Pioneer Woolen Mills to Ghirardelli

The pump house at foot of Aquatic Pier may be an incarnation of one of first buildings which pumped the Mountain Lake flume water to the reservoirs that still remain above Bay and Lombard on Russian Hill. And before 1860, Pioneer Woolen Mills were turning out woolen uniforms and other goods for Union soldiers. At the end of Pioneer’s decades, the facilities were purchased by Domingo Ghirardelli in 1893 for his rapidly expanding chocolate business, ready to move from Jackson. It served as manufacturing location for 60 more years, even after the lights went out for World War II blackout and then relit later as the Ghirardelli Square we know today.


West to Black Piont and Flume East from BlackPoint and Flume to Wollen Mill

The Pioneer Woolen warehouse was a block west and along with the Haslett warehouse and cannery to the East fell under ownership of Marco Fontana. This all changed in the 1960’s as the Fontana twin towers rose on the waterfront and shook San Franciscans out of complacency to mobilize against such neighborhood incursions. This combined with Junior League’s Here Today gave rise to Duskin height limit amendment as well as strict SF Planning Commission to stop further planned neighborhood high rises along north waterfront and neighborhoods throughout the City.

North on Polk to Pioneer 1890's... East to Aquatic Park and Fontana Today... Northwest from Telegraph Hill 1880's

The Fontana Towers and Ghirardelli became a daily part of my life from 1975 when I first looked out north windows at Lombard and realized how Russian Hill neighbors must have been shocked as they watched their unblemished Golden Gate views blocked by Fontana. To compensate, we had years of walks up to Larkin and down stairs overlooking Bay to Ghirardelli for dinners, sunsets or simple appreciation of where land meets sand, sea and sky. We still think of Fontana today as we look out over Broadway and realize the Golden Gate view from our 1892 Victorian was at one time equally unblemished. I guess the elegance and surrounding gardens of the 1930’s coops that intrude never diminished the beauty, as Fontana did.


Aquatic Park

Despite companies like Pioneer, Selby Smelter, Ghirardelli and Del Monte thriving around the shore, the quiet cove remained neglected, perhaps best know for 1875 fatal swim of Ralston after dismissal from Bank of Cal. By the 1920’s plans were solicited to develop it as a great beachfront for San Franciscans. Proposals included a sleek ship designed building, which opened and failed as a casino, but is now a Maritime Museum. It may have been where a cottage from Lombard originated. Plans included a Gold Rush town in cable car turnaround park, which didn’t make it. Aquatic pier and breakwater was constructed along with new beach and grandstands. But the cold water, combined with summer fogs, thwarted hopes for a dream beach for San Francisco. Only Dolphin and Rowing Clubs, which dated to the 1870’s carried on there.

Historic Square Plan........ Fort Sutter Docked in Aquatic........ Aquatic Park High Rise Plan

Aquatic Park for me started as neighborhood when I moved to Lombard in 1975. But it is most recalled as playground for kids growing up. Maritime Museum, Hyde Street Pier ships and even Ghirardelli, pump station, Cannery and Fort Mason were often Discovery Afterschool, Scout Den or family adventures. Those years of running along Aquatic Beach as Tristan and Kevin frolic and splash in sand would often be capped by the Bay’s chilly salt water in those warm sweet days of SF’s autumn summer. And more recently, there was even a temptation to shift from land to sea as Sea Scout leader.


Aquatic Park Area in 1930's..............Aquatic Park and Environs in 1980's

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