How San Francisco's Neighborhoods Got Their Names

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istock

San Francisco’s modern history began after the United States claimed California during the Mexican-American War in 1846. The city was originally known as Yerba Buena until Lt. Washington A. Bartlett renamed it the following year. Since then, the city’s seven by seven miles have divided into distinct neighborhoods that have witnessed the height of the Gold Rush to LGBT rights to the current tech boom. But do you know how the city’s neighborhoods got their names? Here’s an extensive (if not quite comprehensive) list of the City by the Bay's origins.

Bayview-Hunters Point

Peter Merholz

This hyphenated neighborhood is located at the southeastern point of San Francisco. Bayview presumably comes from its proximity to the Bay. Hunters Point is named after John, Phillip, and Robert Hunter, three brothers who acquired José Cornelio Bernal’s land in 1842.

Bernal Heights

IMLS

Bernal Heights used to be part of Rincon de las Salinas and Potrero Nuevo. In 1839, the Mexican government granted the land to Jose Cornelio Bernal, a Spanish soldier who was part of the Anza expedition. The land was divided in the 1860s. Soon after, Irish immigrants inhabited the land as dairy farmers.

The Castro

torbakhopper

The Castro is San Francisco’s LGBT mecca, but its name is derived from a Commanding General from the Mexican-American War, José Castro. He led the opposition to the American occupation with Juan B. Alvarado, who served as California’s governor between 1836 and 1842.

Chinatown

Alden Jewell

San Francisco’s Chinatown is the largest and oldest in North America. The first two Chinese immigrants arrived on the Eagle, an American brig, in 1848. The first Asian church in North America, Old St. Mary’s, was built in 1853. Of course, people came for the Gold Rush, but other immigrants made the journey after natural disasters hit China in quick succession after their loss to Great Britain in the first Opium War.

Cow Hollow

recities

In the mid-1800s, this neighborhood on the northeastern side of the city was called Spring Valley for its freshwater springs. But it quickly became known for something else: dairy farming. Even though the cows are gone, the name Cow Hollow stuck.

Crocker-Amazon

This area is named after Charles Crocker, the man who founded the Central Pacific Railroad in the 1860s, and was one of the Big Four in Nob Hill. The neighborhood is also named after Amazon Street in the Excelsior District.

Diamond Heights

IMLS

Diamond Heights was the last undeveloped area of Rancho San Miguel. However, after the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency was established in 1950, this area’s 300 acres became its first development project. Using a combination of federal, state, city, and county funds, the agency called the area Diamond Heights.

Dogpatch

Jesse Mullan

The Dogpatch was called "Butchertown" until the 1960s. At the time, slaughterhouses covered the neighborhood. However, it’s unclear how it became known as the Dogpatch. One rumor is hungry canines waited for scraps of meat outside the abattoirs.

Duboce Park

Wikimedia Commons

Victor Donglaim Duboce was a lieutenant colonel during the Spanish-American War, eventually elected to be part of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. After he died in 1900, the other Supervisors named this patch of land after him.

The Embarcadero

Wikimedia Commons

Spanish for "wharf," the Embarcadero saw more than 700 vessels enter the waterfront district between April and December 1849. The Gold Rush wasn’t the only appeal for residents to set up camp here. It served as one of the Barbary Coast’s premiere sites for saloons and prostitution until 1911. Mayor James Rolph cleaned up the area, favoring a produce district over debauchery.

Excelsior

The Excelsior was part of the Rancho Rincon de las Salinas Y Potrero Viejo. The name Excelsior Homestead was filed at city hall on April 15, 1869.

Financial District

Kevin Lund

After the United States took San Francisco from Mexico in 1847, the traditional communal landholding system ended. The town commons and waterfront were auctioned off and land was quickly bought. But the Financial District sits on what used to be Yerba Buena Cove. It was filled in the 1850s as San Franciscans abandoned their ships to take part in the Gold Rush and the area quickly became the city’s financial center.

