Port of San Francisco
Review and History

The Port of San Francisco lies on the northeastern shores of a peninsula that separates San Francisco Bay from the Pacific Ocean. Just four kilometers west of the Port of Oakland, the Port of San Francisco is some 375 nautical miles north-northwest of America's biggest Port of Los Angeles. The Port of San Francisco is the 12th biggest city in the United States and the fourth biggest city in California. It is a popular tourist destination and the cultural, financial, and transportation engine for the region. In 2006, over 744 thousand people lived in the Port of San Francisco municipality, and more than four million called the San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont metropolitan area home.

San Francisco<br>Fisherman's Wharf

San Francisco
Fisherman's Wharf

Photo by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

The Port of San Francisco economy depends on apparel and textile manufacturing, food processing, and shipbuilding. Tourism is an important contributor to the local economy. Offering a plentiful and varied set of attractions, the Port of San Francisco welcomes millions of tourists each year as well as millions of participants at conferences and conventions. The Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and Fisherman's Wharf are a few of the most popular sites in the city.

The Port of San Francisco is the US West Coast's principal finance and banking center, being the birthplace of the huge Bank of America and the host for more than 30 international financial institutions. The Port of San Francisco's financial sector is supported by a huge professional sector of lawyers, public relations experts, architects, and designers. The modern Port of San Francisco grows increasingly connected to its neighbors, San Jose and the Silicon Valley, as high-technology industries mature. It is also growing as a center for biotechnology and biomedical research.

Tony Bennett - I left my heart in San Francisco

Port History

Archaeological evidence suggests that humans have lived in the area around today's Port of San Francisco for some five thousand years, as early as 3000 BC. In the 6th Century AD, the Ohlone peoples lived in the region. The Spanish arrived in 1769 when Don Gaspar de Portola led an exploration into the San Francisco Bay as part of Spain's colonization of Alta California, landing on a rocky promontory below today's Telegraph Hill.

In 1776, Juan Bautista de Anza decided to locate the Presidio of San Francisco on the site, and Franciscan missionary Francisco Palou established the Mission San Francisco de Asis (known popularly as the Mission Dolores). Members of the local Yelamu group of the Ohlone peoples were brought to the mission to live and work and, hopefully, be converted to the Catholic faith. The mission used the jetty at Clarke's Point for exporting hides and tallow. Later, Russian vessels anchored at the early Port of San Francisco to get meat and grains.

California Street<br>San Francisco 1856

California Street
San Francisco 1856

San Francisco as seen from Nob Hill looking down California Street in 1856. Telegraph Hill appears on the left. Identified buildings and locations include; North Bay, Contra Costa, Yerba Buena Island, the California Exchange, the Plaza, Leanard’s Warehouse, Ricon Point, the Market Street Pier, California Street, Central Warf, the Catholic Church, the Marine Telegraph, and Anjill Island. Published by Henry Bill for inclusion in the 1856 edition of his History of the World .
Photo by Maunder, S.

Under Mexican rule, the first development of the Port of San Francisco began in 1935. Before this, the Mexican government considered the Port at Monterey to be the official port of entry to California. William Richardson from England built the first independent homestead near today's Portsmouth Square in the modern Port of San Francisco. He worked with Alcalde Francisco de Haro to develop a street plan for the new settlement. Called Yerba Buena, the new settlement quickly began to attract American settlers. Captain Richardson became the first harbor master to be appointed to the Port of San Francisco by the Mexican Governor. When Mexico's taxes on whaling became onerous, local whalers relocated from the Port of San Francisco to Hawaii in 1843.

Market Street<br>San Francisco 2004

Market Street
San Francisco 2004

View down Market Street from Twin Peaks. The Ferry Building can be seen at the end of Market. Taken summer of 2004.
Photo by Vincent Bloch

In 1840, the USS St. Louis was the first American warship to enter San Francisco Bay. Six years later, the USS Portsmouth gave a 21-gun salute in the Port of San Francisco when the American flag was attached to the Mexican flagpole to claim California for the United States in what would become the Portsmouth Square during the Mexican-American War. Yerba Buena became the Port of San Francisco the following year when Mexico ceded the California territory to the US. Even though the city was in a perfect location for a port and naval base, it remained a small town due to its unfavorable geography.

As a new State in the US, the Port of San Francisco was given the right to sell water lots in the tidelands to raise city revenues. W.S. Clarke built a wharf at Clarke's Point. Later a new 229-meter long wharf was constructed with a depth of 8 meters, opening the Port of San Francisco to deep-water vessels. Soon, additional wharves were built.

Fort Point

Fort Point

Fort Point was completed just before the American Civil War, to defend San Francisco Bay against hostile warships.
Photo by *LOSER*

When the California Gold Rush hit the area in the middle 1800s, thousands of people came to the Port of San Francisco seeking their fortunes. Prospectors increased the population from one thousand in 1848 to 25 thousand in 1849. During the Gold Rush days, an old steamer, the James K. Polk, was beached near Clarke's Point, and it soon became the first passenger landing in the Port of San Francisco. Sailors who arrived at the Port of San Francisco vessels deserted their ships to search for gold, leaving many sailing ships in the harbor without crews. In 1850, California joined the United States as the 31st State in the Union. To protect the bay, the US military constructed Fort Point at the Golden Gate and another fort on Alcatraz Island.

