Noah Veltman

Click on a street in this delightful interactive map, and a history lesson pops up.

In Washington, D.C., there's no great mystery to the names on our street grid. With a minimum of creativity (but a kind gesture toward future tourists), the capital was long ago laid out with a simple taxonomy: North-South streets are numbered in ascending order away from the center of town; East-West streets follow the same pattern using the alphabet; and the maddening diagonals are named after states. Resulting locations are for the most part easy to find just about anywhere in town: Anyone who knows the alphabet can get to the corner of 15th and R Northwest.

There's an elegance to such a legible street-naming system. But maybe we lose out in Washington on the subtle lessons from history and culture that are embedded, say, at the intersection of Portola Drive and O'Shaughnessy Boulevard in San Francisco. Michael O'Shaughnessy? He was an important civil engineer in California history. And Portola? That would be Gaspar de Portolà, the Spanish explorer who led an expedition to San Francisco Bay in 1769.

This trivia comes from a delightful interactive map of the history behind San Francisco's street names, created by Noah Veltman (hat tip to Flowing Data for pointing us to it). Click on a street, and a history lesson pops up.

Castro Street, for instance, may not be the Castro you are thinking of:

The head shots are a nice touch. Some of our other favorites unearthed from the city's map:

We'd love to see something like this in any number of other cities (perhaps D.C. notwithstanding).

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A Soviet map of London, labeled in Russian.
    Maps

    The Soviet Military Secretly Mapped the Entire World

    These intricate, curious maps were supposed to be destroyed. The ones that remain reveal a fascinating portrait of how the U.S.S.R. monitored the world.

  2. An illustration of a front porch.
    Life

    America Rediscovers Its Love of the Front Porch

    In the 20th century, porches couldn’t compete with TV and air conditioning. Now this classic feature of American homes is staging a comeback as something more stylish and image-conscious than ever before.

  3. A scene from Hey Arnold! is pictured.
    Life

    Even Hey Arnold's Neighborhood Is Gentrifying Now

    Series creator Craig Bartlett explains how he built the cartoon city that every ’90’s kid dreamed of living in.

  4. Life

    Is Minimalism for Black People?

    Black communities have long practiced core tenets of the lifestyle—yet are not well-represented amongst its most recognizable influencers.

  5. A row of tractor trailers lined up at a truck stop.
    Transportation

    The Truckers Who Are Taking on Human Trafficking

    In Arkansas, the “knights of the road” are being trained to combat truck-stop prostitution.