Fisherman’s Wharf

Pedro Szekely

Most locals avoid Fisherman’s Wharf. Aside from astounding views of Alcatraz, it’s littered with novelty shops and souvenirs. But the incredible boats that line the Bay showcase its history. They belong to the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Italian fishermen who were drawn to San Francisco during the Gold Rush.

Forest Hill

Forest Hill exists on the south and west sides of Twin Peaks. It was originally called Mount Parnassus in 1886 when Adolph Sutro planned for thousands of Bluegum eucalyptus trees to be planted in celebration of Arbor Day. However, 12 years after Sutro died in 1898, his heirs hired A.S. Baldwin to assess the land. He eventually bought the area to be developed by the Newell-Murdoch Company into a residence park, completed in 1913. It became known as Forest Hill for its pines, cypress, and eucalyptus trees.

Golden Gate Park

Andrew Smith

Golden Gate Park was a wasteland of dunes owned by the United States government until the City and County of San Francisco’s petition for it succeeded in 1866. Surprisingly, the term “Golden Gate,” which is also the name of San Francisco’s famous bridge, doesn’t come from the Gold Rush. Its origins come from John C. Fremont naming the Golden Gate Strait in his 1848 memoirs.

Haight-Ashbury

Aboutmytrip

San Francisco’s hippie epicenter got its hyphenated name from two men: Henry Haight, a banker who became the 10th governor of California in 1867, and Munroe Ashbury, a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors between 1864 and 1870. Both men were actively involved in the development of Golden Gate Park.

Hayes Valley

torbakhopper

This high-end area of San Francisco used to be full of prostitution and crime. It was named after an Irish immigrant, Colonel Michael Hayes, who allegedly dueled with pistols and supported slavery. He constructed a beautiful Victorian home in the 1880s for individuals to enjoy their vices, but he also had ulterior motives: The home was a bid to extend a streetcar line into the area.

Ingleside

Ingle is Celtic for "fireplace," while an ingleside is the area beside it. That’s why Cornelius Stagg named his new roadhouse The Ingleside Inn in 1885. Within a few years, locals referred to the whole area as Ingleside.

Lakeshore

Lakeshore gets its name for its proximity to Lake Merced. Originally named “Laguna de Nuestra Senora de la Merced” (“The Lake of Our Lady of Mercy”) by Captain Don Bruno de Heceta in 1775, the surrounding area was developed in the 1950s after the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department acquired jurisdiction from the Public Utilities Commission.

The Marina

Shayan

Directly west of Cow Hollow overlooking the Bay is the Marina. Before its stunning houses were built, it consisted of tidal marshlands and dunes. After the devastating 1906 earthquake decimated parts of the city, residents gathered debris and put it here. It became the area’s foundation. In 1915, the Marina served as the location of the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. Its close proximity to the water and harbors helped inspire San Franciscans to rebuild and grow their city.

The Mission

Big Swift

Father Palou was a Spanish priest in the 18th century. He established a church on June 29, 1776 at Laguna de Dolores. It became the first building in the city and was named Mission Dolores. A few years later in 1783, the church moved to what we now know as 16th and Dolores. It’s the base of the Mission today.

Mission Bay

Eric Fredericks 

Mission Bay describes the neighborhood’s location, which is east of Mission and west of the Bay. The area’s development started in 1998 and showcases San Francisco’s radical growth due to the Internet, with start-up offices replacing the neighborhood’s former rail yards.

Nob Hill

Sharat Ganapati

Nob Hill is named after its early settlers from the late 1800s. They were reportedly a highly successful, criminal bunch. “Nob” comes from Nabob, a Hindu word describing wealthy, powerful Europeans making their fortunes in the East. The “Nobs” included “Bonanza King” James Flood and James Fair. But perhaps most important were Mark Hopkins, Collis P. Huntington, Charles Crocker, and Leland Stanford. They were known as the Big Four, a group that invested in the first intercontinental railroad. The neighborhood remains affluent to this day (locals sometimes refer to it as “Snob Hill”).

