Richmond District

Richmond District

Clement Street from Arguello, 1920s - Courtesy of Jack Tillmany

Did the sand dunes in the northwest corner of the city look like Richmond, Australia? One story for the naming of the district is that early settler George Turner Marsh thought so, and named the area around his home such. (Other sources credit a neighborhood booster named George Fletcher for suggesting the name.)

Marsh, while born an Australian, spent a great deal of his youth in Japan and became a dealer in Japanese art in San Francisco. His main fame today is for creating, with Makoto Hagiwara, the Japanese Tea Garden for the 1894 Midwinter Fair.

In 1879, when Marsh settled at 338 13th Avenue (now Funston Street) there weren't many neighbors on the sand dunes lining the Point Lobos Toll Road. The open space attracted small businesses and instituions that required lots of cheap land: race tracks, cemeteries, orphanages, dairy farms and the like.

Not that there wasn't traffic through the area. The Cliff House and other roadhouses at the beach attracted carriages across the dunes.

"No. 25 Standing at the Southwestery Corner of A Street and 45th Ave, looking north and east up 46th Ave, showing A street and Block 240". From A.S. Baldwin, Estate of Adolph Sutro, Deceased, March-April-May 1910. - Courtesy of the San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library

Real estate speculation by Marsh and others slowly increased the population, but it wasn't until Adolph Sutro built reliable rail car service in the late 1880s that the Richmond district became a true neighborhood of San Francisco.

Emergency housing set up in the area after the 1906 earthquake and fire brought scores of new settlers to the area. Many put down roots, building permanent homes to replace the tents and temporary cottages. A few enterprising families used old cable and horse cars to create residences, some stacked two stories tall.

At the same time that these homesteaders slapped together their inventive structures, some of San Francisco's most prestigious residences rose on Presidio Terrace. On the other end of the district, Mark Daniels laid out the stunningly scenic enclave know as Sea Cliff.

By the 1910s the various improvement and community associations came up with "Park Presidio" as a new appellation (since the neighborhood is bounded by Golden Gate Park and the Presidio) and got the Board of Supervisors to pass a measure renaming the area. So it was called in newspapers and many records throughout the 1920s.

The Richmond moniker hung on and eventually resurfaced. "Park Presidio" lives today as the name of the six-lane boulevard splitting the district.

For years the Richmond was a mix of Irish, German, and Jewish families. In the 1950s the shift to a Chinese population began that continues today. While there had been a "White Russian" community in the district for over sixty years, in the 1990s the Russian community swelled with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Few areas in the city are as integrated with varied and strong cultures.

View of the inner Richmond, facing Golden Gate Park from Lone Mountain, 1908 - Courtesy of the California Historical Society, FN-31968, 1 of 2

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