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Historical Overview | Origin of Street Names | Jefferson Airplane
Historical Overview
Union Street runs nearly the width of San Francisco, from east to west, extending from its point of origin at the Bay, parallel west between Green and Filbert Streets to its end at the Presidio Reservation, a former Army base currently in the process of being converted to civilian use.

A considerable portion of Union Street, from Van Ness Avenue to The Presidio, is in an area now known as the Cow Hollow section of San Francisco. But that has not always been its name. Originally the area was called Spring Valley, then Golden Gate Valley, according John L. Levinsohn's book, Early Days of a San Francisco Neighborhood from 1776. The neighborhood branch library retains the Golden Gate Valley appellation.

The area our site focuses on, seven blocks between Franklin and Steiner Streets, is a business district with typical San Francisco architecture where you will find examples of both old and modern structures sharing the avenues. The main thoroughfare is a retail destination for visitors and residents alike with the Victorians that line street sharing it with buildings built in the 1960's. Several short alleys branch off into dead ends which makes for an interesting walking and sightseeing experience.

Ground level retail is immediately obvious to the visitor, but almost all the buildings have at least two or more floors. There are probably more than triple the number of professional people with offices on Union Street than there are ground floor retail shops. These include legal firms, chiropractors, eye specialists as well as dentists, social and psychiatric practitioners and at least one psychic reader.
Origin of Street Names
It is not always possible to discover how even one of San Francisco's most well known streets was named. Haight Street (www.HaightStreet.com), for example, has three eponymous sources and no one seems to know with certainty for whom that street was named.

Union Street is another mystery. In Streets of San Francisco, Louis K. Loewenstein (1984), writes: "The origin of the street name is unknown. It appears on William Eddy's survey of 1849 and may refer to the Union of States which California joined a year later."
Cross Streets

Franklin Street -- Probably named for Benjamin, although Selim Franklin, an early realtor, has been suggested. There is evidence for both origins. An obituary written for the Society of California Pioneers states that Selim Franklin was an Englishman who was consulted by Queen Victoria about the Oregon boundary dispute. In 1858 he went to British Columbia and became speaker of the Provincial House of Parliament. This would indicate that it was not Selim Franklin for whom the street was named. (Source: San Francisco Street Names by Henry C. Carlisle (pamphlet, 1954)

Gough Street -- Named for a contractor, Charles H. Gough, one of many who graded and planked the nascent city streets in the 1850's and 60's. By 1855 Gough was on a committee of three aldermen given the task of laying out and naming the streets west of Larkin, known as the Western Addition. He used his own name and that of his sister, Octavia, and most probably named another nearby street for his good friend Steiner, who delivered water when Gough delivered milk in the 1850's. (ibid.) .

Octavia Street -- Octavia is a common female name which means "the eighth," Octava being the female of the Latin name Octavus, probably Gough's sister (see above). This would eliminate the former supposition that Octavia meant the eighth street back from Divisadero.

Laguna Street -- This name reflects the Spanish origins of the little hamlet of Yerba Buena (which translates as "good herbs") out of which San Francisco grew. "Laguna" means "lake" in Spanish. Named for a lake or pond which once existed half a mile southwest of Fort Mason, at about what is now the intersection of Greenwich and Gough streets, according to Carlisle.

Buchanan Street -- John Buchanan was an auctioneer who arrived in San Francisco 1846 by overland route from Kentucky. Buchanan was a member of John Fremont's Battalion, and was also owner of many town lots. In 1847 he was alcalde's clerk under Bryant and Hyde and in 1848 was a partner in the firm of McDonald & Buchanan, auctioneers and commission merchants.

For years it was accepted that Buchanan Street was named for President James Buchanan, but the evidence points to John C. Buchanan, the pioneer. A map in Colville's San Francisco Directory published in 1856 has all the Western Addition streets, including Buchanan. This map first appeared on April 19, 1856 in a report by the commission which named the Western Addition streets. At this time James Buchanan was secretary of state and was not elected president until November 1857. It is probable that the custom of selecting names of men prominent in local politics was followed in the case of Buchanan Street. (ibid.)

Webster Street -- Named after lawyer Daniel Webster (1782-1852), according to Streets of San Francisco by Louis K Loewenstein (1984).

Fillmore Street -- Named after Millard Fillmore, 15th President of the United States.

Steiner Street -- Gough (see above) probably named the street after his long time friend.

Frank McCoppin was one of 12 members of the Board of Supervisors in 1861 for whom a street was named. McCoppin Street is nowhere near Union Street.
Jefferson Airplane
The Jefferson Airplane came into existence when Marty Balin met guitarist Paul Kantner at The Drinking Gourd, located at 1898 Union Street, circa 1965. The Drinking Gourd was a bar serving sandwiches near the corner of Union and Laguna. It had a stage in the tradition of funky interior design meets Turkish blend and was "a spit in the sawdust kind of place," according to Jackie Sarti, secretary for Bill Thompson, manager of the band since day one and Balin's former roommate.

"Marty had started a band and he had no name for the band," Thompson said recently. "He used to perform at the Drinking Gourd which was kind of a folk club. Paul Kantner came in one night and he had a 12 string guitar and a banjo. Marty liked the way he looked, so he asked Kantner to join the band."

Signe Anderson was a solo artist who performed at the Gourd. She became the Airplane's singer on their first album, Jefferson Airplane Takes Off (1966). This was prior toGrace Slick joining the band. Slick's first album was Surrealistic Pillow in '67. Anderson currently lives in Portland, OR, according to Thompson.

The Jefferson Airplane was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on January 17, 1996, 30 years after the release of their first album.

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