by CISL SF student,  Cornelia Ineichen

Growing up in a Swiss city with 80,000 habitants, moving to San Francisco was quite a big thing. When you’ve never lived here before, this venture can be confusing. This town is kind of weird if you have no idea what’s awaiting you. All in all, San Francisco is an amazing place and you can’t go wrong even if not every place is perfect for you.


Cow Hollow once supplied the majority of milk products for San Francisco. Dairy ranches occupied much of the area from 1860 to 1880, when the city decided it would be better to move the milking to a place with less people.


Where did the Cow Hollow dairies go? Many of them relocated to what is now Glen Park. But to SF people in the 1880s, the area was known as Little Switzerland. This is due to the similarity of this area to the common image of Switzerland: Steep hills and dairy products.


The kids who lived in the Russian Hill neighborhood in the 1850s used the graveyard, which was then located near the top of the hill, as a playground. Most of the graves belonged to Russian sailors or soldiers. The children began calling it Russian Hill, and soon everyone else did too.


The Nob in Nob Hill is probably a nickname of the word “nabob”. Nabobs were governors in India. When the British colonized India, they borrowed the word, broadened the definition to mean a rich or important person, and eventually shortened it to “nob.” The San Francisco nabobs built extravagant mansions on the hill, all but one – the Flood Mansion – were destroyed in 1906.


The Mission is named for Mission Dolores, the oldest intact mission in California and the oldest intact building in San Francisco. What you may not know is that the mission’s official name is not Dolores, but was dedicated the Mission San Francisco de Asís in 1776. However, a small lake or possibly spring (no one knows for sure) somewhere nearby had been named the Laguna de Nuestra Señora de los Dolores earlier that year. So, the church was never really called by its given name.


The Castro was, from the 1930s through the 1960s, known as Eureka Valley. In the 1910s and ’20s, the area was called Little Scandinavia because residents of Sweden, Norway, and Denmark heavily populated it. All of those names changed when the newly liberated gays of the 1970s came to the neighborhood, made it the epicenter of the gay rights movement and renamed it after a movie theater.


Some neighborhoods are named after locations elsewhere. The SF Tenderloin, unfortunately not the best region in the city, was named after New York City’s Tenderloin. It got its name because police working the area got hazard pay, as it was very dangerous, and could therefore afford a better cut of steak than their colleagues.


George Marsh was one of the first settlers of the Richmond District. He gave it that name because the dunes reminded him of the dunes where he grew up in the Australian Richmond.


Moving along to natural boundaries, the name North Beach descends to the earliest days of San Francisco in the 1850s. The city’s northeast shoreline only went to Taylor and Francisco until it was filled in during the latter part of the 1800s. There was once a beach where today there are strip clubs, Italian restaurants, cafés, and the City Lights Bookstore. After the quake in 1906 everything changed. The neighborhood attracted many Italian Americans; therefore sometimes we call it Little Italy.


The Fillmore district was created in the 1880s to provide new space for the city to grow in an effort to address overcrowding. After the 1906 earthquake, Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe settled in the Fillmore. Jewish-owned businesses opened on Fillmore and McAllister streets to serve the community. During the 1910s to 1930s, sections of the neighborhood became home to thousands of Japanese immigrants as that area became part of Japantown.

Later, vacant homes in the Fillmore attracted African Americans migrating northward to work in the shipyards, as part of the Great Migration, as well as musicians, and artists.

Soon, many nightclubs were opened, bringing major musical icons to the neighborhood including Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, and Billie Holiday.