CHAPTER 3

DISCOVERY OF GOLD. RUSH TO SAN FRANCISCO. BOOM IN WHARF PROPERTY

Gold was discovered in 1848, and nearly every ship that arrived at San Francisco for many months thereafter was deserted by its crew.

During the winter of that year the hulk of the old iron revenue steamer, James K. Polk, was beached at the foot of the bluff near Clarke's Point at the place where Vallejo street now intersects Battery street. This hulk became the foundation of the first real passenger landing stage in San Francisco. A narrow gangplank was laid from her deck to the adjacent shore, and an ordinary passenger gangway ladder was let down over the side to seaward. This was the wharf deluxe of the early days of the gold rush.

The arriving steamer dropped anchor in the adjacent bay, the passengers got into boats that took them to the gangway of the Polk. Up this they climbed to her deck, and thence by the plank on to terra firma.

It was in this manner that the passengers were landed from the pioneer Pacific Mail Liner, California, in February, 1849. It was thus were landed those from her sister liner, the Oregon, a month later, March 31, 1849. It was to this romantic spot that the crowds of pioneers gathered when a steamer was signaled from Telegraph Hill; it was thither practically the entire population flocked to meet the Oregon one October day in 1850 when she brought in the eagerly awaited official announcement that California had been admitted to the Union.

Subsequently the bluff at that point was leveled away, and, on the land filled in where aforetime the James K. Polk was beached, a wharf was built that became the first regular berthing place of the Pacific Mail steamships.

Among the six square-rigged vessels in the harbor in March, 1849, was the brig Euphemia. Two years later, this vessel was purchased out of the first money appropriated by the ayuntamiento, or city council, and was transformed into a prison, the first prison in San Francisco. The Euphemia then lay in the cove off Clay street. To the west of her, inland, was the store ship Apollo, which, like the Niantic, another vessel deserted by her crew, who had bolted to the gold mines, quickly became part of the city itself.

By that date, August, 1849, the gold rush was in full swing, and a new era had opened for California. That new era portended, among other things, that San Francisco was destined to become one of the great entrepots of the world's commerce-the Queen of the Pacific.

As immigrants came crowding in from all over the world, wharves were hastily constructed to accommodate the fleets of shipping. There was then no transcontinental railway. Whatever came into California, whatever California exported, had to be carried over the seas. San Francisco was the only harbor that could be expected to keep pace with the foreseen tremendous development of the new El Dorado.

To return to the original landing place of the Pacific Mail passengers at Vallejo street, it may be mentioned that the locality did not develop so speedily as its fortunes seemed to promise and the Mail steamers soon found another wharf.

It was not until October 1, 1853, that the city granted to Mr. O 'Brien the ten-year lease that expired on October 1, 1863, and authorized tlle building of the Vallejo Street Wharf.

Early in history-such being the amenities of the harbor in those early days-Richard Chandler secured three old hulks of ships deserted in the first year of the gold rush and beached them near the head of the Vallejo Wharf for use as a coal depot.

In the same vicinity, near Vallejo and Battery streets, formerly known as Stone Point, the old iron steamship Sarah Sands, then believed to have been the first iron steamship ever built, was run ashore at some slightly later period and turned into a cheap lodging house.

Near by, on the southwest corner of Vallejo and Front streets, piles were driven about 1851, and a warehouse built of imported bricks was erected by Daniel Fibb, who constructed and owned the India Dock a block to the northward.

Mr. O'Brien, to whom the city granted the franchise and lease for the building Df the Vallejo Street Wharf, seems to have been identified no farther with the enterprise than as far as securing the necessary authorization was concerned. His name does not figure in its future history. Moreover, whereas the city attorney of 1863 reports the lease to have been granted only in October, 1853, we read the following account of the wharf in the Directory for 1853:

 Vallejo Street Wharf-Commenced June, 1853
 Vallejo street, extended east from Front street, ffush 1000 feet by 50 feet
 with an L opening on main wharf, north 350 feet by 50 feet wide.
 Depth of water, 25 feet at low tide.
 Joint stock company, capital $220,000.
 Offlcers-E. P. Flint, president; Charles Minturn, secretary and treasurer;
 Chas. L. Case, H. S. Dexter, John Frane.
 Captain Wm McMichael?, wharfinger

But such details belong to later history.