Noe Valley

torbakhopper

Pio Pico, the Mexican governor of California in 1846, gave approximately one-sixth of San Francisco to Jose de Jesus Noe. The land was called Rancho San Miguel before Noe began to sell it in 1852. Today, the land he owned includes Noe Valley, the Castro, Glen Park, and more.

North Beach

Dustin Gaffke

In its early days, North Beach was an actual beach until the coast was augmented. Immigrants from Europe, South America, and the Australian penal colonies made their way to the Barbary Coast’s North Point docks. As such, its name is a geographical marker for the neighborhood’s spot in the Bay. The late 1800s saw an influx of Italians making their way to the area, also making it San Francisco’s Little Italy. According to legend, the Italian-Americans allegedly saved the area, draping their houses in wine-soaked blankets to avoid fires caused by the 1906 earthquake.

Pacific Heights

Aboutmytrip

Pacific Heights is south of the Marina and stands tall at 371 feet. Similar to Russian Hill and Nob Hill, the early residents of the late 1800s were very wealthy. They made their way to the area after the cable-car line was built to the neighborhood.

Parkside

William Crocker bought what is now Parkside from Adolph Sutro in July 1905. Its name refers to its proximity to the trees at Pine Lake, which was then called Laguna Puerca.

Potrero Hill

Bernt Rostad

Don Francisco de Haro, the former Alcalde of Yerba Buena, acquired a land grant in 1835 to graze cattle from the Mission, which sits directly west of the neighborhood. It was called Potrero Nuevo then, which translates to "New Pasture." The area eventually dropped its nature-inspired surname when the city’s mayor, Dr. John Townsend, divided the land into a grid in 1849. Companies like the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Company and the Western Sugar refinery made the area their industrial base. Potrero stands 300 feet high.

The Presidio

Amanda

Presidio means "fortress" in Spanish. Established in 1776, it’s the oldest installation in the western part of the United States. It initially served as an outpost for Spain’s military until Mexico took it over. Twenty four years later, America gained control in 1846. The Presidio was an active installation until it was passed over to the National Park Service in 1994. Two years later, Congress developed a federal agency to preserve its historical and scenic integrity.

The Richmond

An Australian-born art dealer, George Turner Marsh, thought the Inner and Outer Richmond resembled sand dunes from Richmond, Australia. At least that’s how one story goes. Others credit a man named George Fletcher for coming up with the name. The area rose to prominence after the 24th mayor of San Francisco, Adolph Sutro, built transportation services to it.

Russian Hill

Patrick Nouhailler

Russian Hill is known for Lombard Street’s sharp curves, beautiful architecture, and cable cars. It originated in 1850 when a minister, Bayard Taylor, discovered seven marked graves at the top of the hill, which sits at 343 feet. Little is known about who the buried men were. Some say they were merchant sailors, while others say they were fur trappers. But their tombs were inscribed in Cyrillic, giving the hill its name. Unfortunately, the markers were removed during Russian Hill’s development in the 1850s.

SoMA

torbakhopper

SoMA, an abbreviation for South of Market, might sound like a SoHo knockoff to New Yorkers. In a way, it is. Market Street runs from the port of San Francisco into Eureka Valley and the industrial SoMA sits directly underneath. But originally its name was South of the Slot, referring to the apparatuses that carried cable cars.

Sunnyside

Wikimedia Commons

San Franciscan Behrend Joost was supposed to provide dredging services to create a canal in Panama in the late 1880s. It was a failed attempt, but left him with enough money to start the “Sunny Side Land Company,” which bought and developed the land in the 1890s.

The Sunset

SF Brit

The Sunset used to be called Outside Lands, a name now reserved for the city’s yearly music and arts festival in Golden Gate Park. However, the once barren land remained property of the United States government from 1848 until 1866, and it’s unknown exactly when Outside Lands became The Sunset. Some claim a property owner and developer, Aurelius Buckingham, named it so. A separate theory suggests the California Midwinter Fair of 1894, also called The Sunset City, was the source of inspiration. Still, there’s also speculation it was the result of a neighborhood organization.

