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San Francisco Trivia Quiz: A Name In Full

By Dave Schweisguth (email: dave at schweisguth dot org)

 

Many of San Francisco's some 2,000 streets commemorate historical figures. Most such streets are named with only the surnames of their namesakes. But about fifty have the full names of the persons they immortalize. (Most of these street names were bestowed fairly recently. Perhaps the resounding name of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., less distinctive when shortened to a mere "King", started this trend.) Even this small sampling shows the diversity of the distinguished San Franciscans who have been immortalized in asphalt.

 

Where are the following streets located, and whom do they commemorate?

 

1: Charles J. Brenham Place

2: Walter U. Lum Place

3: Peter Yorke Way

4: Colin P. Kelly Jr. Street

5: Frank Norris Street

Bonus: Vernon Alley

 

1: This extension of Seventh Street north of Market is named for San Francisco's second and fourth mayor, the only San Francisco mayor to serve nonconsecutive terms (though two alcaldes did the same.) Before coming to California, Brenham captained a riverboat on the Mississippi river. He turned argonaut in 1849, briefly resumed his career as a boatman on the Sacramento River, and in 1850 entered San Francisco politics. He was elected mayor in 1851 on a good-government platform, ousted at the end of 1851 when his Whig party refused to participate in a sudden election precipitated by a new city charter, and returned to office in yet another election only nine months later. In his first term he prominently opposed the first Vigilante movement, once single-handedly talking down a lynch mob. (Source: Heintz, William F. San Francisco's Mayors. Woodside, California: G. Richards Publications, 1975.)

 

2: The first Chinese-American to have a San Francisco street named for him, Walter Lum fought his whole life to give Chinese-Americans their place in the city and the country. In 1904, he was a founder of the Native Sons of the Golden State, later the Chinese-American Citizens Alliance. He founded the organization's newspaper, the Chinese Times, in 1924, and was its managing editor for 35 years. It went on to became the oldest Chinese-language daily in the U.S. Walter Lum died in 1961. On April 22, 1985, the Board of Supervisors renamed Brenham Place, the street at the west side of Portsmouth Square, to Walter U. Lum Place, and renamed Seventh Street North to Charles J. Brenham Place. (Sources: San Francisco Chronicle, Dec. 21, 1961, p. 20 and Jan. 15, 1985, p. 3 and AsianWeek, Apr. 26, 1985.)

 

3: The street named for Father Peter Yorke is well situated -- across Geary Boulevard from Starr King Way, named for another ecclesiastic, and around the corner from both New St. Mary's Cathedral and the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union headquarters on Franklin Street. A native of Galway, Peter Yorke arrived in San Francisco in 1888. Never rising high within the church, Yorke applied his considerable energy to working directly for the good of his flock. His unrestrained speaking style -- he could call his opponents "cads" and "maggots" -- drew crowds and made him a popular hero. In the landmark strike of 1901, in which San Francisco's drayage companies escalated a minor quarrel over some conventioneers' luggage into a city-wide lockout of union labor, Yorke preached in the cause of the unions and threatened a boycott. Some give him credit for the collapse of the lockout only days later.  (Source: Brusher, Joseph S. Consecrated Thunderbolt. Hawthorne, NJ: J.F. Wagner, 1973.)

 

4: Japantown is not the only place where the ups and downs of America's relationship with Japan left their mark on San Francisco. On December 10, 1941, Air Force Captain Colin P. Kelly Jr.'s B-17 bomber was severely damaged by Japanese fighters while returning to its base in the Phillipines. Kelly ordered the surviving crew to bail out while he held the plane steady. All but his copilot parachuted to safety before the B-17 exploded and crashed. In 1942 the City of San Francisco changed the name of Japan Street, a one-block street near Second Street between Brannan and Townsend, to honor Captain Kelly. (Sources: Frisbee, John L., "Valor: Colin Kelly", Air Force 77:6, June 1994, on line at http://www.afa.org/magazine/valor/0694valor.asp, and San Francisco Board of Supervisors, Journal of Proceedings for Feb. 9, 1942, San Francisco: The Board, 1942.)

 

5: Frank Norris Street, the easternmost block of Austin Street, is in Polk Gulch between Polk, Larkin, Sutter and Bush. Born in Chicago and buried in Oakland, the writer Frank Norris lived and worked in San Francisco. He was one of the first to adapt French naturalism to American literature. The street named for him is only a block and a half south of where the title character of his best-known novel, "McTeague", advertised his "Dental Parlors" with a great golden tooth. (Source: Herron, Don. The Literary World of San Francisco and its Environs. San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1990.)

 

Bonus: Wondering why this name is in a quiz about streets with two names? Look again: Vernon Alley, a private way off of Delancey Street between Bryant and Brannan, is marvelously named after none other than Vernon Alley. This jazz bassist presided over the San Francisco scene for more than sixty years. Recruited into Lionel Hampton's band in 1939 when Hampton was in town for the World's Fair on Treasure Island, Alley went on to play with all of the country's top big bands. He was noted for having fought against segregation in the City's jazz clubs and in its musicians union. He was also an SFSU Hall of Famer and the first black member of the Bohemian Club. Vernon Alley died on October 3, 2004. (Sources: San Francisco Chronicle, October 5, 2004, on line at http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2004/10/05/MNGKE9420K1.DTL, and Pepin, Elizabeth and Watts, Lewis, Harlem of the West: The San Francisco Fillmore Jazz Era, San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2006.)


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