This SF Street May Be Renamed After Frida Kahlo to Erase Racist Mayor’s Legacy

Lead Photo: Frida Kahlo in 1937, Photo by Toni Frissell/United States Library of Congress
Frida Kahlo in 1937, Photo by Toni Frissell/United States Library of Congress
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April 5 at 11:30 a.m. Et: After a public vote, Phelan Avenue will be renamed Frida Kahlo Way. It may take up to nine months for the change to happen. 

Phelan Avenue – a San Francisco street that shares a name with former Mayor James D. Phelan – will soon be no more. The move comes as the country pushes to rename monuments, buildings, and other landmarks honoring figures who upheld white supremacy. Nearly 100 years ago, Phelan ran on a “Keep California White” campaign. While he’s been praised for his philanthropic efforts – including donating his 175-acre estate as a space for artists and writers – we shouldn’t overlook his racism and the sinister ways he tried to oppress people of color, including opposing the migration of Asians into the state. In the next two weeks, a public vote will decide the street’s new name, and Frida Kahlo Way is one of the contenders.

The street is reportedly named after Phelan’s father, James Phelan. But some believe the fact that it shares its name with Phelan is enough of a reason to remove it. The move to change the street’s name dates back to the 2000s when a group tried and failed to get it renamed after Filipino activist Violeta “Bulleta” Marasigan, according to KQED.

But after University of San Francisco students successfully got the school to remove Phelan’s name from a dorm and started making plans to change the name of road, Norman Yee got the community involved. The Phelan Renaming Committee, which is made up of people from the school and the neighborhood, sprung up. It is considering naming it after Frida Kahlo, as well as Thelma Johnson Streat (an African-American artist) and Him Mark Lai (a Chinese-American historian).

Though the vote takes place in the next couple of weeks, City College’s trustees have already voted for Frida Kahlo, whose image appears in Diego Rivera’s Pan American Unity, a mural on the campus.