Period Piece: Baker Street sense

Pub date December 26, 2011
SectionPixel Vision

Guardian history writer Lucy A. Schiller is examining SF’s history corner by corner this week — in this piece, the murder in Baker Street’s torrid past

It should come as no surprise that many of San Francisco’s streets are named for old white men. After all, many financially successful California pioneers were just that (occasionally minus the “old”). But the figures referenced by San Franciscan alleys, thoroughfares, boulevards, and avenues do hold some insight into the city’s past. The picture of 19th century San Francisco painted by its street names is a wildly weird one. Common themes: lawlessness, violence, sometimes ugly individualism, and the occasional progressive value.

Baker Street

Named for Edward Dickinson Baker, orator, senator, friend of Abe Lincoln

Edward D. Baker (1811-1861) holds a distinct honor in American history as the only sitting senator to have been killed in the Civil War. The British-born, Free Soil politician traveled in his youth throughout the Midwest (including a stint at a cotton mill in a failed utopian community) before moving to San Francisco and quickly making his mark as a lawyer and public speaker. A sort of Californian Abraham Lincoln (the President was a close friend and named his second son after Baker), the senator was renowned for his oratorical skills. Attorney general George Williams later called Baker “the most eloquent man I ever heard speak.” Baker was killed in Virginia at the Battle of Ball’s Bluff. The silvertongued politician’s eponymous street stretches from Buena Vista Park to the Marina.