In 2009, we began searching the internet archives with the help of the Potrero Hill Librarian, Abby Bridge .  To date, we have not been able to locate a complete history of McKinley Square (formerly known as Buena Vista Park) with an accurate timeline and photo's. This is a definitely a work in progress as we are piecing this together using 25+ sources to date. 

 If you have anything to contribute (especially photo's) please send those over. We'd appreciate the help! - 


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Vermont Street looking south towards San Bruno in 1951

History of McKinley Square Neighborhood & Surrounding Areas

In December of 1866, the San Francisco Chronicle posted a classified ad by H.A. Cobb, Auctioneer, announcing a "Special Grand Credit Sale of 2,000 [25X100] Homestead Lots" for sale in the Potrero at $600.00 per lot and 10% interest per annum. 

The ad begins with...

“THE LANDS" Cover the most beautiful locality in the San Francisco, embracing what are familiarly known as the O’Neil and Haley Tracts, famous for productiveness of soil and freedom from the prevailing winds and fogs of the city, as well as for picturesque and healthful views”..

On April 10, 1897 the San Francisco Call newspaper reported a story entitled  "A New Potrero Club"- School Accommodation Much Sought for by the Residents.  

The following was included:

“The children are deprived of School facilities in the District. The residents of the New Potrero are anxious for a new school. It was reported at a meeting of the Improvement Club held last night at Bethlehem Hall, on Twenty-fourth and Vermont streets that 200 families, with 400 school children, are clamoring for a school building.”

In order that the City authorities may be made fully conversant with the wants of the people there the following petition is being signed by the residents:

“The Honorattic Board of Education of the City and County of San Francisco— Gentlemen: The under signed residents of the westerly slope of the Potrero, in and about the district bounded by Potrero avenue, De Haro avenue. Twentieth and Twenty-fifth streets, respectfully represent that they are sadly in need of primary and grammar school accommodations; that within the last few years said district has became quite populous, containing many children; that the Columbia, Grammar School, situated on Florida street, many blocks away, is the nearest; that such school is overcrowded, and as a result many of our children have been and are being denied admittance, and many others who are admitted are prematurely forced into higher grades to make room for the crowd of applicants; that the Columbia."

"School is situated quite too far away, and the streets around the residences of your petitioners not being fully graded, it is an arduous task for the children to travel to the latter school. 

Your petitioners further respectfully represent that they are informed and believe there is a school lot on Nebraska street, near Twenty-fifth, which would be a good location for the district school, and they most respectfully pray that your honorable body may erect a school thereon or at some other suitable locality within said district at the earliest possible moment.”

“The water and other questions were fully discussed at the meeting, and a vote of thanks was tendered, on the motion of Robert Hamilton, from the Southern Heights Club to The Call for the interest it has taken in the welfare of the people of the heights on the water question.” (I.e. Water Tower)

On June 22, 1890, The San Francisco Chronicle wrote an article titled "San Francisco Growth".   It provided an overview of the history of San Francisco and the development of the Pacific Coast.  The article is laid out in many chapters and provides some background on Buena Vista Square (I.e. McKinley Square) in Chapter XI. [1805-The Parks-1890].  The chapter begins with “Nearly the Largest Area of Public Resorts in the Country-Golden Gate Park, The Presidio and Numerous Small Reservations—Success in the Face of Overwhelming Obstacles.”    

It references that in 1870, there were no less than 22 different parks or squares in the city, varying in size from a single square to over a thousand acres.   Buena Vista square (i.e. McKinley Square) is mentioned under Chapter XI as “bounded by Utah, Vermont, Napa (i.e. Twentieth St.) and Shasta streets, and have never been improved.”  Franklin square is mentioned as “still in primitive condition” and Jackson park is also cited “has not been improved.

In another San Francisco Chronicle article dated April 16, 1910 titled “Park Commissioners Ask for Thousands—Has Extensive Plans for the Betterment of Public Places they begin to overview the Secretary of Parks Commission completion of the advance estimates for the amount that will be required for the maintenance of city parks during the fiscal year to end June 30, 1910 which totaled $656,800.00. 

Under the third paragraph it begins to itemize what will be covered and what is being contemplated.  This is the first mention we could find related to funding of Buena Vista square.  It only lists “construction of grounds” for Buena Vista square in the amount of $5,000.00.

On May 7, 1910 the San Francisco Chronicle published a story called  “Park Commission Names Two Squares-Ingleside Park will be call Balboa and Buena Vista is Changed to McKinley”

"Ingleside District Residents Successful in Their Petition to the Commissioners: The people of the Ingleside district have after many days received the name of Balboa for the public park in that territory."

The Park Commissioners yesterday, after listening to a delegation headed by Rev. Father Crowley, J. W. Maguire and others, decided to grant the request. The delegation was backed up by the Mission Promotion association, the Citizens Promotion association of Ingleside, Ocean View improvement club, Ladies Home Promotion association of Ocean View, the Green Valley association, the College Hill improvement club, the Women of Woodcraft and the Modern Woodmen of America and other associations. 

President Metson, just before the question was put to a vote said: "It appears that the majority of those who wanted the park named McKinley seem to have gone over to Balboa.


"Father Crowley said that personally preferred the name of McKinley, but he yielded to the wish of the many and expressed the hope that the commission will name the next park in the Mission district for the late president. His hope came sooner than he expected, for on motion of Commissioner Bemiss, the name of Buena Vista square at Twentieth and Kansas streets, was changed to McKinley Square."

On Saturday, July 23, 1910 the San Francisco Call  published “Mission Progress Seems Phenomenal.”

In the online archives there is a matching article titled FUNDS FOR PARKS.  

It mentions “As a means of providing for the comfort of the immense population of the Mission, the board of supervisors and the board of park commissioners have adopted the suggestion, of the Mission Promotion association's committee on parks and playgrounds "that two-sevenths of the budget funds, for the improvement of parks' be allotted the smaller parks exclusive of Golden Gate park. 

"In this way it is hoped that Franklin square, at Sixteenth-and Bryant streets; McKinley square, at Twentieth and Vermont streets, and Balboa park, San Jose and Ocean avenues and all of the smaller squares/of the district will receive proper attention.”


Check out the San Francisco City Guides reference here with more history information.



Archive Photo's of Vermont Street

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Vermont Street north from 21st Street in 1928.
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Vermont Street north from 22nd Street in 1926.

Vermont Street neighbors working on gardening and beautification
-circa 1962

Vermont Street "Twisty Hill" 
-circa 1951

897 Vermont Street

Vermont Street from 22nd