Portsmouth to Presdio Path to Black Point and Cove

Meiggs Wharf: Henry Meiggs arrived in New York in 1935 and began a lumber business which failed in Panic of 1837. He restarted the business in Brooklyn and it also failed. He then succeeded in lumber sales to Pacific Coast and relocated to San Francisco at peak of Gold Rush, arriving with his lumber in 1849, which he sold for twenty times cost. He used profit for real estate speculation, promoting pier development on the north coast. It was closer to Golden Gate than the bedlam of abandoned ships as crews as well as miners fled bedlam of Yerba Buena cove and raucous Barbary Coast for foothills gold prospecting.

1854 Meiggs Wharf N of Powell 1854 Henry Meiggs 1856 Abe Warner Saloon Cobweb Palace

He built a wharf from Powell St., where Fisherman's Wharf and Pier 39 are today, that extended 2,000 feet north into Bay. Together with warehouses , streets and piers in area he constructed sawmills and schooners as well as found Meiggsville, now Mendocino, all on fraudulent City warrants. It was a marvel and before fraud was detected, he fled to Peru, where later he successfully built railroads in Peru Chile and Costa Rico before he allegedly paid off California debts and was preparing to return to San Francisco when he died in Lima in 1877.

Black Point ( Fort Mason): Even though Meiggs Wharf and related endeavors failed, it was step to San Francisco's first industrial area, located further along Portsmouth path to Presidio at foot of Black Point where Aquatic Park lays today. On the steep slopes of Black Point to the West, which is now Fort Mason, influential citizens including banker Joseph Palmer, explorer John Fremont and editor James Brooks built homes in hopes of getting title to land, even though it had bee designated a military reservation in 1850 by President Fillmore. Many carried on this fight for rest of their lives without success.

1850's Jesse Benton & John C Fremont Haskett House, Gardens, Bensley Flume Jesse Fremont Black Point Home

Black Point Cove: In the meantime at the cove shoreline below in 1857 John Bensley's San Francisco Water Company brought first permanent water supply system to burgeoning City around Portsmouth. This by constructing redwood flume to carry fresh water from Lobos Creek along coast and around Black Point heights to small pump station, which carried water to Russian Hill reservoirs. Why none was available to fight 1906 fire on Lombard Ridge from reservoir above Larkin a block away is unclear.

SF Lakes, Streams, Creeks, Wetlands, Landfill(Pink) 1857 Bensley Redwood Flume from Lobos Creek Around Black Point

Pioneer Woolen Mill, Selby Smelter: That Bensley water did fuel San Francisco's first industrial complex along Black Point cove. First was California's first woolen mill named Pioneer which occupied shorleline where Maritime Museum now stands and built warehouses to south that became Fontana Towers in 1960's. Further east along the cove at Larkin, Henry Selby built a large smelter and lead shot tower in 1867. I met Henry Selby descendant Jack when I moved to NY with Chevron Chemical in 1965. It was Jack, who had lived in Rainsford House in 1940's, who introduced me to what became my first NY home, run still then much like a post college fraternity, just s when he lived that old J.P. Morgan townhouse on E 16th St. in late 1930's.

Black Point coving looking Northwest 1860's-1889 Pioneer Woolen Mill 1860's Sand Dune NW to Pioneer Smoke

During the Civil War, the spot where PJ and I ran regularly and held our wedding reception was a battery, but nothing much threatened San Francisco then. After War, military tried to evict industrial squatters from Black Point cove, but instead were evicted by Congress in response to pressure from those occupied cove.

1894 Lurline Baths Larkin Pine 1894 Lurline Baths Larkin In 1895 Sutro Baths near Cliff House

Salt Water Bathing: The beach at Black Point Cove also attracted San Francisco residents as they moved west to Russian Hill and beyond for recreation and the protected salt water swimming in the Bay. From the 1860's entrepreneurs built bath and changing houses along the shore used by factory workers during week and other San Franciscans who want to swim, boat or fish on weekends. This burgeoning business collapsed in the 1890's, as bathhouses and outdoor beach swimming was outclassed by the new Sutro and Crystal indoor baths, as well as Lurline just to south on Larkin and Pine. By then the factories had also moved and Black Point Cove was in decline. In 1885 Selby smelter moved to much larger new industrial sites along south east shoreline. Pioneer closed in 1889, victim of lower cost eastern mill competition and racist reaction to large Chinese workforce.

