[This is the first in a series of articles exploring the history of the naming of the streets in the Sunnyside District in San Francisco.]
Street sign, Melrose Avenue, Sunnyside, San Francisco. Photo by Amy O'Hair.
Melrose Avenue in Sunnyside, San Francisco, shares an origin with the longer, busier, and more famous street of the same name in Los Angeles. The rich real estate speculator James P. McCarthy brought the name with him when he came to San Francisco in 1890 to develop new tracts. Another investor, M. W. Connor, came with him, and also seems to have liked the name “Melrose.”
In Los Angeles, McCarthy had helped develop the Melrose tract, among other tracts, marketing bare lots with a good deal of advertising hype. (Here’s what the Melrose tract looked like then.) With the proceeds of that and other L.A.
Street sign, Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles.
real estate deals, he came north to try his hand at developing some of the hills of San Francisco. It was McCarthy who provided the experience, the property, and the strategy behind the Sunnyside real estate speculation project. It could be said that McCarthy is the grandfather of the Sunnyside.
How to Sell Dirt for Profit
Advertisement for Melrose tract property sold by James P. McCarthy in Los Angeles. Los Angeles Herald, 12 July 1887, page 5. From Newspapers.com.
The Melrose tract, opened for sale in 1887, was undeveloped land out in the hinterlands, far from downtown L.A., with a self-named avenue through the middle, and a new streetcar to take people out to it—all of which sounds very much like the set-up for the Sunnyside project, three years later.
Advertisement or Waverly tract property sold by James P. McCarthy in Los Angeles. Los Angeles Herald, 23 Jan 1887, page 3. From Newspapers.com.
Advertising drove the real estate market, then as now. Above is one of McCarthy’s ad stunts in the L.A. Herald (1887) for the Waverly tract. A bit nutty, but apparently successful. Relentless advertising had been key to selling in L.A., as when McCarthy, in a novel approach, suggests that lots in Melrose tract made good holiday gifts (L.A. Herald, 7 Dec 1887, page, 5). Later, a nonstop and often bizarre ad campaign was a distinct feature of the Sunnyside real estate speculation project in San Francisco. (Both ads below from SF Call, 1891.)
"Do U No" Advertisement for Sunnyside property in San Francisco. San Francisco Call, 7 June 1891, page 2. From Newspapers.com. "87 Men" Advertisement for Sunnyside property in San Francisco. San Francisco Call, 23 June 1891, page 4. From Newspapers.com.
Naming Melrose in L.A.
In 1989, the L.A. Times wrote that James P. McCarthy’s son E. Avery McCarthy named Melrose Avenue there in 1887. What I have found shows the paper to be right in the big picture—that the McCarthy family is responsible for the L.A. Melrose name—but wrong on the details. The news items mistakenly states that McCarthy was from the town of Melrose, Massachusetts. In fact, he was from Oswego, New York, as was his wife’s family, the Chesebros.
Additionally, the son, E. Avery McCarthy was then barely 16 years old, and it is much more likely to have been the elder man who named the tract and the avenue. However, since it was not the McCarthy hometown, the ultimate source of the name may never be known. There are many things named Melrose in California.
To fill in a bit of the family history, here is the 1880 US Census for the McCarthys, showing the family, including his wife Myra and their four children, E. Avery, Mary Ella, Lulu Estella, and John. James P. McCarthy’s father had emigrated from Ireland around 1842, probably from County Cork or Waterford, where the McCarthy name was most prevalent.
1880 US Census for James P. McCarthy family: Year: 1880; Census Place: Oswego, Oswego, New York; Roll: 914; Family History Film: 1254914; Page: 388C; Enumeration District: 249; Image: 0077. From Ancestry.com.
Running the Show
Once in San Francisco, James P. McCarthy purchased a large portion of the San Miguel Rancho, and sold 200 acres of it to the Sunnyside Land Company (S.F. Chronicle, 10 April 1891, page 3). He was also likely to have held shares in that company, one of twenty initial investors in the project. He certainly bought and sold lots in Sunnyside and nearby neighborhoods for decades.
Working with his son E. Avery McCarthy (shown here in his engagement announcement, 1892), who was by then 20 years old, McCarthy oversaw the Sunnyside project from the beginning. The San Francisco Call—always a
From engagement announcement for E. Avery and Lillian McCarthy. San Francisco Call, 21 April 1891, page 2. From Newspapers.com.
Sunnyside booster—reported that McCarthy’s luxurious suite of offices on Market was the headquarters for the Sunnyside. McCarthy's extensive and successful experience in L.A. real estate made Behrend Joost look like a bumpkin in comparison—although Joost has been called by some the Father of Sunnyside.
All of which is to say, it seems likely that it was James P. McCarthy who bestowed the Melrose name on the most northerly of the newly laid out streets in Sunnyside. “Melrose”—pretty to look at, pretty to say, and a source of great profits down south—why not stay with a good thing?
More Vanity Street Names
Adding to the evidence that McCarthy is at least in part responsible for Melrose in Sunnyside, there are other streets just north of Melrose in what was then called “Sunnyside Addition”, and later called Miraloma Park, he also likely named. The original homestead map shows the old layout, which was replaced later by the curvy streets now found on Mt. Davidson.
Original homestead map for Subdivision of Plat "A", Sunnyside Addition No. 1, 1894. Homestead Maps, Books E & F, pg 58. San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library. Photo by Amy O'Hair.
In his plans for the Sunnyside Addition blocks north of Melrose, McCarthy named streets Lulu and Avery for two of his children, Myra for his wife, and Oswego for his hometown. Earlier, during his real estate ventures in L.A., McCarthy named a street “Oswego” one of the tracts where he sold land, but this was later changed to West 30th Street (L.A. Herald, 7 Dec 1886, page 7).
