by Frank Dunnigan
Recent rains following a prolonged drought have served to remind us that weather moves in cycles. The lengthy dry spell of the past few years was very similar to the drought that was experienced locally in the late 1970s – followed by some very rainy years in the early 1980s. Eventually, things change, so the recent examples of flooding and storm damage in many areas of San Francisco are nothing new, with numerous past events clearly documented in the OpenSFHistory photo archive.
View east overlooking Gray’s Quarry and the northeast face of Telegraph Hill, December 24, 1914. (wnp36.00636; photo by Horace Chaffee/SF Department of Public Works / Courtesy of a Private Collector)
Rock slides in the old quarry on Telegraph Hill were a part of winter weather, as shown here in December of 1914.
Islais Creek Flood, view north from 3rd Street (then Railroad Avenue) and Hudson, January 14, 1916. (wnp36.01160; photo by Horace Chaffee/SF Department of Public Works / Courtesy of a Private Collector)
Heavy rains in January of 1916 caused significant flooding along Islais Creek as runoff meandered through multiple low-lying San Francisco neighborhoods, including this scene in the India Basin area.
View south on Yukon Street near Short, January 21, 1919. (wnp36.01960; photo by Horace Chaffee/SF Department of Public Works / Courtesy of a Private Collector)
Heavy winter rains in January of 1919 resulted in rivers of mud along many San Francisco streets that were still unpaved in the years following World War I.
View east from the Mission Street Viaduct showing construction on the Alemany Storm Drain (culvert of Islais Creek); old Ocean Shore Railway route visible at left, May 14, 1930. (wnp36.04506; photo by Horace Chaffee/SF Department of Public Works / Courtesy of a Private Collector)
Islais Creek continued to produce widespread local flooding in many low-lying areas of San Francisco until the Alemany storm drain project was completed in the 1930s. Even today, with the creek enclosed in a concrete culvert (shown under construction here), there are periodic difficulties impacting homes and businesses along the path of the old creek, particularly in areas adjacent to Alemany Boulevard near Ocean Avenue.
See more photos of the construction of the Alemany storm drain.
Flooded street view looking east on Market Street from Church Street, circa 1930s. (wnp30.0091; Emiliano Echeverria/Randolph Brandt Collection / Courtesy of Emiliano Echeverria)
The low-lying intersection of Church and Market Streets has long experienced flooding during the rainy season, as shown here in the 1930s.
15th near Beaver Streets in Corona Heights, May 9, 1936. (wnp27.7346; Courtesy of a Private Collector)
Rock slides have periodically threatened homes in several areas of San Francisco, in both rainy and dry weather, including these Corona Heights homes, pictured in 1936.
Flooding in intersection at Market and Church Streets, January 21, 1941. (wnp26.2017; Courtesy of a Private Collector)
Church and Market continued to be a notorious intersection that was prone to frequent flooding in the 1940s. The situation improved somewhat in the 1970s when the Muni Metro subway was built. High-capacity pumps were added to the infrastructure of Church Street station, but recent news reports still indicate flooding of the intersection and the station during periods of heavy rain in January 2023.
Men sweeping water from flood away from doorway of liquor store, unknown location but possibly near Church and Market Streets, circa 1940s. (wnp26.2005; Courtesy of a Private Collector)
Store workers attempt to remove standing rainwater in an unknown location, possibly near Church and Market Streets.
(Psst! Can you help us verify the location of this photo? If you think you know, click on the “Contact us about this image” button on this page.)
View northeast from the Cow Palace yards toward the intersection of Geneva and Calgary Streets, showing tents from the Grand National Livestock Exposition, November 19, 1946. (wnp27.7953; Courtesy of a Private Collector)
Rains in November of 1946 damaged tents near the Cow Palace on Geneva Avenue.
View east on Clara between 5th and 6th Streets, February 1940. (wnp26.2036; Courtesy of a Private Collector)
Parts of the South of Market neighborhood and the Mission District were re-graded and filled repeatedly in earlier years, and are subject to flooding during periods of heavy rain, including Clara Street near 6th Street, shown here in 1947.
View north from Red Rock Hill Quarry, April 1957. (wnp14.4139; SF Redevelopment Agency / Courtesy of a Private Collector)
Prior to the grading and subsequent development of Diamond Heights in the 1960s, rainwater would collect in the old Red Rock Hill Quarry, shown here in 1957.
See another 300+ photos of the development of the Diamond Heights neighborhood over time.
View from stands over an empty Candlestick Park towards Hunters Point Naval Shipyard, December 1961. (wnp25.6812; Courtesy of a Private Collector)
Rainy weather sometimes caused flooding in the parking lots of Candlestick Park, as shown here in December of 1961.
See another 300+ images of Candlestick Park in its various configurations.