an unfamiliar city, lost. Certainly that fact was foremost in my mind, and it made up most of the reason that I spent so long hemming and hawing before actually daring to try to talk to someone. I picked a woman walking alone, figuring she wouldn't hurt me, and approached her. "Excuse me?" I asked, "um, excuse me?" She walked away as fast as she could without looking at me, and I trailed to a stop with my mouth agape. Bu-- wha-- meh? Didn't she realize I was a harmless dork trying to go see a whiny guy play an acoustic guitar?
On later consideration it of course made perfect sense; I wouldn't have stopped to talk to some aimless scruffy punk boy either. But it also would have made more immediate sense to me if I'd been aware that the neighborhood in which I was wandering was pretty much smack in the middle of the Tenderloin. It's for the better, I think, that I got a ride home that night instead of trying to find my way back to BART. Just a thought.
Posted by dianna at March 9, 2005 10:45 AM
Western Addition is by far the most useless, meaningless, and confusing SF neighborhood name there is.
My aging great-aunt gets confused by how she used to live in the Mission, but now she lives in Noe Valley, when neither she or the actual Spanish mission in San Francisco have moved in at least 50 years. That's nothing compared to the Army/Cesar Chavez name switch, but at least she could steal the old street signs in the latter case.
What I'd like to know is why the name Western Addition was given to that area instead of, say, the Richmond/Sunset area. Gosh, it's at the western edge of the city, it's a relatively new part of town, let's give the name Western Addition to someplace right in the middle of the old city instead. Eh?
Your aging great-aunt just made a fortune in property value increases, though, unless she rents. If she rents, she got totally screwed.
My DH and I are thinking about moving up to the city after we finish our qualifying exams - it's really just an escapist fantasy at this point, and two UCSC humanities grad students can't really afford to rent anywhere in the city, but it's been kind of a fun opportunity to educate my DH (and myself) a little bit about SF neighborhoods via Craigslist. "Hey, DH, here's a 2-bedroom we can almost afford! It's 25 square feet and it's out in the avenues somewhere." "Is that in the Castro? I want to live in the Castro. But somewhere with parking." "No, honey, it's really not." Peering over my shoulder at the grainy picture on the Craigslist posting, he says vaguely, "Oh, well, it has wall-to-wall carpeting anyway. Come on, hardwood, Castro, parking, cheap: there must be something." Because, evidently, what's the point of living in a city where you can meet boys if you can't bring them home to hardwood?
[engage Beavis snicker]
Huh-huh-huh. You said hard wood.
[disengage Beavis snicker]
Well, at least that explains why he's so interested in it.
come to think of it, the part of the city known as "saint francis' wood" is kind of dirty too.
huh huh. huhuhuh.
Yeah, why do you think Saint Francis has that beatific smile anyway?
Oh, also... where the hell is "out in the avenues somewhere"? Now I'm all confused again.
where i live is out in the avenues. the avenue numbered streets as opposed to the plain numbered streets where jason lives.
Sooo, then, the avenues is synonymous with Richmond/Sunset or "Western Boonies"? Okay. I can handle that.
Not to be a dork who stumbles in off a search engine link only to get all pedantic and shit, but, re: "The Western Addition" being seemingly illogically named, you have to consider that the city wasn't born whole like some metropolitan Athena. It grew up in phases.
At the time of the Gold Rush, the city was a tight cluster from the Bay to about the City Hall area. Everything else was undeveloped sand dune-ish sort of wasteland. Due to the population boom, the City needed to expand. While a lot of the original Bay cove was filled in, the most logical way to expand the City's grid was westward. "The Western Addition" was this first big extension of the City and predates later western additions, hence its being "The Western Addition."
There are interesting stories regarding the use of eminent domain to forcibly redevelop the Western Addition and widen Geary into a major thoroughfare, but I think I've rambled too much already. I think SF history's fun (in, admittedly, a very dorky way) and there's a lot of great sources on the web. A good place to start would be: