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March 6, 2014

Cloud city indeed.


Skeletons Beneath Our Feet

February 28, 2014

You may have heard that a skeleton was found at the Transbay Terminal construction site, 60 feet down. “The agency said its archaeologists worked in coordination with the San Francisco coroner’s office and determined that the remains are of Native American descent.” 60 feet down is pretty old, especially when you consider that in the 1840s when Yerba Buena started booming, First Street once bordered the water.

How old? Well, in 1969, construction workers digging out BART found a skeleton 75 feet below Civic Center. Turns out it was nearly 5000 years old.

The top half of the skeleton was lost during construction, but from the remaining half archaeologists determined that it was a 24-26 year old female who may have drowned in a creek. @davely was kind enough to scan an 1972 article from California Geology journal which had this diagram:

1972 BART skeleton bw

I took the liberty of redrawing the diagram in color, and stretching the vertical axis for clarity.

1972 BART skeleton

Archaeologists found both fresh and salt-water plant matter attached to the skeleton, indicating that our friend may have died in a creek or a marsh near the shore. She was found 26 feet below current sea level, which implies that sea level 5000 years ago was around that level.

San Francisco Bay as we know it is relatively new — as the ice age ended, sea levels rose dramatically. 18,000 years ago, to get to the beach you would need to take the N-Judah or the K past the Farallons, which were once hills by the sea. The Bay was a valley with a river running through it, and the Golden Gate was a waterfall.

San Francisco would have been Walnut Creek.

But as the waters rose the Farallons were cut off.

ingram sf sea level rise

map via Late Pleistocene to Holocene History of San Francisco Bay, Prof. Lynn Ingram, UC Berkeley

These once were hills, separated only by sand dunes.


Around 10,000 years ago, the sea breeched the Golden Gate and continued to rise rapidly, filling the valley we now know as San Francisco Bay. There must have been settlements by the water — imagine each generation having to pull back, each high tide greater than the last.

In 1818, a Spanish missionary recorded some of the oral traditions of the Ohlone and neighboring tribes. One story went like this:

“What is now the port of San Francisco was formerly according to the tradition of the old ones an oak grove, and without water other than of a river that crossed at its foot, and in evidence of this tradition, they say you still find in the port and marsh, trunks and roots of oak trees.”

However, no known archeological site in central California appears much older than 5,000 years… One way to approach this problem is to assume that traces of the earliest central Californians have been covered by the rising sea. Given the rapidity of changes in sea levels and shorelines 5,000-10,000 years ago, sites of habitation located at that time along the shores of estuaries must now lie beneath mud and tidal water.

He asks:

How old, then, is the aboriginal tradition recorded by Mariano Payeras? If originated by people who actually saw the site of the Bay before widespread submergence, this tradition must be nearly 10,000 years old. Such antiquity, though improbable, cannot be ruled out.

Perhaps one day 10,000 years from now, archaeologists will find and decode flash memory that will reveal this map.

sf island 200 ft vector 600

(Hi future archaeologists! Hope you extended BART and still have burritos.)

Bikes, Books, Beers, Benders

February 21, 2014

Do you like beer? History? Books? Why, I know you do or you would not be reading this blog. Then there is not reason not to join us at Benders on Wednesday, March 5 from 7 to 9 PM for the Bike to Books Beer Event!

We’ll be selling our rather awesome two-sided foldable maps for $5 American dollars (not adjusted for historical or future inflation). It’s like a Burrito Justice post that you can hold in your hand!

bikes to books map crop

SF author bike tour City Lights preview

SF City Lights Bikes to Books back preview

More on the maps here. See you soon! (Wear your Twitter handle so we know who you are.)

Bikes to Books Beer Social!
Wednesday, March 5, 7-9 pm
Benders Bar and Grill
806 S. Van Ness, SF
Join Nicole Gluckstern and Burrito Justice, the creators of literary bicycle tour “Bikes to Books,” for an evening of socializing, beer drinking, and map chat at awesome local watering hole Benders on Wednesday, March 5, from 7-9 pm. We’ll be talking up our collaborative map project including new developments, fielding questions, and enjoying some tasty adult beverages in the first of a series of “Bikes to Books” events and meetups planned for 2014.
Combining San Francisco history, art, literature, cycling, and urban exploration,  “Bikes to Books” began as an bike ride homage to the 1988 street-naming project spearheaded by City Lights founder and former San Francisco Poet Laureate, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, in which twelve San Francisco streets were renamed for famous artists and authors who had once made San Francisco their home. First published in The San Francisco Bay Guardian and then in October 2013, with the generous assistance of City Lights Books, the physical map has been available ever since in many of San Francisco’s finest book emporiums, and is appropriate for use as a navigational tool, a history lesson, and a unique work of art in its own right.