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1894 Domingo Ghiradelli Chocolate to Pioneer Factory 1899 Cal Pak (Del Monte) Peach Canning Plant 1899+ Canning Plant E of Black Point Cove

Chocolate and Canning: The industrial presence around Black Point cove was replaced in 1894 when Dominigo Ghiradelli acquired the vacated Pioneer Wool buildings and moved his chocolate operations into them. The large warehouses of Pioneer between Van Ness and Polk remained mostly vacant until in 1960 they were razed and replaced with the Fontana Towers, which spurred the successful campaign to limit height in new residential buildings, mostly to forty feet. In 1899 Ghiradelli was joined by a consolidation of eighteen companies which comprised half of California canning capacity to form the California Packing Corp, which later adopted the Del Monte trademark of one of its companies. There peach packing operations continued for decades in the buildings that, after the success of Ghiradelli as the country's first successful factory to shopping and restaurant conversion in 1964, became the shops and hotel of the Cannery.

1900 Dolphin, South End, SF Rowing at foot of Van Ness 1913 Dolphin Junior Crew

Rowing Clubs at Black Point: The dream of Black Point as a recreation site was fused with new life after the bathhouse and beach decline, as the German rowing clubs founded along eastern shore line south of Market began to be crowded out by industry including some of which relocated from Black Point. By 1890 Dolphin and South End Rowing Clubs had barged and relocated their clubhouses to foot of Van Ness on Black Point Cove and joined by Ariel shortly after. It was these Clubs that led the fight to keep the dream of Black Point as center of Aquatic recreation which dated to dated to the 1866 proposal of Frederick Olmstead for Black Point cove as a waterfront park. Daniel Burnham reinforced Olmstead by including Black Point cove as a waterfront park in his plan, but although the Plan was adopted in 1904, it was shelved after the earthquake as being too expensive and the cove was used as dump for fire debris.

Belt Line Railway Locomotive 1913 Southern Pacific Trstle Across Black Point Cove 1950's Aerial View of Pump Station and Fort Mason

Belt Line Railway: With Southern Pacific owning much of area and having extended the Belt Line railroad on a trestle as well as filling in much of cove, recreation prospects looked bleak. However, when SP realized the cove wasn't large enough for their development plans they were willing to trade their ownership back to the City in return for lands in industrial area along south east waterfront. After the 1906 clean up and recovery the Belt Line was extended West through a tunnel under Black Point which then provided needed transport to 1915 World Fair built on Marina marshlands to west of Black Point.

To Aquatic Park: In 1917 the land transfer to move SP to south resulted in gain for San Francisco which was to be used for development of an Aquatic Park at Black Point cove. Grading of shoreline from Van Ness to Larkin used up most of City funds by 1920 and the three rowing clubs were moved a block east to foot of Polk in 1928. Unfortunately voters turned down bond funds for remainder of needed funding and business interests promoted private rather than public use of land.

1939 Aquatic Park at Black Point Cove 1940's View west to Aquatic Park 1938 WPA Construction of Aquatic Bathhouse

Onset of Great Depression ended hopes for local funding, but in late 1935 a proposal to the Works Progress Administration (WPA) was accepted and WPA announced that it would build San Francisco Aquatic Park. The decades long dream was finally to be carried into reality. Plans included a large bathhouse for5,000 and numerous other buildings, including band shell, and new rowing club facilities. Fund limitations focused nearly all construction on waterfront grading and the bathhouse, probably with hopes of success similar to Jones Beach which Robert Moses built for New Yorkers in 1927.

1930's Aerial S from Aquatic to Russian Hill 1930's Aquatic Breakwater Construction

The three clubs were moved a couple more blocks east along the shoreline to foot of Hyde to make way for the grand bathhouse. Dedication was in January 1939 and the waterfront was heavily used up until Pearl Harbor attack. Unfortunately, shoddy and inept construction resulted in problems with the bathhouse and the concessionaire was plagued by further scandal and view that it was being run for elite rather than public. After Pearl Harbor all of Aquatic became part of military coastline defense. It was returned in 1948, but building never again used as a bathhouse, even though the concept of Aquatic Park is still alive to this day with surrounding industry gentrified into shops, restaurants and tourist spots with Maritime theme to recall important part of San Francisco past.

1960's Ghiradelli Square, Fontana Towers 1970+ Aerial SE from Black Point 1980 Hyde St. Pier, Cannery, Rowing Clubs

Factory Gentrification and High Rise Life: Flume which brought first reliable fresh water to San Francisco as it grew west over Russian Hill is long gone, but pumping station remains. San Francisco water since 1920's has come from Yosemite's Hetch Hetchy rather than many springs and free flowing streams and creeks, long ago buried, or giant aquifer under Golden Gate Park and southwest of City. Some of original Pioneer wool and Ghiradelli chocolate buildings are part of Ghiradelli Square complex and others were razed for Fontana Towers , which has made us more vigilant of City waterfront use ever since it rose in 1960's.

