The Bucolic Byways of Glen Park: Ohlone Way, Poppy Lane, and Penny Lane
In modern terms, green lanes on busy city streets, easily identified as two-foot wide painted buffers bordered by flexible posts, provide bicycle-only lanes to help reduce the stress of shared roadways. As part of a nationwide effort in major cities, there are several in San Francisco, including along Market Street, San Jose Avenue, Alemany Boulevard, and the famous Wiggle that runs from Duboce Avenue and Sanchez Street to the Fell Street bicycle path in the Golden Gate Panhandle.
However, another type of low-stress green lane exists in San Francisco. They have nothing to do with bicycles, transit, or asphalt, but are more akin to the heritage green lanes found throughout the United Kingdom. In the UK, green lanes are defined as any carriageway with a surface that has not been made up with concrete or tarmac (a type of asphalt) and may be so infrequently used that there is no wearing of the surface, which over time allows vegetation to freely overgrow (therefore, is “green").
Only a handful of heritage streets similar to those in the UK still exist in San Francisco, and Glen Park is fortunate to lay claim to three of these bucolic byways: Ohlone Way, Poppy Lane, and Penny Lane. All three are reflective of the rural character that was once predominate in Glen Park, a neighborhood that still emotes a small town ambience today. They are artifacts of a century ago when horse and buggy gained entry at the rear of the house, and where a homeowner’s cow, horse, or goat could exit for some free-range grazing excursions in the pastoral landscape that used to comprise our neighborhood.
While designated as official streets owned by the City, some of these little lanes remained nameless for decades. And, as an interesting twist to modern street regulations, while designated as public right-of-ways by the City, these lanes are expected to be privately maintained: it is the responsibility of the adjacent property owners, and not the Department of Public Works, to maintain a 13-foot clearance for City emergency vehicles to pass. Otherwise, these lanes and ways do not carry any vehicular traffic, nor does their size, condition, and sometimes slope make it advisable.
While two of the three little green lanes first appeared on the 1905 Sanborn Maps of San Francisco (Poppy Lane would not appear until the 1913-1915 edition when mapmakers included the upper reaches of Diamond Street in Glen Park), each continues to remain essentially unknown to the general public. In a world that seems to be going a little more off-kilter with every passing day, each of Glen Park’s green lanes can offer solace in the middle of this City of 850,000 residents by providing opportunity for a relaxing stroll down a rustic country lane.
In this 1938 aerial view of Glen Park by Harrison Ryker, Ohlone Way, Penny Lane, and Poppy Lane can be viewed in a landscape far different than what we know today. Image courtesy of David Rumsey Historical Map Collection.
Runs north from Surrey to Sussex Streets between Van Buren and Diamond Streets. While the gentle concrete slope from Surrey that is crossed before transitioning to dirt appears inviting to drive, the short and very steep incline at Sussex makes vehicular transit prohibitive.
View of Ohlone Way, looking north. Image by Evelyn Rose.
The first name for Ohlone Way when it appeared on the Sanborn Map of San Francisco in 1905 was simply “Alley.” It would remain so until 1983 when Glen Park resident Dorlan Eargle purchased a cottage on Van Buren Street. Eargle would later describe he found the alley to be a mud-soaked and bramble-covered mess. To meet the City ordinance of maintaining 13 feet of clearance for City emergency vehicles to pass, Eargle took it upon himself in 1986 to clear the space, eventually hauling away three truckloads of vegetation.
While doing this, it occurred to Eargle that this little alley should have a name. The designation “Way” is typically given to streets with 13-foot clearance, so Eargle and another Glen Park resident, Nadyne Gray, suggested in 1992 that the street be named in honor of the Native Americans who once inhabited the San Francisco Peninsula: the Muwekma Ohlone. It was also, by happenstance, the same name as the still pertinent and popular book, The Ohlone Way, written and published by Malcolm Margolin in 1978.
Eargle took a petition to name the alley Ohlone Way to the adjacent 23 property owners: 20 owners signed the petition, two were not home, and one declined. He then took the petition to the Board of Supervisors and the naming of the street was soon approved by unanimous vote. To this day, other than the usual maintenance and planting of flora along this little carriageway, Ohlone Way remains essentially unchanged, with some carriage houses still gracing its borders.
The arrow points to the entrance of Ohlone Way at Surrey Street, ca. 1920. Image courtesy of the Western Neighborhoods Project's OpenSFHistory and a private collector.
Runs east from Conrad Street, crosses Diamond Street between Sussex and Moffitt Streets, and dead ends in the trees above Bemis Street, making vehicular transit prohibitive.
Entrance of Poppy Lane at Conrad Street, looking east. Image by Evelyn Rose.
