Dogpatch, once thought of as Potrero Hill’s ugly stepsister, not long ago emerged as San Francisco’s up-and-coming neighborhood. The area is in the midst of a growth spurt the likes of which it’s never before seen in its one hundred-plus year history. Cranes dominate the landscape, multi-unit buildings sprout from long-empty lots and cinderblock warehouses, and new residents fill the streets, restaurants, and shops.
The community’s population will triple by the end of this decade, principally as a result of the upwards of 4,500 additional homes – as well as retail, office and open space – that’re being developed at Pier 70 and the Potrero Power Plant. This small, isolated, once considered undesirable, neighborhood has arrived, its demographics now rivaling Potrero Hill’s.
Roughly thirteen-blocks, Dogpatch is located in San Francisco’s southeast quadrant, between Mission Bay and Bayview, Interstate-280 and Third Street. Its main artery, Third Street, leads to its thriving business district on 22nd Street. A milestone in Dogpatch’s past came in 2003, when a nine-block area was designated a ‘San Francisco Historic District,’ joining such other traditionally high-profile neighborhoods as Jackson Square, Telegraph Hill, and Alamo Square. The status was warranted, according to Christopher VerPlanck, who authored the proposal, because Dogpatch is “significant as the oldest, and most intact surviving concentration of Victorian-era industrial workers’ housing in San Francisco.”
Dogpatch’s recent rise to prominence is due in large part to its location, adjacent to an entirely new urban node. It’s a reasonable walk to the University of California, San Francisco-Mission Bay, the Chase Center, and Oracle Park. The 22nd Street Caltrain Station connects commuters with Silicon Valley. The neighborhood is, literally and figuratively, in the right place, at the right time.
“Dogpatch’ wasn’t the neighborhood’s original name. During the last quarter of the 19th century, as the region was being settled, it was called ‘Dutchman’s Flat,’ because of the large number of Dutch foremen and laborers that lived in the area, many of whom worked at the heavy industries located at Potrero Point, now Pier 70. Concurrently, Dogpatch and Irish Hill – the adjacent working-class neighborhood to the east – were referred to as ‘the Potrero.’ Before the turn-of-the-century, ‘the Potrero’ didn’t necessarily reference Potrero Hill, whose settlement came after that of, first, Irish Hill and then Dogpatch.
There’s no consensus about the origin of the name ‘Dogpatch,’ with three main theories. Dogfennel, a native, aromatic plant with tiny clusters of yellow flowers, grew abundantly here. Clumps of it can still be seen sprouting from sidewalks and empty lots. Butchertown, a late-19th century district just south of Dogpatch in today’s Bayview, was home to the City’s slaughterhouses. Its disposal of the entrails and internal organs of slaughtered animals into the Bay lured packs of stray dogs to the neighborhood. And Dogpatch’ was the name of the fictional, poor, mountain hometown of comic book character, Li’l Abner from the ‘Li’l Abner’ comic strip by Al Capp. Dictionary.com defines ‘dogpatch’ as ‘a poor, rural community in the U.S. especially in the South, whose inhabitants are unsophisticated or have little education.’
Residents found the name offensive when it was first used, sometime in the 1960’s or 1970’s, prompting an apology that appeared in The Potrero View’s February 1, 1972 edition.