1970's + Pier 39 and View West to Aquatic & Golden Gate Aquatic Breakwater to SF North Skyline

Still the Same: San Franciscans and tourists still flock to area on most days and when fog clears, kids play on beach and splash in cove waters. Early morning and late afternoon swimmers still set out from same clubs into Bay each day as they did when clubs first relocated to Aquatic over a century ago. And as years pass, the view across the sheltered cove and up Russian Hill slopes becomes just as or perhaps even more magical than ever.

These highlights of how Black Point developed and influenced the growth of neighborhood including our Lombard and Pacific Heights ridges ended decades before we came to know Black Point and its surroundings in the 1970's. Even before meeting and living on Lombard Ridge, we each would have walked into calm quiet of old Fort Mason buildings at day's end, just as neighbors still do, to gaze back at San Francisco north skyline rising from cove waters perched on hillsides beyond. From there we saw the colors of our pastel city shimmer and glisten in changing light of a setting sun.

2012 December Sunset Over Aquatic Park to north SF Skyline 1970's Aerial Forth Mason and Aquatic East

From time we met and lived on Lombard ridge, we would run down to and through those old Fort Mason military buildings, just as younger neighbors still do today. We would end up barreling down overgrowth of knoll where Fremont's home looked down on what became a sleepy Civil War Battery, just as many still make their way to back of Fort Mason each afternoon for an overnight stay at Youth Hostel. In our day battery was overgrown and wild, but with it's exquisite Bay and Golden Gate view, became perfect secluded spot for our wedding reception, at time in 1980 when great meadow of Fort Mason to the west was just shifting from sand box to lawn.

1980 May Battery San Jose at Black Point Wedding Reception 2012 December Pre Wedding Revisit to Battery San Jose

The Fremont home is gone, but others of the 1850's still cling to Black Point's east ridge looking down at cove which is now Aquatic Park. From there, early Black Point pioneers would have seen kids below running along cove, playing in sand or splashing in Bay's chilly waters, just as we recall our sons doing on warm fall afternoons during our Discovery Early Learning years. That's probably the only constant, as everything else seemed to change from a vacant shoreline, to early industrial factories among which bath house shacks dotted the shore, to frequently relocated rowing clubs that fought for a permanent waterfront park and were moved to their final resting spot at foot of Hyde to make room for the depression era great bathhouse centerpiece of the Aquatic Park project funded by FDR's Works Progress Administration (WPA).

1901-2 Brothers Playing on Black Point cove Aquatic Park Shoreline

The Aquatic Park culmination opened at beginning of 1939 to great acclaim and public acceptance despite construction and concessionaire problems which emerged. But with Pearl Harbor, it disappeared from public use to military defense. By the time it was returned to the public in 1948, the bathhouse remained padlocked over concessionaire dispute. Times had changed and need for appeal of great bathhouses was over. Shortly after the remaining chocolate and cannery businesses moved away. Fontana Towers rose and Ghiradelli, Cannery and Wharfside were gentrified into shopping and restaurant venues around bricks and mortar of old factories. That transition drew the streams of tourists that flock to Aquatic and Fisherman's Wharf areas but probably did less to continue to shape life of surrounding neighbors.

However, the greatest affect Black Point was to have on future of San Francisco had already taken place almost unrecognized. For during the years where Fort Mason and Aquatic Park where restricted to public during World War II, it was from the piers below the Civil War Battery and Fremont homestead that the majority of more than two million troops departed for duty in the Pacific. Although not all returned, those that did would have had a few weeks in San Francisco both before shipping out on discharge on return home. Many of those single soldiers and sailors fell in love with San Francisco and chose never to return to homes back East. Others returned to families and friends in other parts of the country, but may have never forgotten what an earlier generation of San Franciscans took pride in a few blocks west at when they heard the words of the opening of the 1915 fair: ' To the City of St. Francis by the Western Sea, give a hope and a faith that know not failure.'

1933 Fort Mason Piers 1942 Troops and Supplies to Pacific Fort Mason Piers and Post Liberty Ship O'Brien at Fort Mason

With the dawning of the jet age making California seem much closer, many packed up home and families and returned to San Francisco area, just like the Giants and Dodgers a few years before, and me when I first moved to San Francisco with Chevron Chemical in 1965. That World War II GI influence may be the final and most lasting contribution of Black Point to San Francisco. And through all the years, the only constant is kids running and playing along the sands, sea and shore with families returning to enjoy a charmingly beautiful waterfront park, dreamed of since the 1850's when fresh water was brought around Black Point cliffs, factories flourished and the small shanty bathhouses sprouted from sands along the Bay and now extended west to abandoned Ft. Mason military post..

2012 December Great Meadow View East Fort Mason Aerial Fort Mason W to Golden Gate 2012 December Fort Mason W Across Aquatic Park