The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted 11-0 Tuesday to change the name of Phelan Avenue to Frida Kahlo Way. The city rechristened the street in an effort to distance itself from association with racist 19th century mayor James D. Phelan and to address longstanding complaints about the avenue serving City College San Francisco’s Ocean Campus.
Supervisor Norman Yee, a former CCSF instructor who sponsored the name change and organized a citizen’s committee in April to nominate a new street namesake, cited current events as the spur behind his proposal.
“Given to anti-immigrant and racist policies emanating from Washington DC, there has been an increased effort both locally and nationally to remove names from public statues and places which honor figures who espoused racism,” he said at Tuesday’s hearing.
Among other things, Yee cited the recent removal of former city planner Justin Herman’s name from the plaza near the Embarcadero.
Yee also cited James D. Phelan’s comments during and after his term as mayor, rhetoric that vilified Asian immigrants and African Americans. He even quoted a 1907 interview in which Phelan declared, “Two races cannot live side by side in peace.”
What about the fact that Phelan Avenue is technically named for the former Mayor’s father, the senior James Phelan?
“The street would not have been named for his father if his son had not just finished his mayoral term,” according to Yee. Phelan was mayor until 1902; the street name dates to at least 1906 but might go back further, as city records pre-1906 are almost nonexistent.
Yee added that the younger Phelan’s policies “besmirched his father’s name.”
The change of name legislation had four co-sponsors on the board and passed without objection from anyone. In May, only seven of the 23 homeowners on Phelan Avenue responded to queries from the Department of Public Works objected to the name change—too few for DPW to intervene.
The full switch from Phelan to Frida will take five years in order to avoid potential confusion, and the city will post signage indicating both street names for the duration.