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Supes OK Phelan Ave. name change

by Alex Madison

Frida Kahlo. Photo: Courtesy Wikipedia
Frida Kahlo. Photo: Courtesy Wikipedia  

Frida Kahlo Way will soon be the new name of Phelan Avenue, a three-block street that runs through City College of San Francisco's Ocean campus. The Board of Supervisors unanimously voted for the name change at its June 19 meeting.

The name of the celebrated bisexual Mexican artist will take the place of James Phelan, who the street is currently named after. He was a San Francisco real estate banker whose son, James Duval Phelan, a former United States senator and San Francisco mayor, has a legacy fraught with racism and xenophobia. Although the street is technically not named after the former mayor Phelan, the association to his racist past was enough to prompt its removal.

District 7 Supervisor Norman Yee has spearheaded efforts for the past year to get the street name changed.

"We know that efforts to rewrite history takes persistence. That's why we are voting on my resolution," said Yee as he introduced it at the meeting. "It's important to raise our consciousness and praise important contributions of historically marginalized communities, particularly people of color and women of color. We must know our history to not repeat the mistakes of our past."

The vote comes after the board's Land Use and Transportation Committee gave its endorsement to the proposal June 11. That meeting was filled with public comment both from supporters and detractors of the name change, primarily Phelan Avenue residents.

Some residents said they weren't included in the renaming process, which some called "bias" and "unfair," while others simply said they don't want to deal with the hassle that the name change may present. Many City College employees were also there to show support of the change.

The City College board voted for the name change and submitted its official street name nomination to Yee in February.

Longtime City College interdisciplinary instructor Leslie Simon was the first to suggest Frida Kahlo Way. Currently, the campus is home to the "Pan American Unity" mural, painted by Kahlo's husband and hugely influential Mexican artist, Diego Rivera. He died in 1957; Kahlo died in 1954.

A street renaming committee, which included residents and City College representatives, voted in favor of naming the street after Kahlo April 4.

According to Yee, the name change process will take anywhere from six to nine months to install the new street signs. Frida Kahlo Way will appear alongside Phelan Avenue on all the signage for five years, ensuring residents and business owners have enough time to make changes to their addresses.

The name change is part of a local and nationwide movement to replace names and monuments of people who no longer represent the values of today's society. It would also mark another city street named after an LGBT luminary.

In 2014, San Francisco honored the late transgender icon Vicki Marlane by naming a block of Turk Street in the Tenderloin neighborhood after her. As the Bay Area Reporter noted at the time, it was the first city street named after a trans person.

In 2016, the city also renamed the 100 block of Taylor Street as Gene Compton's Cafeteria Way, after a restaurant that served as a hangout for transgender and queer people in the 1960s. Police raided it in 1966 in what is known as the Compton's Cafeteria riot, preceding the more famous Stonewall riots in New York City.

Other streets in San Francisco named after LGBT figures are Alice B. Toklas Place and Dr. Tom Waddell Place, alleys near City Hall, Jose Sarria Court in the gay Castro district, and Jack Kerouac Alley in North Beach.

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