How Was Bay Fill Done? : LUSENET : San Francisco History : One Thread

I know that most of Mission Bay and some areas going north to Rincon Point and a great amount of area between Rincon Point cutting gradually over to Mission and Montgomery Street and then continuing about 5 or 6 blocks beyond California Street and also a real good chunk of the Marina district were all once part of the San Francisco Bay. If you know the area I'm talking about, this is an incredible amount of land to convert from ocean bay to land. In my own mind, I couldn't dream of doing something like that. I have never heard or seen any stories as to how this was done and who could have come up this outrageous idea of converting the Bay to land. It seems like this would have been a monumental task, especially when you consider that the Bay fill occurred in the 1850s when they didn't have all the motor vehicle trucks and all the modern equipment to do this. And where did they get all the sand to do this fill? They must have leveled the hell out of some of the downtown areas.-- Remove * to email

-- Harry Murphy (*), February 12, 2002


I mean really, how many wagon loads of sand would this have taken to do -- like about 1 million. I just don't see how it's even possible.

-- Harry Murphy (*), February 12, 2002.

Here's a brief sketch of landfill in the Marina. Most of today's Marina District was built over a shallow cove stretching from Black Point on the east to a low-lying area once known as Strawberry Island, later, Harbor View, on the west. Tidal marshes separated Strawberry Island from the mainland. Large sandhills covered most of the area north of present day Lombard street and east of Scott. In the early 1890s, Bonanza Silver King James G. Fair decided to fill in 15 blocks of tidelands in the cove and 21 blocks of marshland. Apparently Fair envisioned an industrial park on the filled land, connected to the State Belt Railway via a tunnel under Fort Mason on Black Point. The great sandhills were graded flat using steam driven bucket conveyor contraptions built by Fulton Engineering and Shipbuilding, then located on Strawberry Island near the intersection of present day Broderick and Marina streets. Mule driven trains of light weight dump cars hauled sand gouged from the hills to the nearby marshlands and shoreline. A rock seawall was constructed that still exists today, although its boundaries have been altered a bit and its eastern side, which ran north on Webster from North Point, obscured by further fill. Perhaps the designers of the project thought sand from the sandhills would fill the area behind the seawall. If so, they miscalculated badly. About 70 acres behind the seawall were not filled until 1912. (Fair himself died as the project commenced. His estate, which was tied up in litigation for years, continued the project for about five years until the sandhills were all graded and the seawall was complete. At this point the project was abandoned.)

On March 25th, 1912, in the first phase of site preparation for the Panama Pacific Exposition, a contract was let with SF Bridge Co. to finish up what Fair had begun. A suction dredge, the "John McMullin", floating 300 feet offshore from the seawall, sucked up sand and mud from the bay floor (carefully regulated to be 70% sand and 30% mud) and pumped it through 22" canvas pipe floating on pontoons. Semi-fluid sludge flowed out a breach in the seawall as the sand/mud mixture displaced water in the cove. The John McMullin pumped for 146 days alone, and for 46 days was joined by a second suction dredge, the "Oakland". In all, 1,300,100 cubic yards of material was pumped from the bay.

-- robert bardell (, February 17, 2002.

So let me get this straight, it took them 22 years to fill in the Marina. Man, I wish we could have got these guys signed up with NASA to immediately begin the Mars Terraform Project which it is estimated would take 60 years.

-- Harry Murphy (, February 19, 2002.

What we know as the Marina district was a failed development project, abandoned about 1898, leaving a 70 acre artificial lake, 20 feet deep at high water, enclosed by a seawall. The potential of this site was manifest to the promoters of the Panama Pacific International Exposition, but had New Orleans instead of San Francisco been selected as the World's Fair site, who knows how long the lake would have remained? Once the landfill process commenced, in less than a year, the whole 70 acre site was ready for development. I'll wager it would take at least three times as long today.

-- bob bardell (, February 19, 2002.

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