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Petaluma's historic streets

I have a sneaky hunch that our local nonprofits sold about as many fireworks as ever, even with one day less to purvey the fizzlers. Time will tell.

Today, as we are celebrating our heritage, seems a good time to consider some of Petaluma's own history. One area of interest is this: Where did our streets get their names?

The subject interested me a few weeks back when a friend asked me who or what Gilrix Street was named for. Frankly, I don't have a clue. My guess is that it was named for a friend or relative of the developer, which was Wes Bailey of Walnut Creek. In later years, the company became known as McBail. But that is only a guess. Anyone out there have a clue? Let me know.

In recent years, some of our streets were named for city officials, perhaps in hopes of expediting approval of the subdivision application. For example, we have a Serpilio street near North McDowell. At the time local banker Mike Serpilio sat on the Planning Commission. There is a Putnam Way near La Tercera school, in honor of former Mayor Helen Putnam, named when she was in office.

The origin of some of our older downtown streets is known, but others' probably never will be. Nobody has ever been able to guess why one of our first streets, Kentucky, was so named. But, we do know that the man in charge of laying out the first streets downtown named Keller Street after himself.

Petaluma Boulevard got its name when local officials, bursting with a need for the city to adapt a patina of sophistication, discarded the name of Main Street and opted for the fancier title. In recent decades history devotees have lobbied on many occasions to get the name changed back to Main Street, but not much luck there.

One of my favorite stories is the source of the name for Payran Street. A gent named Stephen Payran arrived in San Francisco shortly after the Gold Rush began, and became a leader in the Committee of Vigilance, a group of San Franciscans who became vigilantes, operating in opposition to the local government, and charging themselves with imposing law and order. This first group was credited with no less than eight hangings.

It is interesting to note that most of those hanged, and a great many of those expelled from the region, were from Australia.

In any case, the group disbanded after a few months, and reformed from time to time when incompetent law enforcement, or outright corruption, stirred up the citizenry.


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