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Let’s Take A Drive Down Serpentine Ave

December 17, 2009

Eric Fischer points us to this 1859 Assessor’s map of Serpentine Avenue, the predecessor to Cesar Chavez nee Army. It shows lots for sale along Precita Creek, Bernal and San Jose Road. Edited verison below, original here.

Serpentine followed the old stone wall marking the northern border of Jose Bernal’s giant plat of land.

Here’s a zoom on the plan for the creek and the road (with west up):

Note S Van Ness is called Howard, 29th Dale and 30th is Grove.

That would have been a rather entertaining drive. And that little park on Coso Ave and Precita used to be a gravel pit! Typical aggressive land sales on the top of Bernal… Curious if any of the bridges were in place but just not shown on the 1857/1859 Coast Survey map.

Also of interest is the 1861 Langley Map. Looks like development was slow.

In the 1880s, the city built Army Street and Precita creek was redirected into a sewer (one that is supposed to be replaced next year). By the 1890s, as Eric previously mentioned, Serpentine Ave turned into a legal quagmire as it never really was a legal road. Whoops!

Now all we have left of Serpentine is that jaunty little corner of Capp into Mission and CC.

25 Comments leave one →
  1. dbt permalink
    December 17, 2009 7:30 pm

    Love the maps. One note: you mean S Van Ness is called Howard.

  2. albionite permalink
    December 17, 2009 7:53 pm

    Actually there’s another bit of Serpentine left too! If you search for Serpentine Ave on google maps, it shows you a little alleyway off of Potrero between 25th and 26th, which, based on the old maps, was originally part of Serpentine.

  3. December 17, 2009 8:00 pm

    Corrected! That’s what happens when I rotate a map one too many times…

  4. christian permalink
    December 18, 2009 1:57 pm

    So my understanding is that serpentine is a type of rock that is or was plentiful in San Francisco, that Potrero Hill (or one of the Potrero hills) was composed of it. And that it is also the official rock of California.
    Does any body have any more thoughts on it, and what serpentine was used for after portions of the hill/s were leveled?

  5. December 18, 2009 3:04 pm

    Lots is still here. There’s an “archipelago” of serpentine hills running NW to SE diagonally across the city from Fort Point, through Pac Heights to Potrero, ending at Hunter’s Point. Most other hills are sandstone.

    Bernal is part chert, Franciscan Complex volcanic rock, Franciscan Complex mélange, depending on what side of the hill you’re on. Most of the Mission is alluvium, while Noe and the lower part of Bernal are Hillslope Deposits (Quaternary). And the two Twin Peaks are actually different types of rock.

    I am out of my depth here, and I am sure there are more common rock names to use — but you too can download the very cool USGS geological map as a Google Earth layer and pretend to know what you are talking about at your next dinner party (w00t).

    There’s also a ridiculous amount of detail in this 1906 survey by Rodric Crandall.

  6. Gillian permalink
    December 19, 2009 12:53 am

    There’s that little jog in the last block of Shotwell north of Chavez, too. Serpentine once ran through the block that is now the Hollywood Video/MacMillan Bros. appliances block.

  7. Gillian permalink
    December 19, 2009 12:54 am

    wikispaces posted the EIR for the Chavez secondary sewer and sewer realignment project.

  8. Herr Doktor Professor Deth Vegetable permalink
    March 10, 2011 12:42 pm

    Random other note on Serpentine (the rock)… it’s what most Asbestos is made out of.

    • March 10, 2011 1:35 pm

      Not quite that simple. While some serpentine can be made into asbestos, most can’t.

    • Herr Doktor Professor Deth Vegetable permalink
      March 10, 2011 1:59 pm

      Yeah. Sort of a venn-diagram situation, I suppose. Most Asbestos is made out of Serpentine, but Most Serpentine can’t be made into Asbestos.

    • March 10, 2011 2:08 pm

      Venn diagram analogy FTW. Couldn’t have said it better myself!

  9. PatrickC permalink
    March 11, 2011 4:29 pm

    Howard Street south of Duboce became South Van Ness because the area around 3rd and Howard pre-Moscone was one of the worst slums in San Francisco, which gave Howard Street a bad name. The good citizens of Howard Street in the Mission District wanted to dissociate themselves from the unseemely reference, so they petitioned to change the name of the street to South Van Ness, because Van Ness had a better rep.


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