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The mystery of Submarine Bells Way


When you walk a dog every day for over five years, you're prone to getting to know all the nooks and crannies of your neighborhood. At this point, there's nary an inch of Noe Valley, or for that matter neighboring Castro or Glen Park, that we haven't walked at least once, if not hundreds of times. Sometimes it forces you to look a little closer. 

As I mentioned, one of the parks I often like to visit is the Castro-Duncan Open Space. The easiest way to get there is up a public stairway that ascends 27th Street from Noe, followed by another, ricketier and steeper set of stairs that drops you at the base of the park. There, nestled under some evergreens and eucalyptus, sit two houses at the end of a dirt driveway that wraps around from Duncan Street, via another building's garage. In front of the houses is a quirky arrangement of sculptures. I have often fantasized about living in one of these houses. 

A few years ago, I spent some time mapping my walks in Google Maps. When I looked at my path up the 27th Street stairs, I noticed something peculiar. Halfway up the steps, a road spurred off  to the south. Labeled Submarine Bells Way, it extended a half block into adjacent housing. This confounded me. The closest thing to a road at that location was a pathway where the earth had been leveled, presumably to maintain the landscaping, but surely nothing that could merit presence on a map, much less a name like that. 

I kept coming back to this mysterious road, wondering about its origins. Had there been a road there in the past? It seemed unfathomable with the terrain. Was it subterranean? (Clearly not Submarine, being as it was a few hundred feet above sea level.) Nothing about it made sense. 

And then, a few months later, it was gone. I chalked it up to a glitch in Google's data, though it seemed like a bizarre thing to randomly drop into a map of a city whose roads had been established more than a century earlier. 

It wasn't until a couple years later, while driving and listening to the (highly recommendable) A Way With Words radio show, that a possible answer arose. One of the words they touched on was "mountweazel" — a deliberately fictitious entry in a dictionary or encyclopedia, and, apparently maps, to entrap potential plagiarizers and copyright infringers. 

And so my dreams of living on Submarine Bells Way in San Francisco were dashed. 


This Post Has 3 Comments
  1. I recall years ago searching for the mountweazel on a map of NYC. Never found it! And never knew it was a mountweazel. Cray cray map makers, indeed!

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