I’m. Too sexy for this rope walk.

February 15, 2014

I have about 50 half written articles in my WordPress drafts folder. The good news about this procrastination is when someone beats me to an historic writeup, I have instant commentary! Such was the case today on Twitter when chatter erupted over the old Tubbs rope walk.

Historic rope walk? You had me at “Sanborn map pasted over”…

A few years ago, Wade Roush over at Xconomy dug deeply into those oddly angled buildings on Third Street between 22nd and 23rd.

tubbs cordage 2012


The ghosts of former industry in Dogpatch, Hunters Point and Butchertown could very well be its own blog. The short of it is as downtown SF developed in the 1850s and 1860s, the messy industries and ones that needed lots of space moved to SESF.

These particular buildings were once adjacent to the Tubbs Cordage Company’s “rope walk” factory that was built in 1856 and lasted until 1963. Today, one of them is the Hells Angels’ clubhouse, and Wad Roush disovered that in the 1980s, two of them were owned by none other than DAVID RUMSEY.


Anyway, here are their 1915 facilities presented in BurritoVision. Click to zoom.

tubbs cord walk

Close up of those angled buildings (1558,1560, 1562, 1564, 1566 and 1568 Kentucky), which match up pretty well:

1914 kentucky rope walk

Overlaying the 1886 maps, the lots look the same, but the buildings, 46 aka 1564 and 45 aka 1562 Kentucky look different, and that saloon (which I can’t yet track down) isn’t there:

1886 kentucky rope walk

And here are the 1905 Sanborns, stitched and rotated to show the full length of the plant. IANARM, but apparently you needed an extremely long “rope walk” to make rope — at 1400′, it dodged under Kentucky/3rd Avenue and jutted into the Bay on piers (click to zoom):

1905 tubbs cord walk 300 aligned

Zooming in on our angled buildings:

1905 Kentucky tubbs rope walk

The National Parks Services gives us a glimpse into how Tubbs & Co got started:
nps history tubbs cord walk p1

The 1886 Sanborns don’t show the extend of the rope walk, but it can be seen in this crop from the 1884 Coast Survey map, where it sticks a rather significant distance into the bay.

1884 Coast Survey Butchertown Hunters Point

And this 1878 birds-eye drawing of San Francisco, looking from the north

1878 birdseye tubbs cord walk

…along with this 1868 bird’s eye, looking from the west.

1868 tubbs birdseye view

And the 1869 Coast Survey map:

1869 Coast Survey Tubbs cord walk

And the 1859 Coast Survey map:

1859 tubbs cord walk

And just to give you an idea of how utterly isolated the area was while downtown SF boomed, here’s the rope walk sometime after 1857 (looking north, with the Bay on the right).

1857 tubbs cordage

Zooming in on the 1859 Coast Survey map (which was actually surveyed in 1857, the same time as the photo), you can see some of the same buildings, as well as the fences (marked in green on the map). The red is my estimate of the field of view — I’m guessing the photographer was standing around 25th and Connecticut, looking to the northeast.

1857 photo map tubbs cord walk

The rise is the lost Irish Hill (you can see the Oakland Hills in the very far distance). The powder magazine would be just to the right of this photo — in fact, that small building you see on the crest of the hill may be part of that complex.

An ad in the California Daily Alta from January 1857 (around the time that the photo above was taken) proclaims “the establishment of a very superior rope walk” — a bit defensive perhaps, but they must have been seriously pissing off the folks shipping rope from the East Coast in clipper ships around the horn.

1857 tubbs cord walk ad

July 1857: “No really, our rope is as good as what you can get out east.”

1857 tubbs cord walk ad 2

1858: But in case you want other people’s rope, we have Ratline! Spunyarn! Marline! Housline! Seizing!

1858 tubbs cord walk ad

1858 & 1859: “Not only do we excel in rope and cordage, but our choice of typeface cannot be beat.”

1858 tubbs cord walk ad green

1859 tubbs cord walk ad

1860: prices reduced! Constantly manufacturing! Whatever you want! The rope walk NEVER SLEEPS!

