What’s in a Name: Potrero Hill’s Parks and Schools

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Enola D. Maxwell, which used to be the name of a middle school campus, continues as the moniker of the 655 De Haro Street San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) facility. The site most recently was home to a comprehensive high school, International Studies Academy, which closed in 2016 due to low enrollment. SFUSD now uses the first floor of the Maxwell building for its Department of Technology, with San Francisco International High School relocating to the location this month.

The building and campus are named for Enola “Miz” Maxwell, 1919 to 2003, who served as the longtime executive director of the Potrero Hill Neighborhood House, known as “the Nabe.” Maxwell is the mother of former District 10 Supervisor Sophie Maxwell. She was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, moved to San Francisco in 1949, first settling in Haight-Ashbury, later relocating to the Carolina Projects, on Carolina and 18th streets. For a time, she owned the Little Red Door, a thrift store on 18th Street, where Christopher’s Books currently operates. She then worked as a housekeeper, earning enough for a down payment on a Harrison Street house. No real estate agent would sell her property on the Hill because she was Black.

Maxwell became a community activist in the 1950s, volunteering with the Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council, where she befriended former Supervisor Sue Bierman. She secured a job with the United States Post Office, taking a leave of absence in 1968 to participate in the Civil Rights March in Washington, D.C. Maxwell was a member of the founding committee of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration.

Inspired by her community work, Maxwell become a lay minister at the Potrero Hill Olivet Presbyterian Church on Missouri Street, serving in that position from 1968 to 1971. In 1972, the church hired Maxwell to be the Nabe’s ED.

Maxwell devoted considerable time working with Potrero Hill Middle School schoolteachers and administrators. She referred to the institution as ‘my school.’ In 2001, then-San Francisco Board of Education Commissioner Mark Sanchez sponsored a resolution to rename the school the “Enola D. Maxwell Middle School for the Arts.”

McKinley Square Park, at 20th and Vermont streets, used to be called Buena Vista Park. Today, that moniker is applied to a park located at Buena Vista and Haight streets. The San Francisco Recreation and Park Commission changed the Hill green space’s name in 1910 to honor William McKinley, 1841 to 1901, who served as the 25th President of the United States, from 1897 to 1901. McKinley was assassinated six months into his second term.

Advocacy efforts to rename the park were led by the Mission Promotion Association, Citizens Promotion Association of Ingleside, and the Ocean View Improvement Club, among other groups. McKinley Park, together with Franklin Square and Jackson Playground, was one of three sites set aside for public parks in the 1,000-acre Potrero Nuevo survey of 1856.

Though not shaped in such a fashion, the park is called a “square” because it extends a full city block, and is used as a kind of public square.

Jackson Playground, at 17th and Arkansas streets, is named for Andrew Jackson, 1767 to 1845, the seventh President of the United States, from 1829 to 1837.  Before he was elected President, Jackson was a slaveowner who bought and sold men in bulk. When one of the individuals he enslaved escaped, Jackson offered a $50 reward “and $10 extra for every 100 lashes a person will give to the amount of 300;” essentially a freelance death sentence. Part of Jackson’s wealth came through land he acquired that had been promised to Native Americans in a treaty.  Jackson never visited San Francisco. 

The site, also called Jackson Playfield, was deeded to the City by Diana Chatham around 1870. Chatham, widow of a miller named Roland Chatham, had lived in “the Potrero” for many years with her husband before he died. She gave the City the land with the stipulation that it always be used as a park. It wasn’t always dry. Sometimes, it was submerged under Mission Bay. Park neighbors filled in a large pond on the site. They raised money to build a playground and clubhouse. In 1912, then-Mayor James Rolph opened the space, with roughly 6,000 people on hand for the ceremonies. Students from Monroe and Cleveland elementary schools, both located in the Excelsior District, used the park as an “amusement area” in its early days.

Daniel Webster Elementary School, at 465 Missouri Street, is named for the American politician, 1782 to 1852, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives for New Hampshire from 1813 to 1817, and for Massachusetts from 1823 to 1827. Webster was a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts between 1827 and 1841, and again from 1845 to 1850; and was twice U.S. Secretary of State, under Presidents William Henry Harrison and John Tyler, from 1841 to 1843, and Millard Fillmore between 1850 and 1852.

Webster was a talented litigator, who influenced key U.S. Supreme Court cases that cemented federal government authority. He negotiated the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1852, which established the U.S.-Canada border east of the Rocky Mountains. There are multiple elementary, middle, and high schools throughout the nation named for Webster, including one in Daly City.

Starr King Elementary School, at 1215 Carolina Street, is named for Thomas Starr King, 1824 to 1864, a Freemason and American Unitarian minister who was an active supportive of the Union during the Civil War. He raised thousands of dollars, and spoke at numerous events, to help prevent California from becoming a separate republic.

Starr King was a trustee of the College of California at Oakland, the precursor of the University of California. He’s interred at the First Unitarian Church of San Francisco, located between Starr King and Geary streets. There’s a Thomas Starr King Middle School in Los Angeles.

James R. Rolph Playground, at Potrero and Cesar Chavez streets, is named for James “Sunny Jim” Rolph, 1869 to 1934. Rolph served as Mayor of San Francisco from 1912 to 1931, and Governor of California between 1931 and 1934. He was born in San Francisco, on Minna Street. For a time, his family lived near the intersection of 21st and Guerrero streets, during which Rolph attended public schools.  Later, he owned the Pleasure Palace, a whorehouse located at 21st and Sanchez streets.    

After the 1906 earthquake, Rolph worked to aid the City-at-large and affected individuals. He established the Mission Relief Agency of the Red Cross, and transformed a barn at 25th and Guerrero streets into a food and supplies distribution center, with goods unloaded at the Southern Pacific Railroad station on Valencia Street. Rolph used his own funds to feed thousands of San Franciscans from the barn for months after the disaster.

In the years before the U.S. entered World War I, Rolph increased his wealth by supplying coal and ships to the Allied Countries.  His net worth was estimated at $5 million.  He bought a ranch west of Stanford University.  Reportedly, the California Department of Public Works made all the improvements to the property at taxpayers’ expense.

While Rolph was mayor he also served as a director of the Ship Owners & Merchants Tugboat Company and San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, Merchants’ Exchange president, and vice president of the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition.  He largely ignored Prohibition laws.  He oversaw the reconstruction of City Hall, many municipal buildings and tunnels, and the Hetch Hetchy water system. In 1933, under Rolph’s governorship the California Department of Public Works launched construction of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. Rolph turned the first shovel of dirt at the groundbreaking ceremony. In 1985, a plaque was placed on the bridge to honor Rolph.  He’s buried at Greenlawn Memorial Park in Colma.

Franklin Square, at 16th and Bryant streets, is named for Benjamin Franklin, 1706 to 1790, one of the nation’s founding fathers. Originally about four and a half acres – now a bit more than five acres – the square-shaped land was purchased by the City in 1868 for $576,000. Initially, some of the plot was dedicated to a reservoir built by the Spring Valley Water Company, which the City purchased in 1930 for $41 million. Today the park features a new artificial turf soccer field and remodeled playground.

In 1950, the park was temporarily renamed the Father Crowley Playground, for a past president of the Playground Commission. This was after the original Father Crowley Playground, at Seventh and Harrison streets, was demolished to make way for the Bayshore Freeway. Later, Franklin Square reverted to its original name.