by Frank Dunnigan
In the course of rebuilding after the 1906 Earthquake and Fire, civic leaders proposed many infrastructure improvements that were approved by voters. It is an understatement to say that these projects changed the face of San Francisco mostly for the better—with a one notable exception from the 1950s. Likewise, over the years, many other changes have also greatly impacted life in San Francisco. Several weeks ago, I went Deep Underground in the Western Neighborhoods in my Streetwise column for Outsidelands.org. Now, I’m going deep underground in the rest of the City.
Construction of the Stockton Street Tunnel, designed to link North Beach and Chinatown to the downtown business district, began in July of 1913 and was opened to traffic in December of 1914. The completion of the Central Subway from Mission Bay to Chinatown (ground was broken in 2010, and revenue service is now set to begin sometime in 2023) includes a portion that runs deep beneath the Stockton Street Tunnel—thus creating the unique situation of having parallel tunnels—constructed in different centuries, one on top of the other—serving different modes of transportation.
Rare 1915 view of the inside of the Twin Peaks Tunnel under construction, while looking toward the East Portal from the area near 18th & Hattie Streets. The 2.27 mile tunnel would open for streetcar service on February 3, 1918.
Interior of the University Mound Reservoir under construction in the Portola neighborhood in 1924. This allowed for significant new home construction in the surrounding area. A second reservoir basin was added to the site as a New Deal project in the 1930s.
Construction of the East Portal of the Duboce (Sunset) Tunnel in 1926. The image clearly shows the neighborhood disruption caused by equipment, materials, and debris along Duboce Avenue at left and in Duboce Park at right. In addition to the Twin Peaks Tunnel, this tunnel also spurred home construction in several areas.
In order to control flooding in the low-lying areas of San Francisco, Islais Creek was largely diverted into a concrete culvert by the 1930s. This area is adjacent to the present day Alemany Interchange of the US-101 and Interstate 280 freeways.
Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, automobile traffic was on the rise throughout San Francisco. The downtown area was seriously impacted by the increase in vehicles and the growing need for off-street parking facilities. In 1939, excavation began on construction of a multi-story underground garage beneath Union Square that opened two years later. The structure is regarded as the world’s first underground public parking garage.
In 1949, the scene from Bayview Hill showed an open stretch of San Francisco Bay. A decade later, this spot had been filled in, with construction underway on what was originally known as Candlestick Park that opened in April of 1960. See some of the ideas that have been proposed for the area following the Park’s 2014-15 demolition.
Constructed in the years just after World War II, San Francisco’s first sewage treatment plant opened in 1951 at Bay Street and The Embarcadero, and was the City’s only treatment plant until 1983. With additional facilities in operation, this plant has been renovated and now processes only storm water.
The quarry at Diamond Heights, shown here in 1957, often became a large muddy lake following rainstorms. The site was filled with earth graded from other parts of the development and now lies deep beneath the 1960s neighborhood of homes and businesses.
Construction of Brooks Hall—now a little-used 90,000-square-foot exhibit space beneath the southern portion of Civic Center Plaza—is shown here in 1957. Originally designed to be an extension of Civic Auditorium, the space was the City’s prime convention venue until the 1981 opening of Moscone Center. A multi-story underground parking garage was constructed beneath the north side of the plaza at right a few years later.
San Francisco’s most-hated element of civic infrastructure has to have been the Embarcadero Freeway, shown here while under construction in 1958. The original plan called for a freeway connection between the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge that would have included elevated, surface, and subterranean portions. Damaged by the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, it was eventually demolished in 1991 after much civic discussion.
Interstate 280 freeway construction in San Francisco saw the loss of hundreds of relatively modern (mostly 1930s construction) homes that were in the path of the new roadway. This once-quiet neighborhood now lies beneath I-280 near the Monterey Boulevard on-ramp.
BART construction, long-envisioned by local governments, was approved by voters in 1962. Construction on the Market Street segment commenced in 1967 and continued for six long years until revenue service began nearly 50 years ago in November of 1973, with Transbay service commencing in September of 1974.
Buildings being demolished on Mission Street between 3rd and 4th for Moscone Center, March 1980. (wnp119.00034; Meg Oldman, photographer – Meg Oldman Collection / Courtesy of Glen Park Neighborhoods History Project)
The San Francisco Redevelopment Agency claimed the South-of-Market neighborhood in the 1960s and 1970s and began demolition of the housing and commercial buildings in this area for what was then to be known as the Yerba Buena Convention Center. When the first building opened in 1981, it was named for Mayor George Moscone who had been assassinated in 1978. Much of the center was built below grade level in order to minimize neighborhood impact and sight lines. The Moscone Center has now expanded to three city blocks and has undergone significant renovations since opening.