17th and Alabama


Something there is about a street named after a state that I find pleasing. San Francisco has a bunch, on Potrero Hill and on both its eastern and western slopes. There’s an Illinois Street down by Third. And a Kansas, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Florida. There’s a York and a Hampshire–the “New” dropped from both–and a Vermont and a Rhode Island. And Alabama, and many more.

(And, going parenthetical, this sign illustrates a conundrum for people trying to navigate San Francisco’s multiple clashing street grids. We’re at the corner of 17th and Alabama. Now in Chicago, if you were at the corner of a 17th and Anything, you could be reasonably sure what street numbers you would encounter going either way on Anything; on one side you’d be in the 1600s, and the other you’d find 1700s. It wasn’t always so easy, but that’s the numbering regime the city has today. In San Francisco, though, the numbered streets don’t bear a predictable relationship to the addresses at their intersections. Thus, 17th Street commences the 400 block of Alabama in one place, and some other block of numbers as you proceed east or west. To an outsider, it’s utterly illogical. I believe natives and denizens see it as just another one of the city’s charming quirks.)

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2 Replies to “17th and Alabama”

  1. Addresses are a pet peeve of mine.
    1) Cities/municipalities/whatever don’t review buildings to make sure addresses are visible from the street. They should and they should cite anyone whose address doesn’t meet that standard.
    2) There is no detectable pattern to addresses on some streets. Even on one side, odd on the other. Allow some spacing between the numbers. It’s not like you’re going to run out of them. What is so hard about that?
    3) Missing street signs aren’t replaced with any urgency. New Orleans hasn’t replaced many of the street signs lost during Katrina over two years ago. When I was in Boston 20+ years ago, they had signs missing that were lost in a much milder hurricane from 5 years before. If I owned a business or residence on those streets, I’d pay the $20 or so for the new sign. There is some advantage to the Fedex truck, the pizza delivery boy, and maybe the Publisher’s Clearing House’s camera crew being able to find you.
    A quirk is a one way street that is two miles in length but its parallel twin dead ends at a mile and a half. Lots of fun when you’re trying to find your way back to where you started.
    End of Rant

  2. Rob, you’d love Salt Lake City and some of the other old Utah towns laid out by the Mormons. When we were driving into downtown in August, I saw signs that said things like, “Enter Parking Lot on 300 South” or “400 West Road Closure.” I’m sure someone’s written up the history behind this, but the fact is that the streets downtown have numbers but no names, and the numbering apparently starts at the very center of things, the temple. So if you’re on 300 South or 400 West — well, you know you’re three blocks south or four blocks west of the center.” Ultra-logical but a little lacking in the local color that street names lend (like Humanity Street in New Orleans). We saw the same thing in some much smaller towns, though I can’t say I could figure out what the center was in those places.
    I agree with the rest of your comments, though I remember thinking when I first went someplace outside North Americathat maybe the whole grid numbering thing is largely a modern innovation that we happen to take for granted. I went to Ireland with a couple of friends, and the first city we found ourselves in was Limerick. I was taken aback and confused to learn that the names of many streets changed from block to block. And the concept of odd-even numbering was unknown. Finding your way around a place like that, which I think was just a microcosm of a bigger city like Dublin or London, would require a different way of thinking and a *great* memory.
    Happy holidays, btw!

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