Dec 23

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“POR’ da lah” or “Por TOE’ la”?

During the research for this blog I met quite a few new people within the neighborhood. Some of them corrected me on my pronunciation of the name Portola. Even when my wife and I were looking into the area before we purchased a house, we would often ask people how it was pronounced and we got mixed responses. So as I started to build an understanding of the neighborhood it became clear that correct pronounciation was important to those who live here. In the same way people from San Francisco don’t call our city Friso or San Fran, people from the Portola had a way of identifying with their place of residence. So my curiosity set in and when I was walking around the streets near my house, I ended up in the library and found the picture to the left which, at first glance, promised an answer to the correct phrasing.

Unfortunately the poster didn’t actually answer the question and i’ve not yet had chance to read the book or watch the films it mentions to educate myself further. Instead I turned to the internet for answers and came across a website which described the history of the San Francisco Portola Festival of 1909. The 5 day festival was designed to stimulate the economy in the city after the 1906 earthquake which left almost four square miles destroyed. The festival theme honored the Spanish soldier and explorer Gaspar de Portolá and one of the first items discussed was how to pronounce “Portola”. As the above website states;

‘The theme honored a Spaniard but presented a problem of pronunciation. Was it to be Por-TOE-la or Por-toe-LA? The San Francisco Call reported that Portolá [Portola] committee member James Rolph gave a speech to the Chamber of Commerce the week preceding the opening in which he “varied the accent all along the keyboard.” Linguists and scholars were consulted and it was unanimously agreed that pronunciation “should be a crescendo, ending with a crash on the LA.”’

Now i’m not quite sure how to say Portola with a crescendo and crash on the LA. I searched further and discovered another blog talking about our neighborhood and they state that the natives pronounce it “POR’ da la”. This blog article is highlighting the wonderful artwork of Kate Connell and Oscar Melara, so I would assume that these are the natives being refered to. Another thirty minutes of searching passed and I’m afriad I am still non the wiser.

So I will throw open the question to you all, how do YOU pronounce our neighborhood? Register on the blog and you can add a comment below this post with your thoughts on the topic.

Permanent link to this article: http://portolaplanet.com/2011/12/por-da-lah-or-por-toe-la/


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  1. sbrady55

    I don’t claim to be the authority but I can tell you I am a 5th generation San Franciscan, much of that lineage hailed from Bernal Heights, with sprinklings in the Portola and Excelsior, and I and most people I know all call it Por-TOE-la or Por -Toll -La.

  2. Rudha-an

    I agree with sbrady55. I’m not native to San Francisco, but I grew up in CA. I give it the traditional Spanish pronunciation of Por-toe-la. It’s the only way I have heard it pronounced here in the neighborhood.

  3. stevenjv

    I grew up 20 miles south of SF and moved into the City in 1969 when I was a junior at SF State. I had never heard the neighborhood called POR-TOE-la until earlier this year when one of my neighbors (a Noe Valley native) pronounced it that way. I had heard friends call Portola Dr PA-TROLL-la and West Portal West PATROL. Our family had friends that lived in the Portola Dist in the 1950’s/60’s and they pronounced it POR-TOLL-a (the Spanish pronunciation). “Lower” Nob Hill, NOPA, “Lower” Pacific Hts, even “The Castro” were all called something different 30+ years ago. I figured the realtors were at work again trying to redefine a neighborhood. ???

  4. Dorothea

    I’m a Chicagoan. I think the discussion is interesting. Do we pronounce the street in Chicago “Goethe”(gurta) or (gothee). Do citizens respect Spanish and German traditions and languages? Then the answer is clear.

  5. Mike

    My dad and grandfather grew up on Woolsey St. (4th & 5th S.F. generation) and always referred the neighborhood as Por-da-lah. They have reunions to this day.

  6. Jim Stinnett, descended form Domingo Ruiz, member of Rivera Exp.

    I am a descendent of members of the Rivera Expedition, as well as they Portola Expedition. It is Not POR Duh luh like the so called San Franciscans say, it is Por Toe LAH. Get over it “Frisco” people!

  7. John Gregoire

    Born there in 1949, and raised in… Por-Toe-la.

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