Before 1887, the Inner Sunset was like San Francisco's massive sandbox, all fog, marsh, and sand-stretched miles. There were no trees, no electrical poles, and few buildings. On a clear evening, residents could observe an ocean sunset.
It makes sense, then, that in the 1890s, developers began marketing the area as Sunset Heights and Sunset Valley — and, less charmingly, South Side. In 1893, the Examiner called it "The Sunset City." In 1895, residents gathered to name their neighborhood once and for all. They decided on Sunset.
Now, one real estate broker is dreaming up a new name for the Inner Sunset. A few weeks ago, John Barry, Realtor and Inner Sunset resident, introduced a proposal to the Board of Supervisors to change the name of the area, particularly along Irving between Fifth and 19th avenues. He offered examples including Irving Village, Sunset Village, Park Village — essentially anything with "village," "park," or "square." "Sunset" is negotiable.
He argues that Ninth Avenue and Irving Street, the corner he calls "the beating heart of the Sunset," needs a distinctive name to separate the commercial hub from the residential sector of the district. But would any other name smell as sweet?
Barry is convinced. "Just the sound of the word 'village' has a distinct pull to it," he says.
Others aren't so sure, or don't see the point. "Often the name changes occur as the neighborhood changes," says Max Kirkeberg, professor of geography and human environmental studies at San Francisco State University. "I have no problems with neighborhoods deciding that they want a more distinctive name, but whatever changes that have happened in the Inner Sunset, they've been around for quite a while."
That said, this would not be the first renaming of San Francisco neighborhoods. NOPA (North of the Panhandle) is an emerging name that parallels the social changes of the area, Kirkeberg observes. Cole Valley used to be called the Upper Haight, according to David Rumsey, president of Cartography Associates. In a similar vein, the Tenderloin is not marked as such on Google Maps.
Rumsey attributed name-changes to those in the real estate business who ultimately want to make a profit. Although Barry claims he's not looking to expand his business, he "know[s] beyond any doubt that the value of property would go up a little bit."
Until now, Barry's proposal has been ill-received. "People don't like to change," he says. Still, he plans to persevere — and perhaps inspire the sun to set on in the Inner Sunset.