Mighty Life List
Mar 24 2010

Mighty Life List: Market Street Tour

Yesterday was so good. It was gorgeous, I got dressed up cute to celebrate the sunshine, and Karen was in from Houston. I met her and a few friends downtown for breakfast, and afterward I called Jordan for a quick coffee at the St. Francis while I waited to take my first city tour.

It was the Market Street tour thorough San Francisco City Guides, a non-profit that hosts dozens of free walking tours. If you live here or plan to visit, I recommend them; I learned a lot.

For example, San Francisco is the second most densely populated American city after NYC. It’s mostly built on sand, and half the Financial District used to be underwater. When they do construction downtown, they sometimes unearth ships. This city is like a fairy tale.

Also, I had no idea that this view of the Ferry Building was blocked by the Embarcadero Freeway until 1989. The Loma Prieta earthquake made it unstable, and it was demolished. Farewell freeway.

Some of the buildings on Market Street are triangular because Market cuts across the city street grid on a diagonal, creating triangular lots and confusing the hell out of newcomers trying to get oriented.

I’d never noticed this plaque several blocks up from the bay that indicates where the shoreline used to be. During the rush, the bay was filling with abandoned ships and garbage, so the city began to sell “water lots” with the understanding that they’d eventually be filled in with dirt atop the rubbish.

The Shell Building was erected in 1939. After its construction, the war precluded plans for any new skyscrapers for thirty years. The next one went up in 1959 right across the street:

It was at 1 Bush Street, and it was the city’s first glass shell building. Look at how dramatically architecture changed in those thirty years. You can see the Shell Building’s reflection in 1 Bush’s panes. Neat, huh?

The De Young Building was San Francisco’s first skyscraper, and it was built in 1890. In 1962, it was covered with a glass “skin” to modernize it, sort of like the building at 1 Bush. In 2007 it was restored, and the architect who revealed the original face called it the architectural equivalent of raising the Titanic, which is awesome, if a little self congratulatory.

In 1875, a Shirley Temple-type child star named Lotta Crabtree dedicated Lotta’s Fountain as a thank you gift to the city. After the 1906 earthquake, San Franciscans gathered here to find loved ones. Now survivors and San Franciscans gather every year at 5:12 a.m. on April 18th to commemorate the date and celebrate the city’s survival. That’s just a few weeks away, so set your alarm clocks.

One tour down, four to go. This is fun.

As always, a big thank you to Verizon Wireless for sponsoring my Mighty Life List. They’re helping me work toward “Knowing San Francisco like the back of my hand,” and they also gave me a Palm Pre Plus. I used it to take notes on this tour and to take a bunch of the photos, including the one of the Shell Building, which is my favorite. Thanks, guys.