1860 tubbs cord walk ad

In case you were wondering how they made rope, the National Parks Service has your back with this short history:

nps history tubbs cord walk p2

1878: You want rope? We’ll make you rope. (But we’d prefer to make hay rope.)

1878 tubbs cord walk ad

1888: as they got bigger, the name of the company gets changed.

1888 tubbs cord walk dissolution

The Tubbs brothers passed away in 1896 and 1897, but the company kept going. The rope walk lasted for over 100 years until 1963.

nps history tubbs cord walk p3

The old Tubbs office building on Front St was moved to the Hyde Street Pier where you can see it today.

Tubbs Cordage Building, San Francisco Maritime Natl Hist Park

And I just learned from Wade Roush that there’s a book published in 1954 called “Men of Rope” which is now on my reading list.

men of rope

Dolores Street Bridge

January 22, 2014

All hail Eric Fischer, master of historophotography! The Southern Pacific trestle bridge over Dolores Street in 1910.

1910 dolores street bridge

More on the path of the SPRR here and here. And @markasaurus did a nice walking tour a few years back.

The resolution on this is crazy good. Hello serious guy holding your watch seriously:

1910 guy standing in front of dolores st bridge


dolores bridge tweet sturm

Hey, look, it’s the milk truck!

1910 dolores st bridge fire engine

Just kidding. It’s the Anchor Steam truck. OK, OK. It’s a steam fire engine. IANAFM, but from the shape of the boiler and location of the bell, I’m guessing it’s a Nott:

fire engine Nott

The three houses on the right up on CC/Army are still there:

  1910 dolores st houses

You can see the same houses in the 1910 photo that’s available via the SFPL photo archive — they are on the left, so this photos is looking northeast:


(via SFPL)

And the matching up the houses visible near the west side of the bridge:

 1910 dolores street trestle bridge west houses

You can see that really tall house with the peaked roof on this 1920s photo via (FoundSF):

1920 dolores st bridge Transit1$sp-railroad-in-mission-c-1920

I stitched together some 1914 Sanborn maps for your historo-reference.

1910 dolores street trestle bridge and houses sanborn

I hadn’t realized that the all-knowing FoundSF had written a piece on the Dolores Street Trestle (hey, great band name) until after I started this post. They found this rather amazing photo taken around 1940, just a few years before the funeral train service was stopped and service on the line completely shut down.

1940 SPRR Rr-in-noe-valley-towards-bernal-cut_3014

I knew there were bridges over each street, as we’ve seen them from the 1907 photo from atop Bernal…

SPRR rail trestles

…but I had never appreciated just how *damn big* that berm was. Zoom and enhance on the 18-20 foot pile of dirt running  through the middle of Noe Valley:

1940 SPRR berm noe valley

I cannot even imagine how many kids must have gotten in trouble for climbing up that thing.

Harder to imagine is that the train was there first, and the street grid grew around it. The railroad was built in 1860-1863, and the berm was to minimize the change in grade from the Bernal Cut.

1905 Bernal Cut Milton St looking north AAB-8703

The route curved as it did to squeeze between the two racetracks in the Mission:


The Bernal Cut was never an easy path for trains to take — on the way up from Daly City they apparently needed a helper train — and the current Bayshore alignment (that Caltrain takes today) was built from 1904 to 1907. The trains through Noe and the Mission gradually faded away:

The Bayshore Cut-off was completed December 8, 1907. The new line shortened the distance between San Bruno and San Francisco by four miles and eliminated Bernal Cut as a mainline. The original line through Bernal Cut remained as a branch line with one passenger train a day which operated until 1930. The last through-freight train operated over the old line in 1942, after which the middle section was abandoned…

I’ve previously mentioned that the train from San Francisco to San Jose set a speed record in 1865:

The first full-sized steam locomotive produced in the state of California, an American 4-4-0, was built for the SF&SJRR by the Union Iron Works in San Francisco. It was appropriately named the “California”. Its inaugural run was August 30, 1865, during which it set a speed record of 67 mph (107 km/h).

Here’s the article in the Daily Alta the day after the “fast running” of the California. (I love the use of italics.)

1865 daily alta sfsj rr speed record

149 years later, Caltrain’s top speed today is just 79 mph.

Hey, at least it’s not slower! Well, actually, it is.

