Issue 515July 2012

Urban Field Notes: Artifacts of the Waterfront

On San Francisco's central and southern waterfront, evidence of an era gone by.

Urbanist Article July 10, 2012

The landscape of the central and southern waterfront is rapidly changing. We have witnessed the transformation of the ballpark/China Basin warehouse area, the marshes of Mission Bay, and on the horizon, Pier 70 and Hunters Point Shipyard. It’s fascinating to watch and experience the “edge” of the city migrate, including layers of San Francisco’s Industrial Era infrastructure being revamped, making way for urban developments of the Information Era.  

Although the waterfront between Crane Cove Park and Herons Head Park appears desolate, there are considerable activities on Port-owned land making this a very active waterfront for heavy-industrial uses. Sections of this working waterfront are littered with an amazing collection of artifacts of an era gone by. There’s a certain quality of craftsmanship, detail and overall character that represents a distinct period in the city’s history and culture. The fate of these items — buildings, stacks, cranes, rail lines and cobble — is unknown. Perhaps once removed, they may be forgotten when future master plans infill these landscapes. We found many of these items to be art, in their own sense, while also being important artifacts of the city's once very active port. It would be wonderful to see these structures or materials be purposely reused or incorporated for these future master planned spaces. San Francisco has some wonderful examples of adaptive reuse of historic structures. We’re curious to watch how the transformation of these large land tracts successfully develops the next layer of history and builds upon that in situ. Could we ever see a cobbled alley or plaza, made with original San Francisco blocks, in the new Pier 70 neighborhood? Where will the “edge” of our city be in another 20 years?
We thought it would be nice to share some artifacts — officially or unofficially historic — that intrigue us as objects in forgotten landscapes.
Layers of history: Deteriorating industrial landscape in the foreground, new UCSF campus in the mid-ground and the Bay Bridge in the background.
Industrial landscape meets natural landscape at the edge of the city: Industrial building in an overgrown landscape.
Architectural details: Deteriorating brick factory or waterfront storage facility.
The past reasserts itself: Cobble stones peeking through the asphalt.
Social media of the past: A bulletin board for the dry dock at Pier 70.
Energy of the past, present and future: The power plant stack.
Remnants of the industrial landscape: A mystical contraption in the sky — what is it?
About the Authors: 

 Jim Jacobs and Katie Daniels work at Gensler.

Photos by Jim Jacobs and Katie Daniels

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