San Francisco Considers Swapping Out A Street Named For A Racist For One Honoring Queer Icon Frida Kahlo

The move will replace the name of a local political figure with a racist past.

A street in San Francisco currently named for a controversial figure could find itself redubbed Frida Kahlo Way by next year. The new designation is thanks to efforts by Supervisor Norman Yee, the board of trustees at the City College of San Francisco (where the street is located), and local residents.

Kahlo first came to San Francisco in the early 1930s with her husband, artist Diego Rivera, who had been commissioned to paint several murals in the Bay Area. In fact, efforts to make the name change to Frida Kahlo Way came partly because her image is included in Rivera’s Pan American Unity mural located on the college campus. Kahlo, in her own right, appears in several murals throughout the city and has work on display at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

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Phelan Avenue, as the road is currently called, was named for James D. Phelan, a San Francisco mayor and U.S. senator who died in 1931. Phelan was a multimillionaire and a philanthropist who championed the arts. However, the politician also had a dark, racist side. During a re-election for the senate, Phelan campaigned with the slogan “Keep California White,” and was vociferously opposed to Asian immigration.

This isn’t the first time an effort has been made to remove Phelan’s name from the street. In 2000, local activists unsuccessfully pushed to honor a local Filipino activist, Violeta Marasigan, by adding her name to the street sign.

Bryan van Gorder usually writes about the places he's been or the famous people forced to talk to him.