The streets named Oswego and Avery did not survive the new Miraloma Park layout in the 1950s, but we still have Myra Way, albeit in a quite different location, just below the peak of Mt. Davidson.
Enhanced screen shot from SFMTA System Map. Accessed April 9, 2015.
Lulu McCarthy died young, at age 25, in 1900. Lulu Street survives as an unsigned pedestrian-only alley running north off Melrose near Gennessee. Both Google and Bing maps have erased this alley from their maps, in favor of page after page of results for the LuLu Restaurant downtown. However, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) public transit map still shows it (see map above).
M. W. Connor, L.A. Sidekick
But there is another person whose choice may also be represented in the street name of Melrose: Mark William Connor, LA capitalist and Sunnyside Land Company vice-president and general manager. Likely well-known to and trusted by McCarthy, and an investor in the Melrose tract in L.A., Connor seems to have come north with McCarthy for the sole purpose of managing the Sunnyside project. The other investors in the project did not have the same level of experience these two did. Certainly Behrend Joost had invested in real estate, but the Sunnyside was to be a huge tract development. When you sold bare lots, it was a fine art—you were selling Hope and The Future, for there was little actually on the ground in those first years out in Sunnyside—no streetlights, no paving, no sewers, no school, no church, spotty water supply, and few houses.
Portion of advertisement for Sunnyside property in San Francisco. San Francisco Chronicle, 26 April 1891, page 9. From Newspapers.com.
M. W. Connor seems to have been very fond of the Melrose name. He may have made a packet investing in the Melrose tract in L.A., and so felt it was his lucky talisman. Two years before Sunnyside, Connor built a fancy hotel in L.A. at 120 South Grand Avenue, which he named the Melrose Hotel (L.A. Herald, 19 Aug 1889, page 1). His daughter was married there (L.A. Herald, 10 Sept. 1891, page 4).
Connor also built an eccentric cottage he called “Melrose,” which showed up in the news in 1917 when it burned down. The reporter noted in passing that Connor was a “peculiar fellow” (Santa Ana Register, 29 Sept. 1917, page 6). Perhaps was it was Connor who was responsible for the many quirky advertisements that marked the early years of selling Sunnyside real estate. (Below, ad from S.F. Call, 8 May 1892.)
Advertisement for Sunnyside property in San Francisco. San Francisco Call, 8 May 1892, page 8. From Newspapers.com.
Home to Los Angeles
Both Connor and the McCarthys bought and sold property in Sunnyside for many years; in 1913, the McCarthy Company is reported in the Call as selling the house at 270 Flood Ave., 22 years after the whole project began (17 July 1913, page 19). Both families returned home to Los Angeles after the initial Sunnyside mania died down, even though they continued to trade in Bay Area real estate for many
From an advertisement for the McCarthy Company in Los Angeles. Los Angeles Herald, 11 June 1905, page 9. From Newspapers.com.
years. Connor ran his beloved Melrose Hotel into his old age. He is listed in the 1907 L.A. Directory as its proprietor, at age 68; he died about five years later. E. Avery McCarthy continued to run the McCarthy Company, based in Los Angeles, for many years after his father’s death in 1924.
What Happened Next
It was many years before there were houses on Melrose Avenue in Sunnyside. Although the original homestead map shows a die-straight street, Melrose Avenue eventually needed to be cut into pieces to make useful sites for houses, perching as it does on some very uneven terrain.
Map from maps.google.com, enhanced to indicate location of Melrose Avenue at present, in Sunnyside, San Francisco. Boundaries of Sunnyside are indicated by highlighted area.
Melrose Avenue was no more than assorted dirt tracks well into the 1940s, fifty years after the first property offering. It was sometimes a long time between laying out streets in theory, and actually getting them properly graded and paved (and that is another story!).
In summary, I think it was James P. McCarthy, the overseer and guide for Sunnyside project, who named our Melrose Avenue, but I leave open the possibility that M. W. Connor influenced or seconded the choice. However, it was not named for McCarthy’s hometown, as mistakenly reported by the L.A. Times in 1989. McCarthy was from Oswego, New York, in the Great Lakes region, and he may have brought other names from this area with him to bestow on Sunnyside streets (to be reviewed in a future post in this series).
James Poke McCarthy (1847 – 1924) was born in Oswego New York and died in Los Angeles, California. Real estate speculator and developer who owned property all over California. Formed McCarthy Company with his son E. Avery McCarthy. Married to Myra Chesebro, descendent of a founding New England family from New Hampshire who also lived in NY State.
Elmanson Avery McCarthy (1870 – 1934) was born in Oswego New York and died in Los Angeles. Real estate capitalist who followed in father James P. McCarthy’s business.
Mark William Connor (1939 – 1912?) was born in Wisconsin and died in Los Angeles. Family descended from old New England family (New Hampshire). Real estate speculator who had business with his son Winifred A. H. Connor. Vice president and manager of Sunnyside Land Company.
1880 US Census for James P. McCarthy family: Year: 1880; Census Place: Oswego, Oswego, New York; Roll: 914; Family History Film: 1254914; Page: 388C; Enumeration District: 249; Image: 0077. Available at Ancestry.com.
LA Times story about Melrose Avenue name, wrongly attributing source of the name to McCarthy hometown. Available at the Los Angeles Times.
Image of the Melrose tract before development (Photo date says c.1900, but lots were being sold there as early 1887). Available at the Digital Library, University of Southern California.
McCarthy name found mainly in Counties Waterford and Cork in Ireland. Available at Storymaps.com.
Proctor P. Historical Essay: Sunnyside. Available at foundSF.org.