Apart from the Clarke's Point venture-all the vicinity of the ridge was known as Clarke's Point-two other-small wharves had been built before the summer of 1849. One of these was constructed long before the gold rush, by Wm. A. Feidesdorff, the American. vice counsul at San Francisco, who died in 1848, and after whom Feidesdorff street was named. It ran east from about the line of Feidesdorff street, between Sacramento and California streets. The other was the nucleus of Commercial Street Wharf, that afterwards became famous as Long Wharf. It was a small stage that ran out about 30 feet from Feidesdorff street to where there was about two feet of water at low tide and was a popular boat landing.

These wharves proved such profitable ventures that there was a general scramble for further wharf franchises. Notwithstanding the high cost of construction, the necessity was great and all sorts of exorbitant tolls were paid without a murmur.

Work was vigorously pushed, and in October, 1850, an aggregate of 6000 feet of new wharves had been constructed by various companies and individuals at an outlay computed at $1,000,000, and San Francisco had come to regard herself as a well equipped maritime city.

Much of this construction work, however, had been carried out, hap- hazard, to meet the exigencies of the period, and in many cases without such authority as would be required for such enterprises today.

It was not until May 1, 1851, that the legislature passed the Second Water Lot Bill, so-called, which was the first enactment conferring upon the city of San Francisco the right to construct or cause to be constructed wharves projecting beyond the city line.

By that act the city of San Francisco was authorized and empowered to construct wharves at the end of all streets, commencing with the Bay of San Francisco, the wharves to be made by the extension of said streets into the bay, in their present direction, not exceeding two hundred yards beyond the present outside line of the beach and water lots, and the city is authorized to prescribe the rates of wharfage that shall be collected, and so forth.

By section 2 of the same act, the right of the state to beach and water lot property was relinquished to the city, excepting in respect of such lots as already had been granted to other parties. In this section was concealed the notorious provision referred to in a subsequent chapter, which caused the repeal of the measure the following year.

On the same date was passed the act confirming-the contracts pre- viously made by the commissioners of the Sinking Fund, who had been appointed the previous December, and certain citizens for the construction of the Broadway and Pacific street wharves:

  "Francis Salmon, for the construction of a wharf at the foot of
 Broadway," and "M. R. Roberts and Joseph R. West for the building
 of a wharf at the foot of Pacific street."

  And in that measure it was emphasized that: "Nothing in this act
 shall allow said wharves to be constructed beyond the line of East
 street. "

The act ratifying the contract between the Funded Debt Commissioners and Henry A. Breed and William E. Dennis " in relation to the construction of Market Street Wharf," was passed two days earlier, on April 28, 1851. It consisted of one brief paragraph of about sixty words.

But before the passage of those acts by the legislature at Sacramento, the wharves they concerned were already accomplished facts.

It should be stated, however that some semblance of authority was sought by the projectors of the Commercial Street Wharf, otherwise also variously known as Long Wharf and Central Wharf.

The "Legislative Assembly of the District of San Francisco" organized in March, 1849, and denounced in a proclamation by General Riley, Military Governor of California, on June 4, of the same year, passed an act on May 3, 1849, purporting to be an act of incorporation of "The Central Wharf Joint Stock Company of San Francisco" for ninety-nine years from May 1, 1849, "for the purpose.of building and keeping in repair a wharf, to run from some point in Montgomery street between Clay and Sacramento streets, to the ships' channel, in front of said town.'

This act was confirmed by the ayuntamiento of the pueblo of San Francisco on December 24th same year. But that body had no more power to confirm the act than the legislative assembly had to pass the original measure.

On September 22,1851, however, when the wharf had been operating for two years, the mayor and common council of the city authorized the Central Wharf Company "to complete their wharf out to deep water, pursuant to their charter confirmed to them by the ayuntamiento, as speedily as possible."

Leidesdorf's little landing stage, adjacent to his own warehouse on the beach at what is now Leidesdorf street just north of Sacramerlto street, was the first structure built into the water for landing purposes in what was then known as Yerba Buena.