Unlike Ohlone Way, Poppy Lane does not appear in the Sanborn Maps until the 1913-1915 edition, when mapmakers decided to make their way higher up the slope of Diamond Street in Glen Park. Also contrary to Ohlone Way, Poppy Lane appears to have been named decades before. An early mention is found in the San Francisco Chronicle on November 21, 1947. In a once popular column by Robert O’Brien called “Riptides” that harked back to the earliest days of the City, an article entitled A Glen Park Boy Looks Back – Part III recites the recollections of former Glen Park resident Joe Huff. In the 1880s and 1890s, he had lived on a farm with his foster mother just north of today’s Bosworth Street in the area of Paradise Street. As he is being driven on an auto tour through the neighborhood some 40 years later, Huff describes the Gum Tree Ranch has having been located, “… by Sussex Street and Surrey Street and Poppy Lane.”
According to the 1905 Sanborn Maps, the grove of eucalyptus trees, also referred to as gum trees, extended from the north bank of Islais Creek west of Diamond to about today’s Lippard Street, and as far up the hill to Surrey Street. Eucalyptus had been imported from Australia (specifically, Tasmania) not long after the Gold Rush as a fast growing tree for lumber. Yet, because eucalyptus lumber easily splits, the trees were instead planted as wind breaks throughout San Francisco. The eucalyptus of Glen Park were likely planted by an early milch rancher (dairyman) in the 1850s or 1860s. While this original Gum Tree Grove in the heart of Glen Park no longer exists, eucalyptus remains ubiquitous throughout Glen Park, San Francisco, and the greater Bay Area.
Compared to Ohlone Way, Poppy Lane has been the subject of some controversy over the years. In the 1960s, a developer purchased several lots on Moffitt Street that extended down the steep hill to the little carriageway. Later, the lots were combined, creating a “pocket” of such size as to build a large house on. Such comingling of lots was believed to have been illegal, but by 1972, the City had approved the action. That’s when neighbor John Rohoshky, an architect, and his wife, Roberta Guise, began the fight to prevent development in the pocket, not only fearing it would lead to additional development along Poppy Lane but also to help maintain privacy and greenspace in the area. Several times over the years, the Save Poppy Lane Committee would fight zoning changes and permitting requests.
Five architects would be involved with the lot beginning in the 1960s, with one being so bold as to state his project would become “the beacon of the neighborhood.” The first four plans never came to fruition but, in March 1995, an out-of-town developer would submit plans to construct a new 3500-square-foot, 3.5-story residence near the lane’s Diamond Street entry. To establish a driveway for the residence, the developer planned to pave the first 130 feet of Poppy Lane east of Diamond Street, install a 10-inch sewer line, and other utilities. The San Francisco Department of Public Works had also approved paving this stretch of the lane, noting that it would be “privately maintained” by the residence owner.
In front of the Board of Supervisors, neighbors adjacent to the lane and other Glen Park locals vehemently protested the possible destruction of this highly valued, charming, rustic country lane in the heart of San Francisco. A video was produced for presentation at the Glen Park Association and other local meetings to help explain why the plan was so ill-advised for the location. Glen Park residents ultimately lost the battle - with a vote of 9 to 2, only then-Supervisors (now State Senator) Mark Leno and (now former California Assemblyman) Tom Ammiano voted against development.
Undeterred, neighbors would continue to voice their opposition until 2005. By then, the developer was offering to pave the first 130 feet using two parallel strips of paving stones with dirt in between the strips to help maintain at least some of Poppy Lane’s rustic character. Then, the board of the Glen Park Association requested that the San Francisco Planning Commission perform a discretionary review, stating that the configuration of the site was unusual and the proposed project needed to balance with the needs of neighbors and local residents. The Planning Commission agreed with Glen Park neighbors in August of that year.
By 2007, the Save Poppy Lane Committee had won at least a few concessions. First, the proposed structure ultimately approved for construction was scaled down from three stories to two, and a two-car garage replaced the three-car garage originally planned. Along with the two strips of paving stones, the area just east of Diamond Street would be landscaped and permanently maintained by the Bureau of Urban Forestry. Most importantly, the City promised local residents that no further development would be allowed along Poppy Lane. And, to help perpetuate the bucolic nature of this urban country lane, neighbors Rohofsky and Guise had their backyard declared a Certified Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation, a sign that is still visible to amblers along the lane today.
Runs east of Diamond Street between Sussex and Surrey Streets, ending via stairway on Surrey Street near Castro Street, making vehicular transit prohibitive.
Penny Lane looking east from Diamond Street. Image courtesy of the Bold Italic.
Penny Lane is just as rustically delightful as Ohlone Way and the moderately revised Poppy Lane. It also first appears with the name “Alley” in the 1905 Sanborn map. Making its way east of Diamond Street, neighbors have graciously constructed a stairway down to Surrey Street near Castro. Little of the history of Penny Lane, when it was named, or the inspiration for its name is known. If you have any information about the history of Penny Lane, please let us know at GlenParkHistory@gmail.com.