I saw a fascinating special on the San Francisco PBS station this past week. It was called "Madams of the Barbary Coast," and told the story of the prostitutes of San Francisco and the bawdy houses that flourished during the Gold Rush era.
I remember as a young child going through the area of town still called, in the 1940s "The Barbary Coast." You'd be hard pressed to find it now, as it is filled with designer warehouses and places to buy expensive stuff for your fabulous apartment. But when I was a kid it had some of the more seedy of the area nightclubs. Up on Broadway St. there were the clubs that had not yet gone totally topless and were, in themselves, risque, but a couple of blocks away whatever dubious quality existed on Broadway disappeared.
What I found funny in watching the special was learning that the names of some of the streets I know so well came from the prostitutes who worked the city in the late 1800s. Maiden Lane, for example, is now the home of exclusive boutique shops, but was named for the "girls" of San Francisco. I was amused to learn that Clementina St., on which was located the sister convent school to my high school, was named for one of San Francisco's prostitutes, as were Harriet St. and Clara St. and probably several others.
I thought about this TV special as I drove past Tim Spencer Alley in downtown Davis. It runs for a block behind what used to be the police station. I wondered how many newcomers to Davis know how the street got its name.
Tim Spencer was, for years, the UPS guy who delivered packages to downtown Davis merchants. There are some guys who just make an impact. I couldn't tell you who delivers packages out in this area, but everybody in town knew Tim, who always had a big smile as he hopped on and off his delivery truck many, many times a day and marched into offices, sometimes whistling, but always with a cheery greeting for his customers. When he retired, the city decided to name a street for him. I don't have a clue where he is today, but his name lives on, like Clemintina, Clara and Harriet live on in San Francisco.
Davis doesn't have a lot of imaginative street names. The town must have been designed by an engineer without any creativity in his head. The central part of town runs, north & south, from 1st St. to 14th St. and east & west from A St. to L St. Not a lot of romance in those names. Even the local teen center, after struggling to find a meaningful name, is known simply as "Third and B" because that's where it's located.
Nor is there much romance in the mobile home park, with Full Circle, Outer Circle, Inner Circle, and Broken Circle for street names. (Guess what shape the park is built in!)
We live in what was, when it was being built, known as University Estates. So the streets in our area have names like Villanova, Harvard, Radcliff, Bucknell, Cornell, Purdue, etc.
Out in North Davis, they decided to name the streets alphabetically: Anza, Balboa, Cabrillo, Del Oro, Encina, Fiesta, Grande, etc. And nearby are the bird streets: Bluebird, Flicker, Robin, Magpie, Waxwing, Mockingbird, Kestrel, Sandpiper.
Farther west are the National Park streets: Lassen, Shasta, Tahoe, Pinnacles, Joshua Tree, Denali, etc.
In East Davis they went for tree names: Nutmeg, Buckeye, Alder, Fig, Manzanita, Magnolia, Baywood.
It gets cutesy out in Village Homes, the country's first all solar energy homes. Roselyn Carter was here for a special dedication when the place opened. Its developer, Mike Corbett, named the streets for places in the Hobbit world: Overhill, Westernesse, Oakenshield, Buckleberry, Elendil, Evenstar.
But then out around the man made Lake Stonegate, on which our kids and the City of Davis staged the famous "Pirates of Lake Stonegate" each summer, you find the nautical names: Oyster Bay, Chesapeake Bay, Whaler Ave., Trawler Pl., Bermuda Ave., Portsmouth Ave. and Marina Circle.
I always wanted to design something like Savoy Estates, with the street names of Gilbert & Sullivan characters. The subdivision wouldn't have a lake, but would be built around John Wellington's Well. Who wouldn't want to live on Pitti Sing Place? Or how about Grand Duke Drive, KoKo Circle, Bunthorne Way, Mabel Manor, Pinafore Place, Rackstraw Rd., Tittipu Ln., Katisha Corners, or Iolanthe Ave.
(I'd love to hear how they'd pronounce Iolanthe ("eye-oh-LAN-thee" would be the proper pronunciation). I grew up three blocks from Greenwich St. in San Francisco and was an adult before I learned that it was NOT prounounced GREEN-wich. For years I heard Sacramento newscasters talk about "Gaiety Park" and thought nothing of it, until one day Walt pointed out that the name was spelled "Goethe.")
What determines if a street is a "Street," a "Drive," an "Avenue," a "Road," or a "Way" anyway? They all seem interchangeable. I wonder how they acquire their particular status in the name of streets.
We walk along the streets of our towns and we know the street names, and the names of the schools and other well known city locations, but do we really know how these places got their names.
There are people in this area whose children attend Willett School, very near us, who have no idea that it was once (when our kids went there) called West Davis Intermediate School (or WDI). The name was changed to honor Robert Willett, Jeri's 6th grade teacher, after his death. I have met parents who had no idea that was how the school got its name.
When people picnic at Sandy Motley Park, do they realize she was once the mayor of Davis? Sandy lived directly across the street from us and I remember she had a couple of corgi dogs that she used to walk. But she was killed in a scuba diving accident on vacation in Belize one year. Really a lovely lady and I'm glad the city has chosen to remember her by naming a park for her.
And when children sit in the little windshade at the Davis Art Center, under the individual painted ceramic letters that spell "David's Place," does anybody remember our son, for whom it was named...?