It’s Time to Change the Name of Bush Street

by Paul Hogarth on April 16, 2007

I’m serious. While Bush Street in San Francisco was not named after our current President, it is ironic to have a City that has never supported this Administration to have a street with the same name. Residents and tourists alike are reminded of George Bush when they see it, and with America’s image tarnished by his actions it can only be a bust – not a boost – to our local economy. Street names have been changed before, and there is no reason why the City can’t afford the nominal cost to modify a few street signs. The Board of Supervisors should pass legislation changing the name of Bush Street – it’s San Francisco Values.

I doubt many Beyond Chron readers will disagree with my opinion of George Bush – that he is without exaggeration the worst President that this country has ever had. Already, Americans have mentally moved beyond the Bush-Cheney years and are focusing their attention on the 2008 Presidential election. If George Bush did not win a single precinct in San Francisco in the 2000 – or 2004 – elections, why do we have a street with his name to remind us about him?

Of course, Bush Street was not named after our current President. In fact, nobody knows for sure who it was named after and it is probably the most difficult to trace of all San Francisco street names. There are two prevailing theories. One is that it was named after Dr. Jonathan P. Bush, but he didn’t come to the City until 1849 and there are two earlier maps from 1847 that already had a Bush Street.

The other theory is more credible, but is unverified. In 1893, the Chronicle published a story about a man claiming to be J.P. Bush. According to Bush, he first arrived in San Francisco in 1845 as a cabin boy on a New England whaling ship, then deserted and became an assistant to Jasper O’Farrell – who was mapping the City streets. O’Farrell then named Bush Street after his assistant.

In other words, we’re not sure who Bush Street was named after, and even if we did it wasn’t anybody really important. Today, San Franciscans overwhelmingly despise our current President – and we’re stuck with a street that shares the same name.

While locals know that Bush Street is not named after the President, tourists who come here may not. Many of them are from countries where Bush has made America universally hated, and it can’t be a very warm welcome for them to have a street like that in San Francisco. With Bush Street running through Chinatown and other tourist destinations, changing the name for this reason is especially important.

As a French-American, I have dual citizenship. I am very proud to be French, in part because we stood up to George Bush in the run-up to the War in Iraq. In 2003, the hysteria to support the War caused French-Americans throughout the country to be ostracized – as the Capitol Hill cafeteria started serving “freedom fries” and the Hotel Sofitel took down the French flag for fear of repelling customers.

But in San Francisco, it is painfully ironic – and also demeaning – for the French Consulate to be located on Bush Street. Café de la Presse and other fine French restaurants are on Bush Street, and every year on Bastille Day we have a celebration on Bush Street. We at least owe it to the French community in San Francisco to change the street’s name.

Changing street names is something the City can do, and with enough grassroots pressure we can convince the Board of Supervisors that it’s worth spending the money. Several years ago, the Latino community and allies came together to re-name Army Street in the Mission District to Cesar Chavez. It was a political fight, and I’m baffled as to why a handful of native San Franciscans were so resistant. But it happened, and now I think about Cesar Chavez every time I’m in the neighborhood.

Getting rid of Bush Street will put San Francisco in the national spotlight. Which is why I advocate changing the name before he leaves the White House, because it would make a stronger statement. Will Fox News use this to attack San Francisco? Yes. Will they use it as a proxy to attack Nancy Pelosi? Probably. But who cares? George Bush is so unpopular right now that it will make them look like idiots.

If we change the name of Bush Street, what should we change it to? There are many great San Franciscans who deserve to have a street named after them. How about the late Mayor George Moscone? While we have a Moscone Center, we still don’t have a Moscone Street. The City could even rename it after him to commemorate the 30-year anniversary of his death, which will happen on November 27, 2008. Unfortunately, George Bush will still be President.

Or what about Emperor Norton? In 2004, the Board of Supervisors passed a resolution to re-name the Bay Bridge after him – but the Oakland City Council never ratified it. The problem was that Ignacio de la Fuente said he’d never heard of His Imperial Majesty. In the absence of re-naming the Bay Bridge, give him Bush Street as a consolation prize.

Mark Twain? He once said that the coldest winter he ever spent was summer in San Francisco, a phrase that many locals are fond of quoting. Or how about Sue Bierman? The former Supervisor who passed away last year was loved by all, and made an indelible mark on the City by leading the Great Freeway Revolt. In other words, there are many worthy San Franciscans who we could replace Bush Street with.

For starters, the Board of Supervisors should pass a resolution in support of changing Bush Street. Then they should hold a hearing to solicit ideas for what it should be re-named. Make a list of the top candidates for the slot, and put a ballot measure for the voters to have their say in November. Gavin Newsom and Kamala Harris are currently unopposed for re-election, so it just might be the most exciting thing to come out and vote for this year.

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