Telegraph Hill

Roger Wollstadt

Telegraph Hill was a semaphore built in 1849 used to identify ships entering San Francisco. The Spaniards called the area Loma Alta before that, which translates to High Hill. It also has one of San Francisco’s best landmarks, Coit Tower, as well as an invasive species of parrot, cherry-headed conures, originally from Ecuador.

The Tenderloin

Ken Lund

The Tenderloin isn’t far from Nob Hill and Russian Hill. In fact, its boundaries are blurred. Many locals call the northern side underneath Nob Hill the Tendernob. Despite its ritzy neighbors, the Tenderloin gets a bad rap as a home to drug deals, prostitutes, and confrontational strangers. This gritty disposition helped the Tenderloin earn its name. Police officers working there in the 1930s were compensated with higher wages, and they took to calling the area "tenderloin," after the better cuts of meat they could afford.

Twin Peaks

Melodie Mesiano

Twin Peaks was originally called Los Pechos de la Choca in the 18th century, which translates to “Breasts of the Maiden.” The adjacent peaks’ elevation is 922 feet, giving it some of the best views of the Bay Area. The name changed after Americans took control of San Francisco in the 19th century.

Union Square

Tony Fischer

Union Square is San Francisco’s main cultural center for retail shopping. There’s also an urban park bordered by Geary, Powell, Post, and Stockton Streets. But it was originally built and named in 1850 by San Francisco’s first mayor, John Geary, inspired by the pro-Union rallies that took place there before and during the Civil War.

Visitacion Valley

Wikimedia Commons

Legend has it that Visitacion Valley got its name in 1777 when friars got lost in the Bay Area’s fog. As it lifted, they found themselves in the valley on the same day as the feast of the Blessed Virgin. Some suggest they saw a vision on a rock.

The Western Addition

Aboutmytrip

As San Francisco expanded beyond its west boundary on Larkin Street in the 1850s, the result was the geographically named Western Addition. However, this section of San Francisco can also be broken into different neighborhoods that have their own distinct names. For example, the current Japantown was built in 1968, but its history extends back to the 1920s and 30s when Japanese immigrants filled 30 blocks. They were forced out during World War II, and in the 1950s when the area was being gentrified. The Fillmore District was named after President Millard Fillmore at the end of the 19th century. NoPA, a fairly recent term, is used to describe the area North of the Panhandle, an elongated section of Golden Gate Park.

BONUS: Alcatraz

Ramey Logan

Spanish naval officer Lt. Juan Manuel de Ayala called Yerba Buena Island, the small spot that sits between San Francisco and Oakland, Isla de Alcatraces, which translates to “Island of the Pelicans.” Seventy two years later, the United States military began fortifying a different island in the Bay, Alcatraz Island, inspired by Ayala’s pelicans.

11 Weird Place Names From Around the World

The sign on the train station platform helps you pronounce this 58-letter-long Welsh town name.
The sign on the train station platform helps you pronounce this 58-letter-long Welsh town name.
hipproductions/iStock via Getty Images

Shakespeare wasn’t wrong when he said that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. But if these places had any other names, they probably wouldn’t have made this list (or international headlines, in a couple of cases). Read on to discover the fascinating details behind Tasmania’s Eggs and Bacon Bay, French Polynesia’s Disappointment Islands, and other strangely named locales from all corners of the globe.

1. Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, Wales

At 58 characters, this tiny Welsh village on the isle of Anglesey has the longest place name in Europe. Translated to English, it’s a phrase that describes the town’s location: Saint Mary's Church in the hollow of the white hazel near a rapid whirlpool and the Church of St. Tysilio of the red cave. According to Atlas Obscura, the town has existed in some form for thousands of years, but in 1880 a publicity-oriented tailor changed its name from Llanfairpwll to its current moniker in an attempt to attract tourists. Luckily for us, Llanfairpwll is still an acceptable nickname, as is Llanfair PG. Listen to weather reporter Liam Dutton pronounce it like a pro here.

