1. noun. An extinct mammal of the bear family but more closely resembling a wolf in size and stature, formerly inhabiting forested coastal areas of northern California.
2. noun [informal]. A nineteenth-century resident of California who identified as culturally Spanish and was resistant to Anglo-American rule.
3. noun. A shortened name for the Lower Polk neighborhood of San Francisco, California.
In the 1840s, a small political faction arose with the unifying goal of restoring Spanish rule over California. The territory had fared well as a part of newly independent Mexico for the past two decades, but as the United States continued its aggressive westward expansion, it became apparent to some that Mexico could not hold onto California much longer. Fearing the loss of their Spanish cultural ways and identities at the hands of Anglo-Americans, the group plotted in secret to reestablish their prior colonial leaders, knowing the United States would rather leave California alone than risk a war with Spain. Calling themselves Los Lopos after an endemic species of small bears, they held their clandestine meetings at an isolated tavern, unnamed but identifiable by a drawing of a lopo hanging over its door.
Since these dealings were regarded by both Mexico and the United States as treason, the faction was careful to cover their tracks, and all historians could do to determine the meeting site was speculate. However, a 2017 San Francisco city project incidentally uncovered archaeological evidence placing the Lopo tavern somewhere near what is now the intersection of Polk Street and Austin Alley. The present-day El Lopo seeks not to replicate the original tavern, but rather to imagine what it would look like today if Los Lopos had been successful in their mission to preserve California's ties with Spain.
The lopo animal itself (sometimes called “city bear” in English) got its name from a contraction of lobo pacifico (Spanish for “Pacific wolf”) after early Spanish settlers in the region mistook it for a wolf due to its unusual size and stature. There are various accounts of early Californio families domesticating lopos and raising them as pets, which led to the animal being regarded by many as a symbol of California Spanish identity. However, Anglo-American gold miners and settlers were more interested in lopos for their fur than for their companionship, and the species was hunted to extinction within only 15 years of U.S. annexation.