Seeing the great potential of the wharves, the land was leveled, and a new wharf was built as a regular berth for Pacific Mail steamships. In the first years of the Gold Rush, products arrived and left California aboard ships calling at the Port of San Francisco. Many ships wrecked or were run aground in the tidal flats, and they laid the foundation for land reclamation and port enlargement efforts. In 1853, a lease was granted for the Vallejo Street Wharf, and a larger wharf was constructed. The State's legislature authorized the Port of San Francisco to build wharves outside the city boundaries and to set wharfage rates, leading to many conflicts over waterfront properties and wharves.

The Port of San Francisco's Central Wharf was opened in 1849, and it quickly had more cargo traffic than it could handle. New wharves were built on the shores of the Bay, and efforts to fill the Yerba Buena Cove began. Ships were repaired at the Port of San Francisco's Merchant's Dock at Kearney and Bay Streets until it was moved and floating dry docks were constructed at Hunter's Point. In 1853, the North Point Dock was built at Telegraph Hill and became the landing point for immigrant ships from France and Italy.

On the wharves<br>San Francisco, 1900

On the wharves
San Francisco, 1900

Moored schooners' masts form a wall around the dock. By Henry G. Peabody
Photo by National Archives and Records Administration

Other private wharves appeared at the Port of San Francisco's northern waterfront, many on city lands that could be filled at any time. The early Port of San Francisco was a wharf city with planks and sheds that burned easily and quickly. In 1857, the older wharves and associated buildings fell into the bay, and the waterfront became a chaotic mess of abandoned ships and deteriorating piers. When the city wanted to extend the Port of San Francisco seawall, consequently destroying the private wharves, intense conflict and litigation over ownership led to the 1863 creation of the Board of State Harbor Commissioners, and the Port of San Francisco waterfront was made an independent of city government and put under the indirect control of the State.

In 1859, silver was discovered in the region (in what is now Virginia City, Nevada), and population growth in the Port of San Francisco underwent another boom. The Port of San Francisco soon became known for its lawlessness. The Barbary Coast section of the city was famous for crime, prostitution, and gambling.

The earlier Gold Rush and the silver rush attracted banking and financial businesses to the Port of San Francisco. In 1852, Wells Fargo was founded in the Port of San Francisco, and the Bank of California was born in 1864. Levi Strauss opened a dry goods business, and Domingo Ghirardelli started making chocolate in the Port of San Francisco.

The Board of State Harbor Commissioners undertook a project to build a seawall on the Port of San Francisco's waterfront and replace the disorganized jumble of wharves and piers. The Port of San Francisco commissioners offered a prize for the best plan for the seawall. Work began on the new seawall in the late 1860s, but the arrival of the first transcontinental railroad in 1869 brought port development efforts to a halt. Cargo traffic in the Port of San Francisco fell by almost 50%. In 1881, the commissioners restarted the work on the seawall, and it was 50 years before the final sections were completed.

During the latter half of the 19th Century, the growing Port of San Francisco was a busy center for trade. Many immigrants came to the city seeking work, and the city became ethnically diverse. Chinese rail workers created the now-famous Chinatown. In 1873, the first cable cars started operating on Clay Street. In 1890, the port commissioners started a series of warehouses and switchyards that created a more than 80 kilometers of tracks in the Port of San Francisco that connected every berth and pier with the city's industrial zones and railways.

As treasure-hunters and immigrant workers flooded into the city, its trademark Victorian neighborhoods also began to grow. Civic leaders established the Golden Gate Park, and citizens constructed churches, schools, and theaters. The Presidio became the United States' most important military installation on the West Coast. By the end of the 19th Century, the Port of San Francisco was becoming famous for its Nob Hill mansions, busy arts scene, luxury hotels, and a flamboyant lifestyle.

San Francisco City Hall<br>1906 Earthquake

San Francisco City Hall
1906 Earthquake

San Francisco City Hall and dome at McAllister Street and Van Ness Avenue.
Photo by National Archives and Records Administration

On the morning of April 18, 1906, a severe earthquake hit northern California and the Port of San Francisco. Buildings collapsed, gas lines ruptured, and fires that would burn for days spread across the city. The city's water mains were out of service, and the Presidio Artillery Corps tried to stop the fire by using dynamite to create firebreaks. In the end, over 75% of the city was destroyed, including most of the city center, and more than half of the Port of San Francisco's residents were homeless. Some of them lived in temporary tent villages in Golden Gate Park and on the city's beaches, but many left the city forever, settling in the East Bay area.

A mammoth rebuilding effort was undertaken by the Port of San Francisco's leaders and citizens. Destroyed mansions on Nob Hill were converted to luxury hotels. The City Hall was rebuilt. The Bank of Italy (now the Bank of America) financed rebuilding efforts for many who had lost their homes and livelihoods. In 1915, the Port of San Francisco celebrated its recovery with the Panama-Pacific International Exposition.