2. Batman, Turkey

Both a Turkish province and its capital city are named Batman for the nearby Batman River. Batman itself could have come from the ancient unit of measurement (equal to 16.96 pounds), or it could be a shortening of the name of the nearby Bati Raman mountains. Either way, the city became the source of scandal in 2008 when its then-mayor, Huseyin Kalkan, threatened to sue Warner Bros. and director Christopher Nolan over their use of the term in the Dark Knight trilogy. (No lawsuit was ever actually filed.) There are also plenty of people who want to reinforce the connection between the place name and superhero—over 26,000 have signed a petition to change the province’s borders to look like the bat symbol.

3. Eggs and Bacon Bay, Tasmania

eggs and bacon flower
KarenHBlack/iStock via Getty Images

Tasmania’s Eggs and Bacon Bay is named after a regional wildflower commonly known as eggs and bacon, whose petals are a mixture of the sunny yellow of egg yolks and the deep red of bacon. The bay made national news in 2016 when PETA petitioned unsuccessfully to change its name to a more animal-friendly “Apple and Cherry Bay.” It doesn’t look like the idea ever made it to a vote at the local council, and officials didn’t seem keen on it. Huon Valley deputy mayor Ian Paul told The Guardian that the idea was “ludicrous,” adding “I feel pretty strongly about it. This is our heritage, it is our history.”

4. Wonowon, British Columbia

It’s not a coincidence that this Canadian town, pronounced “one-oh-one,” is located on Alaska Highway’s Mile 101, where the U.S. Army operated a 24-hour checkpoint during World War II. The town was originally named Blueberry after the nearby Blueberry River, but was eventually changed to Wonowon to prevent people from confusing it for another Blueberry in the southeastern Kootenay region. It’s not clear when the name officially changed to Wonowon, but according to a mention in a 1956 issue of the Northern Sentinel, the Post Office recognized it as Wonowon, while the residents still called it Blueberry. Why Blueberry in the first place, you ask? Possibly because British Columbia produces 96 percent of Canada’s cultivated blueberries.

5. Spa, Belgium

fountain in Spa, Belgium
Jean-Pol GRANDMONT, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

Spa, Belgium, sounds relaxing, and for good reason. The word spa comes from this eastern Belgian town, whose curative mineral springs have been visited since the 16th century and were even mentioned by Pliny the Elder. Spa itself could be derived from espa, the Walloon word for "spring" or “fountain,” or the Latin word spagere, meaning “to scatter, sprinkle, moisten.” Or it could be an acronym for the Latin phrase sanitas per aquas, which fittingly means “health through water.”

6. Westward Ho!, England

book cover of Westward Ho! by Charles Kingsley
Frederick Warne & Co, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In 1855, Charles Kingsley published a book called Westward Ho!, in which a young man leaves his home in Bideford, England, to pursue a seafaring life of adventure under the tutelage of famed explorer Sir Francis Drake. The book became a bestseller, and some enterprising folks formed the Northam Burrows Hotel and Villa Building Company in 1863 with the intention of capitalizing on the attention. They started by building the Westward Ho! Hotel, and continued to develop the area by constructing terraces, lodges, bath houses, stables, and a golf club. As development progressed, the village that sprung up around the hotel became known as Westward Ho! also.

7. The Office Girls, Antarctica

The Office Girls are two glacial islands, also called nunataks, about seven miles away from Welcome Mountain near the Southern Ocean coast of Antarctica. There are so many tiny pieces of land to map in Antarctica that the U.S. has an Advisory Committee on Antarctic Names to name them all—and in 1970 they chose “The Office Girls” as a tribute to all of the personnel who assisted with the administrative side of the missions from home in the continental U.S.

