the historical reason for the location of san francisco : LUSENET : San Francisco History : One Thread

i am doing a class dicussion on whether or not san francisco should be relocated because of the major fault line. i need to know the history of san francisco as part of the assignment. can someone please help me?

-- jeremy van raven (, April 08, 1999


San Francisco grew up quite by accident. It has its origins in the 1830s as a small Mexican trading post named Yerba Buena. Merchant ships entering the harbor would anchor in a shallow cove below the village, register at the Mexican custom house on the plaza (today's Portsmouth Square), and then trade their cargoes of manufactured goods for the products of local ranchos, mostly tanned cow hides and tubs of tallow.

Basically, the location of the village/trading post was chosen because it was central to the area's ranchos. The cove was the first protected anchorage for ships entering the bay. However, Yerba Buena suffered from bad weather and lacked both water and wood. (Ship captains used to go to Sausalito to fill their water casks and sent chopping parties to Angel Island to cut firewood.)

Once thing that Yerba Buena had in abundance, though, was lots and lots of fleas.

Before the Gold Rush, other villages such as Benicia vied for shipping traffic, touting their locations as offering better climate and resources as well as providing better access to the inland of California. In a move to gain prominence as the premier port on San Francisco Bay, the village of Yerba Buena renamed itself "San Francisco" in 1847.

Once gold was discovered the following year, an amazing boomtown grew up around the village. Arriving ships logically discharged their cargo and passengers at the only established port on the bay, and San Francisco exploded from about 400 residents to more than 30,000 in less than three years.

San Francisco, from a logical point of view, is a terrible place for a major city. It still has very little fresh water (the vast majority comes from the Sierras), and it is cursed with wet winters and foggy summers. The City also has no direct rail connections with the rest of the country, and in recent years our seaport has declined to near-extinction while better suited ports such as Oakland have taken prominence.

I would have never put a city where San Francisco is located. But I'm sure glad they did.

Hope this thumbnail history is useful.

John Martini

-- John Martini (, April 08, 1999.

Downtown San Francisco is bracketed roughly 10 miles east of the San Andreas Fault (which goes offshore to the south just north of Pacifica and comes back under land at Stinson Beach) and is 9 miles east of the Hayward Fault, which runs along the foot of the Berkeley Hills, through many of the school and colleges in the east bay, Lake Temescal, etc. If the Hayward fault has a major earthquake, due to the distance of San Francisco from the fault (and earthqauke energy decreasing with distance, THEORETICALLY you should be safer in downtown San Francisco than in Richmond, Berkeley, Oakland, Hayward, Fremont, Union City, etc.

Actually, you could potentially be worse off in San Francisco, for the same reason that the previous responder mentioned: poor ground conditions for initial development. San Francisco prior to development included a large number of bays, inlets, and marshes which were too shallow for ships and consequently, early developers decided to fill them. Yerba Buena Cove extended inland to Montgomery Street and First Street (about 7? blocks); North Beach Cove extended in to Bay or Beach Street (streets are from memory and may not be 100% correct). Marina Cove and associated salt marshes extended in to approximately Lombard Street near Divisadero. A narrow arm of the bay extended from the "Mission Bay" area (also filled)in as far as 7th and Mission in the South of Market, and 18th and Mission in the Mission District. There are a whole bunch of smaller filled areas inland of the shoreline which are also hazards.

Fill was placed with no engineering controls (that type of consideration not having been put in practice before about 1930 to 1950) and fills today still are only loose to medium dense. During an major earthquake, such as the 1906 earthquake, the ground shaking will make loose fill soils below the water table liquefy (essentially jiggle like a bowl of jello), resulting in 2 to 6 feet of lateral displacement of the ground surface in a number of places (especially where the filled ground is sloped), lots of cracks, and settlement. This was sufficient in 1906 to cause at least several of the 20 to 30 fire sources to start, and at the same time broke the water mains in the city in several hundred locations. No water, and 20 to 30 fires turn into one big one.

It might be wise to disrupt occupants of several districts off of their property long enough to densify or cement the soils underneath their streets and properties. Then San Francisco would be much better off than Oakland (though after a major earthquake, how will we leave the city, or get food and water delivered to it?). But realistically, no one politically would want to pay the enormous costs of soil improvement under a developed city or fight off the swarms of lawsuits that would accompany even such a beneficial action.

-- Jonathan Pease (Zancat, April 19, 1999.

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