Period Piece: Brannan Street sense (and Geary Boulevard, too)

Pub date December 27, 2011
SectionPixel Vision

Guardian history writer Lucy Schiller is exploring the city street-by-street in the slow week inter-holiday weekends. Today, learn about Samuel Brannan’s shipment of Mormons to San Francisco and John Geary side jobs (which include governor of Philadelphia). Click here for yesterday’s installment on Baker Street.

Brannan Street 

Named for Samuel Brannan, Mormon, ex-Mormon, journalist, Gold Rush instigator

Samuel Brannan (1819-1889) brought 240 Mormons to San Francisco on a ship along with a printing press, effectively tripling the tiny town’s population. And though he himself steered clear of panning for gold, Brannan was the first man to capitalize on the Gold Rush. And capitalize he did, publishing news of California’s gleaming bounty in his newspaper The California Star, while simultaneously selling mining supplies out of a well-placed general store. Brannan quickly became a millionaire, and with his notoriety, his character displayed itself. After being expelled from the church for some pretty questionable tithe diversions, Brannan became an integral member of San Francisco’s notorious citizen police force, the Vigilance Committee. Brannan Street runs in a fittingly prominent path parallel to Market.

Geary Boulevard

Named for John Geary, postmaster, mayor, governor

Just like the street named in his honor, John Geary (1819-1873) was a bustling behemoth, standing around six and a half feet tall and holding the dubious honor of more than 10 war wounds. He also managed to hold an impressive array of titles throughout his violent life, working as San Francisco’s first postmaster, last alcade (premier authority during Mexican rule), first mayor, military general, governor of Kansas, and governor of Pennsylvania. Geary levied the first taxes on San Franciscans, established the first jail (a stinking, unsanitary mess on the ship Euphemia), and ensured that both Washington Square and Union Square remain public spaces.