8. Punkeydoodles Corners, Ontario

The origin of the name of this tiny hamlet has been debated for decades. Some people say it’s the product of a German tavern owner’s slurred rendition of “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” while others say Punkeydoodle was an insult thrown at resident pumpkin-grower John Burbrigg by a vexed neighbor, and from then on his plot of land was called “Punkeydoodle’s Corners.” The charming Canadian town was once home to a somewhat charming Canadian crime: Mischief-makers often stole the town’s sign, until Canada Day in 1982, when community members replaced it with a concrete monument that weighs almost a ton.

9. Malpelo Island, Colombia

Sunset over Malpelo Island
Janos/iStock via Getty Images

The Spanish words mal pelo translate to “bad hair” in English, implying that this island is in some way a nightmare for bouffants, beehives, and blowouts. It’s more likely the result of a metaphorical game of telephone that spanned half the globe and several centuries. It could be derived from the Latin malveolus, meaning “inhospitable” or “spiteful,” which might’ve become malbolo and later mal pelo [PDF]. It’s also on a world map from 1550 as ye mallabry, which probably means malabrigo, a word for “shelterless” that Spanish cartographers used to mark some islands and bays. Malabrigo sort of sounds like mal pelo, at least if you’re shouting it to someone on the opposite side of the island.

10. Hotazel, South Africa

Welcome to Hotazel, where it’s hot as hell—or at least it was on the day in 1915 when a group of land surveyors assessed a farm in South Africa and named the whole place “Hot As Hell,” now spelled “Hotazel.” The climate is actually pretty reasonable, with summer temperatures sometimes reaching the 90s (in Fahrenheit) and winter temperatures sometimes dipping into the 30s.

11. Disappointment Islands, French Polynesia

In 1765, Lord Byron’s grandfather John Byron was sailing around the tip of South America when he chanced upon a tiny island in the distance. To him and his scurvy-ridden crew, it looked like paradise, but he soon realized the high surf and coral reefs prevented safe anchorage. That, in addition to the spear-wielding natives stationed along the shore, dashed their hopes so severely that Byron named the island (and its nearby sister landmass) the Islands of Disappointment. This may have shielded the islands from centuries of follow-up explorers, but it also literally gives them a bad name. In reality, says BBC Travel’s Andrew Evans, they’re "timeless."

6 Weird Things Embedded in City Streets

A Toynbee tile near the White House in 1995
A Toynbee tile near the White House in 1995
Elvert Barnes, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Most of us spend our days walking around with our eyes pointed straight ahead or looking around, seeing the rest of the world mostly at eye-level. But there are advantages to looking down, and not just because it helps you avoid stepping on other people’s feet. Strange, wondrous, and occasionally terrible things have been found stuck to the surface of city streets—just take a look at the examples below.

1. Toynbee Tiles

If you have a revolutionary idea to share with the masses, you could write an op-ed in a major paper, talk to a local member of congress, start an activist organization, or pay for a PR campaign. Or, you could carve the message into a square of gummy linoleum and stick it in the street. Whatever floats your boat!

The linoleum method is the one employed by the mysterious creator of the Toynbee Tiles—lettered rectangular plaques that have appeared in dozens of major U.S. cities since the 1980s, as well as in several South American locations. Most of the tiles contain some version of the following message:

TOYNBEE IDEA
IN KUBRICK'S 2001
RESURRECT DEAD
ON PLANET JUPITER

Tile-followers, and there are a few, generally interpret Toynbee as a reference to 20th century British historian Arnold J. Toynbee, although some think it could refer to the Ray Bradbury short story "The Toynbee Convector." The 2001 is, of course, a reference to Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, which depicts a voyage to Jupiter.

No one knows who's behind the tiles, and it may not be a single individual. For years, many tile enthusiasts believed they were the work of James Morasco, a Philadelphia carpenter who communicated with the Philadelphia Inquirer in the early 1980s about the idea of resurrecting the dead on the planet Jupiter. But the tiles have continued to appear long after Morasco's death in 2003, and his widow claims he never had anything to do with them.

