Polk Street has undergone vast changes since Frank Norris’ classic fictional dentist McTeague took his weekly constitutionals to Joe Frenna's Saloon and the cable car conductors’ coffee joint. But one thing that has stayed the same as long as anyone can remember is the name of the neighborhood: Polk Gulch.
A move afoot by the Polk Corridor Business Association, however, aims to change that, too. The association’s director, John Malloy, said Monday that his organization will sponsor the installation of about 50 banners reading “Welcome to Polk Village, a great place to live, work, shop and visit.”
The plan, Malloy said, is to leave the banners up for about three years to get people used to the new name, then circulate a petition to change the name officially. The banners, he said, will go up in four to six weeks.
“Merchants don’t want to say they have a business in Polk Gulch because it has a bad reputation,” Malloy said. He said about 90 percent of the merchants he talked to supported the idea.
But that support seemed tepid.
“I don't know how it’s going to help the neighborhood. Polk Village? I don’t know. … I'm from Florida, so the whole [idea of] calling something a village when it’s not a village has a real Disney feel to it,” said Chris Martin, bartender at the popular Hemlock Tavern.
“I don't see anything wrong with it. I think change might be good,” Grubsteak owner Linda Santos said.
Malloy said the name change is the first step toward reinventing a neighborhood that has been defined by prostitution and drug dealing in its recent history. He defines Polk Gulch as the area along Polk Street from Geary Street to California Street, and nearby streets from Hyde Street to Van Ness Avenue.
“Changing the name itself will not do it, but if we can get this area going and give it a name of Polk Village it will get people behind it,” he said.
But Robert Garcia, neighborhood resident and president of Save Our Streets, a tenants and merchants association, said the move is unnecessary.
“There’s open drug dealing up and down the street, prostitution is rampant. It’s out of control,” he said. “That’s what these guys ought to be concentrating on, is cleaning that up.”
Real estate agent Judy Rydell said she had never heard of a San Francisco neighborhood changing its name. “People call different neighborhoods different things. Where does the Castro end and Eureka Valley begin? It depends on who you want to appeal to,” she said.