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Phelan Avenue may become Frida Kahlo Way

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City Hall will consider stripping racist ex-mayor’s family name from City College street

CCSF’s Ocean campus.
Phelan Avenue chiefly services CCSF’s Ocean campus.
Photo by Shannon Badiee/Wikicommons

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors will consider whether or not to change the name of Phelan Avenue to Frida Kahlo Way, after Supervisor Norman Yee and City College Chancellor Mark Rocha announced Wednesday that an advisory body made up of neighborhood interests recommended the change.

This is not the first time that a San Francisco lawmaker has made a bid to change the name of the short north-south running street that services City College of San Francisco’s Ocean Campus.

Former Supervisor Leslie Katz attempted the same in 2000, citing the racist policies of former San Francisco Mayor James Phelan, who made anti-immigrant sentiment about “orientals” a centerpiece of his 1897 to 1902 mayoral administration and his successful 1915 U.S. Senate bid.

However, Phelan Avenue is named not for the aforementioned mayor, but instead for his father, senior James Phelan, an immigrant who came to the city in 1849 and made a fortune in real estate. Nevertheless, most people in the city are likely to associate the family name with the younger Phelan.

Yee, a former City College instructor, announced the new renaming bid in February, with a committee selecting the alternate street name Frida Kahlo Way on Wednesday.

“Frieda & Diego Rivera,” 1931.
Courtesy SFMOMA

Mexican artist Frida Kahlo lived in San Francisco from 1930 to 1931. The artist worked on a series of portraits that, according to SFMOMA curators, helped develop her “interest in 19th century Mexican folk portraiture and popular art,” including her 1931 portrait of herself and husband Diego Rivera now in the SFMOMA collection.

City College’s Ocean Campus houses one of three murals Rivera painted in the city during the same period.

In a written statement about the proposed change, Yee said, “Given the current Trump administration’s racist and bigoted rhetoric, it is more important than ever for San Francisco to continue to be an inclusive and tolerant community which respects all of our diverse ethnic communities.”

The Board of Supervisors and several other public bodies will have to consider the switch. Yee cautions that any eventual change will take the rest of the year at least.