The 1906 earthquake brought a new age of development to the Port of San Francisco's waterfront. The San Francisco Harbor Improvement Act passed in 1909, and the State legislature allocated $9 million for the projects. The Board of State Harbor Commissioners started waterfront development, paying expenses from the revenues of the Port of San Francisco. Modern piers were constructed north and south of the Ferry building. Piers were leased to tenants, and by the early 1920s, the Port of San Francisco was handling up to nine million tons of goods and raw materials each year.

In 1922, the United States government started a dredging and reclamation project at the harbor entrance, deepening the channel and adding over 12 hectares to the Port of San Francisco. New docks at Hunter's Point could serve the biggest ocean-going vessels of the time. By the end of the project, the Port of San Francisco had five floating dry docks, eight marine railways, four shear-leg derricks, and ten floating boom derricks.

The new Port of San Francisco grew strong and rich. In the stock market crash of 1929, not one bank based in the city failed. Despite the city's success, the growth of the Port of Los Angeles and its industrial center demote the Port of San Francisco to a minor role in the State's ocean-going commerce. The port lost traffic slowly over the next decades to the Ports at Los Angeles and Long Beach and to its rival across the bay, the Port of Oakland.

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge

Photo by Anita Dikinme

Enjoying its prosperity, the city undertook the building of the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge at the height of the Great Depression. The island of Alcatraz was converted to a federal maximum security prison in the 1930s, housing famous prisoners like Al Capone, Robert Franklin Stroud (the Birdman of Alcatraz), and George "Machine Gun" Kelly. In 1930-1940, the Port of San Francisco hosted a World's Fair, the Golden Gate International Exposition.

World War II brought new activity to the Port of San Francisco when Hunters Point Naval Shipyard and Fort Mason took on critical support roles for the Pacific Theater of Operations. New jobs were created, and many African Americans from the southern states came to the area. When the war ended, many of the servicemen who returned to the United States through the Port of San Francisco chose to stay there. In 1945, the charter creating the United Nations was signed in the Port of San Francisco. In 1951, the Treaty of San Francisco officially ended the war with Japan.

In the decades of the 1950s and 1960s, many west-side neighborhoods in the Port of San Francisco were destroyed and redeveloped, and new freeways began to appear. In the 1950s, the Beat Generation of writers came to North Beach. During the 1960s and 1970s, the Port of San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury became a popular destination for the "Flower Power" generation and hippies, and it won a reputation as a liberal city where a variety of people could live safely.

San Francisco Ferry Building

San Francisco Ferry Building

Photo by JaGa

When containerization of ocean-going cargo arrived in the 1960s, the Port of San Francisco quickly lost whatever ocean-borne commerce it had enjoyed. It had no room to expand or build container-handling facilities and could not compete with the nearby Port of Oakland. The Port of San Francisco added a few piers for container-handling, but the area was too congested and had too little rail access to make a difference. Rising environmental concerns, the high cost of reclamation, the rising price of real estate transformed the Port of San Francisco a specialized service for breakbulk and dry bulk cargoes and for ship repairs and ferry services.

In the 1970s, the Port of San Francisco became a base for the gay rights movement, and Harvey Milk was elected to the Board of Supervisors. In 1978, both Milk and the Port of San Francisco's Mayor, George Mascone, were assassinated.

In the 1980s, many new high-rise buildings arose downtown as the Port of San Francisco was "Manhattanized." During the latter half of the 20th Century, most of the international shipping trade moved to the Port of Oakland, and the Port of San Francisco turned to tourism. Suburbs grew rapidly, and the city experienced a dramatic change in demographics as whites left the city for the suburbs and immigrants from Asia and Latin America moved in. The Port of San Francisco continued to attract America's counterculture.

In 1989, the Port of San Francisco was once again visited by earthquake. The Loma Prieta earthquake took lives and destroyed facilities at the Marina and South of Market districts. It also led to the demolition of the Embarcadero Freeway and much of the Central Freeway. As a hidden blessing, demolition of the Freeways allowed redevelopment of the Port of San Francisco's famous and historic waterfront.

Sea lions at Pier 39<br>Fisherman's Wharf

Sea lions at Pier 39
Fisherman's Wharf

Photo by Jjron

In the last decade of the 20th Century, the dot-com boom brought new energy to the Port of San Francisco's economy. Many new entrepreneurs and software developers located in the city, and they were followed by sales and marketing people. Old run-down neighborhoods were "gentrified." When the dot-com boom failed in 2001, many of these companies also failed and their workers left the city; however, high-technology continues to be an important part of the Port of San Francisco's economy.

The Port of San Francisco is on San Francisco Bay's western shores near the Golden Gate. While it took several centuries for Europeans to discover the bay, it is one of the best natural harbors in the world. The waterfront area stretches from the Golden Gate Bridge to the north and then to San Francisco's eastern shores on the Pacific, beyond Candlestick Park.

Review and History    Port Commerce    Cruising and Travel    Satellite Map    Contact Information