The neighborhood that is now Japantown (Nihonmachi) is approximately one mile west of Union Square and is part of San Francisco's Western Addition, a subdivision that came into being with the writing of the Van Ness Ordinance in 1855. The land then was sandy and barren, and accommodated primarily bobcats, rabbits, quail, and chaparral.
In the 1870s, San Franciscans began to move to this area. They built homes in a variety of architectural styles with the Victorian influence predominating. Van Ness Avenue was the eastern boundary of the Western Addition and also the breakpoint of the fire caused by the great earthquake of 1906.