Commercial Street Wharf was the first wharf constructed by a company to meet the requirements of deep-water shipping. Its origin is thus described by William Heath Davis, its first treasurer, in his "Sixty Years in California":

 In 1849 the first wharf was built in San Francisco, known as Central Wharf, so
 named from Central Wharf of Boston. It was located where Commercial street is
 now, commencing a little to the west of Sansome street, and running 400 feet into
 the bay. W. D. Howard was one of the most active movers in this enterprise, and
 owned a large amount of the stock. The wharf proved to be useful, and was &
 valuable piece of property, bringing in a large income. At the public sale of tide
 lands by Alcalde Hyde, in October, 1849, Mellus and Howard bought the block
 bounded by Clay, Sacramento, Sansome and Battery streets, and they gave the
 company a slip of land about thirty-five feet wide for the building of the wharf.
 Its construction and use enhanced the value of the remainder of the block, and
 increased the wealth of the firm.

 Afterward, in 1849, the alcalde with the approval of the ayuntamiento granted
 to the Central Wharf Company a block of tide land east of this block, and the wharf
 was extended to Front street the same width as the portion before built. In 1950
 Colonel J. D. Stevenson and Dr. W. C. Parker secured the title to the block in
 front of that just mentioned, bounded by Front, Clay, Davis and Sacramento streets
 and they granted to the Central Wharf Company, for a consideration, a strip the
 width of the wharf for a further extension, which was made as far as where Davis
 street now is. After that the city gave the company the right of way as far as
 Drumm street, and the wharf was built to that point.

 The first section of wharf extending to Battery street cost $110,000 and from
 Battery to Drumm $200,000. On the organization of the wharf company a. v. Gil-
 lespie was elected president, and I was chosen treasurer. At the first meeting after
 the organization I reported having collected $23,000 from the stockholders. The
 stock was paid for as soon as subscribed. At the second meeting I reported that the
 subscriptions had all been paid in, amounting to $200,000. I then relinquished my
 position as treasurer, having more business on hand of my own than I could find
 time to attend to. I had accepted the position at first solely to oblige Howard.

 From the time of the building of the first portion, the wharf became an important
 feature of the city- and in the winter of 1849-50 it presented a scene of bustle and
 activity, day after day, such as, I presume, hardly has been equalled elsewhere in
 the world at any time.

An immense fleet of vessels from all parts of the globe, numbering eight to nine hnndred, were anchored in the bay, east of the city between Clarke's Point (now about Broadway) and the Rincon (now about Harrison street), presenting a very striking picture-like an immense forest stripped of its foliage.

The Central Wharf being the only one in the city, was the thoroughfare for com- munication with the vessels, and was crowded from morning until night with drays and wagons coming and g oing. Sailors, miners, and others of all nationalities, speaking a great variety of tongues, moved busily about, steamers were arriving and departing, schooners were taking in merchandise for the mines, boats were crowding in here and there-the whole resembling a great beehive, where at first glance everything appeared to be noise, confusion and disorder.

By the time the ordinance authorizing its completion was passed, in 1851, Commercial Street Wharf had already become Long Wharf, and had ten times more business offering than it could handle.

Market Street Wharf was extended from Battery street 600 feet into the bay. California Street Wharf ran out 600 feet to join the Market street structure.

Sacramento Street Wharf ran out 880 feet from Leidesdorff street. Clay Street Wharf 900 feet, Washington Street Wharf 275 feet, Jackson Street Wharf 552 feet, Pacific Street Wharf 525 feet and Broadway Wharf 250 feet, to the line of Davis street, away beyond the original rocky ledge of Clarke's Point. Vessels drawing 20 feet of water could then dock at its outer end.

Cunningham's Wharf ran out from Battery street between Vallejo and Green streets, and ended in a T.

In the early fifties, the Pacific Mail Steamship used the Broadway Wharf, as above mentioned, and it beeame a great rendezvous for the entire populace on steamer day. The " Independent " and " Opposition " lines, so-called, used the same wharf at that period.

The Oakland and Sacramento steamers, as well as the Marysville lines, berthed at the P'acific Street Wharf, which thus became the gateway to the Barbary Coast.

Other wharves north of Cunningham's were Law's Wharf, off Union street, and Cowell's Wharf, off Gilbert street.

Some of the above mentioned wharves were built under leases from the municipality, others under leases from the Funded Debt Commissioners. Still others seem to have been but extensions made on their own responsibility by owners of water lots.

Back to [Chapter 2]

Ahead to [Chapter 4]