San Francisco Lombard Street

Lombard Street

The Lombard Street block is situated between Leavenworth and Hyde Streets. Originally, it began as a straight cobblestone street having a 27% gradient. There was a need for cars on the street as early as the 1920s, but the gradient proved too steep for vehicles. This made that value of property along Lombard Street lower than on other streets in the neighborhood. By 1905, the Merchants Association contracted a civil engineer known as William Barclay Parsons who mooted the idea of terracing and tunneling in San Francisco.

The idea of a curved street had initially been proposed by a Carl Henry who happened to own up to half of the lots on Lombard Street and all the land in the area around it and is thought to have been borrowed from Parsons.

Construction of the two-way brick-paved street commenced in 1922 and the grade was minimized by 11% with the introduction of 8 sharp turns as well as roughly 250 steps along the pedestrian walk on both sides. The total distance covered was 400 meters, lined with brick paving. This resulted in an increase in the value of property in the area because there was now street access that allowed for vehicles to be driven up and down the road. Conversely, flowers and other plants as well as the steps were to be paid for by the residents on the agreement with the city which in turn would pay for the road.

There were disputes regarding maintenance of the road leading to deterioration in standards of upkeep because the neighborhood refused to work together. The Commissioner for Parks and Recreation, Peter Bercut, who happened to be a resident here, leased a bulldozer that removed all the plants and opted to plant flowers instead.

Due to the relatively steep gradient of the area, the problem of soil erosion was not eliminated, and Bercut opted to plant hydrangeas after picking up the idea from his travels in France. This changed the face of the landscape because of the wonderful appearance that was created after planting them and even though it became noted for its beauty by neighbors, it was not until 1961 when a published photo was printed on a postcard that Lombard Street became an instant tourist attraction.

As a result of the high volumes of traffic that arose thereafter, the road was turned into a one-way street in 1939. There has been a lot of interest on Lombard Street that averages up to 350 cars per hour and 3 unsuccessful petitions have been made for its closure to the general public except residents. At the same time, these large volumes of traffic led to the banning of tourist buses on the road as far back as 1980.

The landscape has remained the same though old houses have been demolished and replaced by modern money-spinning, multi-unit structures. Despite such changes, Lombard Street continues to remain a tourist attraction for visitors to San Francisco and enjoys the attention of both locals and foreigners alike.

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