A Brief History of Peralta Avenue’s Discontinuity Problem

If you live on Peralta Avenue in Bernal Heights, you’re probably used to getting phone calls from lost delivery drivers.  They’ve managed to find the 200 block, you’re in the 500 block; how many obstacles could there be between you?

Turns out, there are a lot. That staircase on the right is the 400 block of Peralta. But how did Peralta “Avenue” end up in no fewer than eight non-contiguous segments? In theory, it was supposed to be a (mostly) continuous street:

That’s a 1924 Rand McNally map, courtesy of David Rumsey. Peralta and Esmeralda are highlighted. These roads existed mostly on paper, as planned improvements. Note that “paper” Esmeralda runs right over the top of Bernal Hill: Sutrito Tower would be at the intersection of Esmeralda and Shotwell. Fourteen years later, these roads remained wisely unbuilt:

Harrison Ryker’s aerial photos via David Rumsey and  Google Earth. The actual built portion of Peralta by 1938 was a nice, contiguous three blocks running parallel to, and uphill from, Precita and Army.

The paper streets remained on the maps, but by the 1940s, city planners had begun to distinguish paper streets from real ones by using dotted lines — as seen in this 1948 map, courtesy Eric Fischer:

Unlike Esmeralda, paper Peralta was eventually built, basically along the planned lines — except for where it wasn’t built at all. Parts of it are too steep to be anything but stairs; this was likely made worse when the cross streets were blasted out flat.

18 thoughts on “A Brief History of Peralta Avenue’s Discontinuity Problem

  1. Franconia has almost the same thing, but it’s shorter (it doesn’t continue south of Cortland). It might be worse for giving directions, though. For Peralta, the trick is to have them stay on (or go back to) Alabama until they get to the right cross street. Franconia doesn’t have a continuous parallel street like that.

  2. Lovely history/cartography round-up! At least with this you can just assume people will have trouble from the outset. What I’ve thought might be stranger is to live on a disjointed block of a well-known street (think Cesar Chavez, near, say, Diamond). I can imagine directing people to your house: “No, I know you know where CC is, but it’s not that part. You have to kind of go around and up and actually… just send up flares and I’ll come to you.”

  3. Since ’88 I’ve lived on the North side of the hill on Florida St (near Peralta), Folsom St. (near Stoneman) and now Rutledge St. (near Franconia). Since I walk a dog daily I have been hailed many times for directions; often from professional drivers with GPS on the dash. Directions to addresses on Peralta are number one on the Hit Parade, with Franconia addresses a close second.

    I like the comment advising use of flares.

  4. Off topic, but in this map, Castro goes all the way from Duboce to Chenery in Glen Park. I can imagine a street going right over Billy Goat Hill.
    And John, can you imagine if your address was on the part of Castro between Bemis and Chenery? Talk about needing Flares.

  5. The current map still has a paper street. The block of Peralta between Montcalm and Rutledge is not a through street as shown, but a street halfway, and a staircase the remainder. Just like the block between Mullen and Montcalm.

    That Peralta, she’s a tricky one.

  6. The GPS in my car directs me down the Shotwell steps from Mirabel to Bessie to get from my house to Folsom Street.

  7. I live on Peralta and the houses on our block were moved to that block in 1963 to make way for the freeway. I wonder where they were before?

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  9. And I thought that residents of Telegraph Hill had problems. Boy, Bernal Heights sure has more than its share of dis-continous streets.

  10. I live on Mullen, and have a relatively current street map in my car that describes the north slope of Bernal as “Peralta Heights”.

    • Thanks, I feel like I should have known that! “Peralta Heights” brings up a bunch of Google hits, including a Bernal History Project copy of a 1910 Chronicle article crediting the Peralta Heights Improvement Club for securing Park Commission funds to construct “a coping around Bernal Park [Precita Park today], for which the club has been working for some time,” as well as paving Folsom Street adjacent.

      Also Bernal History Project, a reminder that just because Peralta wasn’t paved, or by the look of aerial photos well traveled, doesn’t mean nobody was living on it. A 1907 directory compilation has people all up and down Peralta.

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