The story gets much, much weirder. David Mamet claims the idea for the tiles came from one of his plays; many of the tiles contain screeds against the mafia, media, and the Jews; Larry King is somehow involved. For those who are intrigued, the excellent 2011 documentary Resurrect Dead delves deeper into the mystery.

2. The Paris Central Guillotine

It’s been called “the most awful spot in Paris.” These five rectangular indents near the Pére-Lachaise Cemetery in Paris look ordinary enough, but they have a grisly tale to tell. They’re actually slabs that once formed the foundation for the Paris guillotine, which sliced off 69 heads—in public—between 1851 and 1899. (France continued sending people to the guillotine until 1977, but not here.) The guillotine stood at the entrance to the now-demolished Prison de la Roquette, and shut down when the prison itself ended its dark days.

3. The Hess Triangle

The Hess Triangle in NYC
The Hess Triangle in NYC
Nan Palmero, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

It may be the ultimate New York-style "screw you, buddy," at least as far as the city's streets are concerned. Where 7th Avenue and Christopher Street cross in Manhattan's West Village, there's a mosaic triangle that takes up about 500 square inches. Its black letters spell out an oddly aggressive message: "Property of the Hess Estate which has never been dedicated for public purposes."

The message, and the triangle, are a remnant of a very minor early 20th century property battle, in which New York City used eminent domain to seize a nearby apartment building when expanding the IRT subway in the late 1910s. The apartment building was owned by Philadelphia landlord David Hess, whose family later noticed that the city’s seizing had left them this one tiny triangle. City authorities asked the family to donate the triangle, but they refused, installing this defiant mosaic instead, in 1922. It’s a little outdated, however: in 1938, the family finally gave up and sold the plot to the owners of Village Cigars for $1000, or $2 per square inch.

4. Jewish Tombstones

During World War II and for decades afterwards, Jewish tombstones in Poland were treated as construction material, plundered from cemeteries to pave streets, courtyards, and passageways, and used to repair walls and curbs. In 2014, the city of Warsaw agreed to return 1000 Jewish tombstones, known as matzevot, that had been used to build a pergola and stairs inside a city park.

Polish photographer Łukasz Baksik spent several years documenting the tombstones’ appropriation as paving material and masonry, with the results published in a book called Matzevot for Everyday Use. Meanwhile, a nonprofit called From the Depths runs the Matzeva Project, which aims to find and restore some of the millions of gravestones still hidden in Poland, as well as the often-forgotten Jewish cemeteries from which the stones were stolen.

5. Potholes Crying out for Help

Potholes are the mosquito of urban infrastructure problems: minor but persistently irritating. Over the past few years, several people have been trying new approaches to getting them repaired. In Panama City, the TV show Telemetro Reporta launched a project in 2015 installing motion-sensitive detectors in the city’s potholes. When a car ran over the sensor, the device automatically sent a tweet to the Ministry of Public Works. In Chicago, artist Jim Bachor took a more delicious approach, creating mosaics of popsicles and other items inside potholes both in Chicago and Jyväskylä, Finland. The crudest—but potentially most effective—technique comes from Manchester, where a man who identified himself to the BBC only as “Wanksy” drew penis shapes around potholes. “They [potholes] don't get filled. They'll be there for months,” Wanksy said. “Suddenly you draw something amusing around it, everyone sees it and it either gets reported or fixed." The local city council spokesperson called the drawings “incredibly insulting.”

6. Tourist-friendly QR codes

It’s not as weird as the other entries on the list, but possibly more useful. Rio is known for its stunning beaches, spectacular Carnival, and the black-and-white sidewalk mosaics around the city known as Portuguese pavement. In 2013, the city began installing QR codes using the same black-and-white stone used to create decorative images of fish, waves, and vegetation. The city installed about 30 of the codes at beaches, scenic hotspots and historic sites, and tourists can use the codes alongside a smartphone app to get background information in Portuguese, Spanish, and English.

This list first appeared in 2016 and was republished in 2019.

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