San Francisco, California is a city with 2,657 named streets—most honoring early pioneers and politicians—but also a few named after crooks and killers. Behind every street name, there is no doubt an interesting story. But for our purposes, let’s look at a handful of the streets with a more “colorful” history, some of which are near Moscone Center, the site of Oracle OpenWorld.
Howard Street: This street commemorates William D. Howard, a prosperous businessman and “first citizen” of San Francisco. He was one of the founding members of the city’s vigilance committee in 1851, which was responsible for the hanging of four men and the exile of dozens of others for various crimes. Howard died at the young age of 37.
Cora Street: This street is named after killer Charles Cora, a key figure in one of the most shocking sex, double-murder, and vigilante cases in San Francisco history, dating back in 1856. Some 2,000 vigilantes stormed the city jail where Cora was being detained, held a mock trial, and sentenced him to be hanged. Two hours before he was executed, Belle Ryan, society darling and notorious madame, married Cora. His mortal remains rest in—of all places—the small cemetery behind San Francisco landmark Mission Dolores.
Powell Street: Dr. William J. Powell, chief surgeon of the US warship Warren was honored with a street name in 1847 thanks to his popularity with the locals. His fame was due in part to a sanitarium he established for ill sailors, and his talent as an entertainer and ventriloquist.
Laguna Street: Once the site of a long-vanished fresh water pond known as Washerwoman’s Lagoon, most of the town’s laundry was done there during the Gold Rush days. That practice continued long after the 49ers left because it remained an inexpensive way of washing clothes. But by 1882, Washerwoman’s Lagoon had become such a polluted and stinking cesspool that it had to be filled in to prevent the spread of disease.
Green Street: Named to honor Talbot Green, wealthy merchant, generous businessman, popular candidate in the 1851 mayoral election—and a fraud. During his race for mayor, Green attended a high society ball where he came face to face with an old acquaintance from Philadelphia—who knew him by his real name, Paul Geddes. Turns out Geddes, a married man with five kids, had robbed a bank, fled without his family to pre-Gold Rush San Francisco, and reinvented himself as “Talbot Green.” The day after his exposure made front-page news, Geddes booked passage to Panama, telling friends he was going back to Pennsylvania to prove his innocence. He never returned to San Francisco.
Precita Avenue: This charming street by the site of an old stream—one of many that once existed throughout the city—bears a name that may send a shiver down your spine. It means “condemned to hell” in Spanish.