Panoramic view across Richmond district 1901 San Francisco History Collection

 From Sand Dunes to the City by the Bay

(Fourth in series of stories supplementing the upcoming public television documentary)

San Francisco, with its Mediterranean climate, and annual rainfall of about 22 inches, was once over 7 miles of sand dunes that stretched from Ocean Beach to what is now the Financial District. In 1847, Union Square was a 60 to 80-foot sand dune, known then as O’Farrell’s Mountain after the surveyor Jasper O’Farrell who documented the area.  Golden Gate Park was a vast dessert of dunes as high as 200 feet.  The Richmond, as we know it today, was nothing more than a desolate wind-swept area of shifting sand.

In the 1860’s when the City felt the need for a public park, William Hammond Hall and his assistant John McLaren, devised a plan for Golden Gate Park. The design not only created a public space, but it reclaimed land, replacing the dunes with over 155,000 trees planted by 1879.

To create the City by the Bay envisioned by the land barons who built San Francisco, an infrastructure for delivering water to the land was needed.  After Lobos Creek in the Presidio and Pilarcitos Creek south of the City could no longer accommodate the city’s water demands, so San Francisco acquired the Alameda Creek Watershed.  But it would not be long before this too proved inadequate and they started to look to the rivers of the Sierra Nevada and settled on the Tuolumne River.

Soon after securing a reliable water supply, the sand dunes would be transformed into the City by the Bay. Today the continuing population growth in the Bay Area as well as an aging of the water system continue to challenge the City to find ways to ensure .  San Francisco would not be the jewel it is today had it not been for the visionaries who could the see the future beneath the sand dunes.

Sand Dunes of Ocean Beach, circa 1886

Coming Spring 2018
Water From The Wilderness: From Hetch Hetchy To San Francisco Bay
Produced by Jim Yager Media


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