Streets of S.F. When paved in neighborhoods : LUSENET : San Francisco History : One Thread

When did the streets and sidewalks of San Francisco's neighborhoods become paved and what type of pabement was used? Cement? Tar?

-- Jeannette Flynn (, March 26, 2001


In the 1850s streets and sidewalks were usually "paved" with redwood planks. Some streets were paved with cobblestones. The famous series of photographs by G. R. Fardon provides some great images of this early paving. Stones of any kind tended to sink into downtown's soft, sandy soil, creating an uneven surface and making for a bone-jarring ride. Planks deteriorated rapidly under the influence of traffic and weather. And of course, planks burn. Many early streets were not paved at all--they were only graded, filled, and compacted.

As the city expanded, many of the new streets opened up were paved in "macadam," a mixture of crushed stones, heavily compacted. Unfortunately, macadamized streets were dusty streets. Van Ness Avenue, for example, had to be watered every day during the dry season to keep the dust down. Cobblestones, bricks, and granite and basalt blocks continued to be used in paving, especially where the terms of a street railway franchise required the company to maintain pavement.

If you are interested in the paving history of particular streets, check out the series of San Francisco Municipal Reports in the History Center at the main library. It contains a wealth of information about streets. Also, the San Francisco Real Estate Circular, on microfilm at the main library, contains a running commentary, mostly complaining, chronicling San Francisco's early paving history.

-- robert bardell (, March 29, 2001.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