Mighty Life List: Market Street Tour

24th March 2010

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.

21 thoughts on “Mighty Life List: Market Street Tour

  1. S. Romeo

    Thank you for sharing this, Maggie! So informative. I have lived in NYC for almost 4 years and I’m only now realizing how much I have to learn. I hope your San Fran project will push me to tour more of the Big Apple.

  2. Jen

    ah the architecture! I am going to look into these tours for my next visit to San Fran. I love that you are doing posts about exploring your city.
    I have a lot of NYC related activities on my list and am hoping to knock some of them out in August after the bar exam. I lived in NYC until college and there are so many things I haven’t done. Exploring where we live is so important and a lot of people never take the time to. There was an article in the Times recently citing some statistics about how infrequently people explore their own home cities.
    We all need to get out there and appreciate and explore where we live!

  3. Kate

    When I read the title of this post I was thinking Market street like between 6th and 10th or something and I was like “who wants to tour that? It is so yucky”… but this is actually really cool, even if you live here!

  4. amy

    I grew up in SF now live in Boston. You cannot appreciate the difference in the waterfront of not having that elevated freeway running through it! I was 23 when that earthquake hit. For many years events in my life where marked as before or after the earthquake.

  5. Andrea V. Lewis

    I left my heart in San Francisco. No, seriously! Born and raised in the Bay Area (East Bay – Concord), I currently reside in Los Angeles. Your pictures remind my how special and unique the city is. Oh hope one day to make it back to the promise land…

  6. Coleen

    I was in SF last month, and absolutely fell in love with the city. I could have spent my bank account on the eclairs at Miette in the Ferry building alone. We of course did most of the touristy things (Scoma, cable car), but we did walk down Washington back to the Embarcadero. I dearly loved the entire weekend and hope to get back there again soon so that I can spend more time investigating the area.

  7. Michelle

    I love taking tours of the places I live. And it looks like you learned a lot! (I know I did — I never noticed that plaque marking the shore line either!)

  8. Nora

    My favorite plaque is the one on the Embarcadero that marks where there are shipwrecks right below your feet. So cool.

    I also love the plaques that show where the freeway supports used to be — it’s hard to imagine anyone ever thought that was a good idea.

  9. Megan

    Sounds like a very nice day. I used to work down at the corner of Battery and Clay. They discovered a ship nearby during construction. I just wish they had actually re-buried like they said they did.

  10. Vee

    I love wandering around cities looking at old architecture.

    Hey, Maggie, just so your sponsor knows, this thing is working for ’em. Shortly after I saw your dog-sledding post, I went into a Verizon store and upgraded my ancient LG phone (circa 2002, I think) to a BlackBerry Storm. Pretty sure the two are related.

  11. kristen

    Thanks for sharing! So cool to read this post today after I spent part of yesterday walking in that area and hanging out in the Ferry Building.

    Off topic, but do you know the Randall Museum? The hill behind it has a spectacular view of the city, and the children’s museum itself is free.

  12. Maggeh

    Kristen, we’re at the Randall Museum all the time actually. The giant food fight was in the park with the spectacular view, and we were engaged on that hill.

    Vee, thanks so much for saying so! Hooray for Verizon!

    Amy, I remember the quake too. I was living in Sacramento at the time. My cousin was starting a job in downtown SF and felt the tremors before anyone realized what was happening. She ran out into the street yelling, “EARTHQUAKE!” and then stood there for a minute panicking that folks would think she was the nutzo new girl. When the quake really hit, I think she was oddly relieved.

  13. Marie

    Just moved from Boston to Alameda and can’t wait to try these tours out when we have visitors from the East Coast! Thanks, Lady! :)

  14. Snithia

    Sigh. Was a San Fran-ner from 1986-1998. Sigh.

    So, Maggie, have you ever been to the Audium? You might want to put it on your SF list if you’ve never been. Was years before I finally went, but boy oh boy…a UNIQUE experience.

    http://www.audium.org/

    Recently my stepson checked it out and reported back: it’s still awesome, strange, eccentric and a tad worn around the edges, but still very SF and UNIQUE!

    Living elsewhere is good (even great!)…but thinking about San Francisco is like thinking about an old relationship from one’s most romantic youth.

  15. kristen

    Oh cool! I absolutely love that hill. I just discovered it this week and I climbed it yesterday. Turns out my uncle moved into a house a few doors up from that parking lot. I wish I’d known his location earlier – I could’ve visited and gone to your food fight!

  16. Daily Cup of Jo

    Yeah, the Ferry Building used to be a big nothing. It was dark down there because of the freeway ramp that hovered over and then dumped out onto Embarcadero. Now, running down that way and stopping into the Ferry Building to enjoy all the food stalls – I’m happy just thinking about it. Love the idea of the walking tour. Make sure you get up to Coit Tower for a spectacular view.

    Enjoy. I LOVE SAN FRANCISCO!

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