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Portola

The Portola is one of San Francisco’s lesser known neighborhoods. It’s situated between Excelsior/McLaren Park and Bayview. Relatively few San Franciscans know about it, let alone visit it. The adventurous who do are rewarded with a cool variety of eateries, markets and bakeries. Established in 1869, it was rural and sparsely populated until just after the 1906 earthquake, when a place away from the tall buildings probably didn’t look so bad.

Portola (pronounced PORE-toe-luh) was named after the old Portola School, which in turn was named after the Spanish explorer Gaspar de Portolá (credited by some as the discoverer of San Francisco Bay). Originally settled after the 1906 earthquake by Jewish and Italian immigrants, the area evolved into a community populated by nurserymen and their families who grew much of the city’s flower crop there and uphill to the South and West in the Portola Hills extension.

“The Road,” as San Bruno Avenue is sometimes affectionately referred to by the locals, still hosts businesses that include bakeries, grocery stores, pharmacies, and in earlier times a theater, now a large restaurant. The Portola was also once home to a significant population of Maltese immigrants and settlers and at one time the Maltese Consulate. According to the U.S. Census, the Asian population in the Portola has been steadily increasing since the 1990s. The Portola is marked by Census Tract 257.

The neighborhood is home to many landmarks, the largest being McLaren Park to the South West, the second largest park in San Francisco after Golden Gate Park. The other most visible landmark on the map is the large University Mound Reservoir located along University Street. Holding 140 million gallons of water, second only to the Sunset Reservoir, it supplies about 25 percent of the cities tap water.

The area is home to many schools, the largest being Phillip and Sala Burton Academic High School (formerly Wilson High School) located on Mansell Street. The Cornerstone Academy has two large campuses in the Portola, one on Silver and one on Cambridge. The San Francisco School is tucked away down by the North side of the Portola on Gaven St. Closer into the middle of the neighborhood is Edward Robeson Taylor Elementary School and the Martin Luther King Middle School (which replaced the former Portola Junior High School). Religion also plays a big part in the area with over 11 different churches!