Julia Bonatti, my protagonist in the Zodiac Mysteries, is an astrologer and a native San Franciscan. She was born there, grew up there and certainly knows quite a bit about the city’s history. I’ve had to do a lot of research to to keep up with Julia. She knows a lot, but more importantly, she’s also well versed in the often repeated stories that underlie the historically “accepted” versions of events.
Here’s one example ~
Way back in 1847, when San Francisco city planners were creating grids and streets and plots of land, a man named Jasper O’Farrell (who, by the way, has a street named after him), was commissioned to survey the land south of Market Street. Market Street runs a diagonal course straight through the city and on both sides, the streets are laid out in grids going in different directions. It can be rather confusing if you’re not familiar with the area, because the name of the street changes as you cross Market.
O’Farrell made each lot 100 varas square or about 300 feet on each side, four times the size of city blocks north of Market Street. Consequently as time went on, these were divided by other smaller streets and alleys.
These smaller streets are all named after women! In alphabetical, not geographical, order, they are Annie, Alice, Clara, Clementine, Eliza, Grace, Harriet, Jessie, Kate, Minna, Mary, Natoma and Zoe. One explanation for these street names is found in the 1927 South of Market Journal written by Albert P. Wheelan. Wheelan theorized that pioneers coming west without their wives and daughters and sisters were homesick and named these streets after the women they missed.
Well, that’s not the story I was told when I lived there. It’s generally accepted that these streets were named after . . . how shall I put this? . . . famous and desirable ladies of the night who held court during the era of the Barbary Coast. Many of them were the mistresses of city officials. These streets were their domain. A lot of reconstruction has gone on in the South of Market (SOMA) area in recent years and Minna Street now even boasts an upscale club called . . . you guessed it . . . Harlot!
What do you think? Was Mr. Wheelan trying to whitewash the city’s bawdy past? Being of a suspicious mind, I’m much more inclined to accept the locals’ version of the street names. And I’m sure Julia would too.
This post first appeared at Read Your Writes on July 3, 2017.