Looking at old timetables from the late 19th and early 20th century, it was possible to get from the train station at Valencia and 25th to Palo Alto in less time that it takes today on Caltrain and BART. Here’s the station from the 1889 Sanborn map (San Francisco 1886-1893 vol.+3, 1889, Sheet 88_a):

1889 Valencia and 25th train station

The 1907 (pre-Bayview cutoff) schedule available over at


Zoom and enhance:

1907 SFRR Valencia to Palo Alto

Yes, you could make it in 46 minutes from Valencia St to Palo Alto in 1907. You’d be hard-pressed to *drive* to Palo Alto in 46 minutes from 24th & Mission today, even without traffic.

As far as I can tell, the fastest possible BART/Caltrain connection you can make today is 55 minutes. (It’s more typically an hour or 1:05 in my experience, but feel free to comment if you are one with that commute.)

24th-Palo Alto BART Caltrain

And in case you think my choice of the Del Monte Express is unfair, a typical connection back in the day was a bit over an hour or so…

This rather incredible report on the history of the SF to SJ line written in the 1940s has 1892 schedule and fare information. 55 minutes to Menlo Park. 1:11 to Palo Alto.

1892 SFRR schedule

Whoa, that 95 cent one-way fare to Menlo Park adjusted for inflation is $23!

1890 SFRR ticket prices

But the monthly pass of $9 comes out to $226, not all that far from today’s 3 zone fare of $179.

While I realize that you can catch a baby bullet from 22nd St to Palo Alto in 34 minutes, you still have to get to the charming 22nd station — good luck with the bus connection.

For those who want to be sad, the original plans for BART had it running to Palo Alto (and even Los Gatos!!)

BART plans 1957

This map from Eric Fischer shows estimated travel times – the times are a little on the optimistic side, but 36 minutes to Palo Alto from an unbuilt 22nd Street station.

1961 BART estimated travel times

Of course, it’s easy to look at the benefits of a centrally located above-ground transit system and ignore the inevitable tradeoffs.

markasaurus train noise tweet

And then there’s the steam and the soot:

SCHWARTZ: We think of steam as being this very romantic form of transportation, we hear that sound. But the reality was, there were huge disadvantages. The reality of a steam train is, if your windows are open when it shows up, your whole room will be filled with soot, and the stink of the soot, and the cleaning of the soot, and the noise. Not everybody wanted these.

ECHEVERRIA: Round about the early years of the twentieth century, the public was fed up.

But soot, steam and 100 decibels might not even keep housing prices in Noe Valley under $2 million.

One 1956 proto-BART plan had an elevated system that ran above Mission and Valencia:

1956 Proto-BART Mission elevated Proto-BART Valencia

Sadly, the Bay Area doesn’t have a coherent transit policy or we’d have a train that goes over 100 mph and we’d have regular service to Palo Alto in 15 minutes and San Jose in 30 minutes. But hey, let’s save that kind of efficiency for China, Europe and Japan.

Rock Me Jerrameyus

January 22, 2014

@yayitsrob noticed this:

Which meant I had no choice but to create this:

rock me jerrameyus

PizzaHacker Reboot

January 16, 2014

Hooray! PizzaHacker is officially opening up for business tonight in the heart of the TheLowerBernalFlatsHigherMissionNotNoeCoprosperitySphere La Lengua!

Photo via Bernalwood

Tonight you get free slices if you mention La Lengua! (Kidding. Free slices for everyone, I think. But do mention your support of La Lengua.)

PizzaHacker is at 3299 Mission, the site of the old Inkas restaurant.


This used to be the Wide Hive record store, which used to be the American Trust bank…


…which used to be a candy factory and shop, which used to be next to a kindergarten

Explanatory historo-GIF below:

3299 Mission 600p

Individual years here, if you are not GIF-inclined.

In addition to pizza being cooked at a temperature higher than the surface of Venus, PizzaHacker is bringing back the famed Intermezzo salad:

“I kept the wooden bowls, but upgraded the pedigree of the ingredients (all part of my evil plot to gentrify Bernal Heights)”

(Excellent subterfuge, PizzaHacker, most excellent (rubs hands together).)

Hey, did you know that PizzaHacker has an official house band? During his interview on Burrito Justice Radio (archives coming soon), PizzaHacker professed his love for 2 Lane Blacktop. I’d never heard of them before, but wow. Coming Home is particularly good.

To be fair, a) they are not really the official band, and b) the band broke up in the late 1990s, but goddamn I like them a lot. Hey 2 Lane Blacktop! You need to get back together and do a live show at PizzaHacker!

Anyway, welcome to the neighborhood(s) PizzaHacker! Hot may your oven burn, and cold may your beer flow.


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