There was a story in our paper last Sunday about the truly odd things Google Maps has done to place names. New York Times reporter Jack Nicas’ story about how tried and true names of San Francisco neighborhoods — like “South of Market,” which began as “Butchertown” — have been changed on Google Maps to perplexing things like “East Cut.”
The story is both intriguing and hilarious.
(If you missed it you can, if you pardon the expression, “Google” it.)
It certainly struck a chord with me, because I had been pondering neighborhood names — here, not in SF — for several months. Just one neighborhood, actually: the damaged but ever-so brave and resilient Coffey Park.
In the past months I have taken a poll about the name, a haphazard survey that can be dismissed as faulty from all sides.
Coffey Park is a term that originally applied to a subdivision in the northwest section of town built by Condiotti Construction in the 1980s. It wasn’t the first subdivision in the area, not even in the first dozen.
But when the reportage began on the tragic occurrences of October last, it was to fire crews, radio and this newspaper, the term applied to everything from Piner Road to Dennis Lane, and from the freeway to Fulton Road, including, right down the middle, Coffey Lane.
What I asked people was if they had thought of that area as Coffey Park before the fire.
It was interesting how many people said they had never heard that area referred to that way. Not ever.
I started my questioning when Phil Trowbridge asked me that same question. Phil was executive vice president of Condiotti Construction when the company built and named Coffey Park. He even named some of the streets, including Espresso, Mocha and Kona. Clever devil.
He pointed out that he had never heard the name used in that expansive manner. Nor had I. So I began to ask around. I talked to maybe 80 to 100 people over the next months, asking if they had ever known the whole area as Coffey Park.
These sporadic and highly unscientific efforts at a survey have included some interesting discussions and suggest, without any proper evidence, that this may be a generational difference.
Older people — 60 and over — are more likely to say they never heard the term Coffey Park applied to the whole area, and express some surprise. One of these, I might add, was a man who lost his house he bought in a subdivision before Coffey Park was built.
He said he never called the area by that name. Sal Rosano, who became police chief in the ’70s, admitted to being surprised by the designation as well. The cops called that area “Northwest” into the ’90s.
Several conspiracy theorists suggested The Press Democrat had invented it — fake news!
Others, usually younger, said they have always known the whole area as Coffey Park, even if they have no idea which subdivision is which, or where the boundaries are.
It took me awhile to figure out it was a generational thing. I got a lot of “No” answers early on because most people I asked originally were over 60. It was the pack I travel with, being of a certain age myself.