Urban Hiking (with History Lesson)

Last Sunday, I took the facinating Dogpatch/Potrero Point walking tour with the SF CityGuides.


We began at 18th and Tennessee, right where the coast line used to be (now it’s 4+ landfilled blocks before you reach the water), and walked up Tennesee past the old church turned spaghetti factory turned apartment building. At 19th, we walked west to Minnesota St. after the guides mentioned that the church on top of Potrero Hill used to be at this location before economic downturn led the parishioners to roll the church up the hill to its current location (there used to be a ramp where 19th St. is, up the hill!).
On Minnesota St, we could have turned right and been at my old loft (cannery building turned live/work loft) but instead headed to Esprit Park and past the old Esprit warehouse (yes, the 1980s preppie clothing Esprit– apparently founded by 2 SF hippies out of their car in the 70s, they turned into a global conglomerate and put their headquarters in Dogpatch). I’d always wondered what the abandoned warehouse used to be– walking up the 20th street bridge, you pass right by the 3rd floor encased glass room that looked perfect for cocktail parties. Apparently they also had yoga rooms and other hippie-ish benefits.
We walked down Minnesota St, past all the “Pelton” cottages that were built for $900 each in the early 20th century to house all the workers for the industry in the area. Next stop was the MUNI office, which is the spot that they build 1 new cable car each year, (the plans for the cars are passed down orally since the written plans were burned in a fire) and you can see the cable car under construction if you peer through the windows.
Turning up 22nd and into Tennesee again, we walked past the old rope factory that used to stretch 6 blocks into the bay so that workers could walk the line and entertwine hemp to fashion huge thick ship ropes. Naturally a peek down this alley wouldn’t be complete without a quick stop at the Frisco Hells Angels clubhouse. Someone had altered the ‘Not a Through Street’ sign to say “Not a Rough Street”– hilarious!
Up 22nd past the Dogpatch saloon and crossing over 3rd street past what used to be American Can Company, we reached Potrero Point and the remnants of Irish Hill. Irish Hill used to be an actual hill that dropped off into the bay, but since the early 20th century, had been razed. Spreckles the sugar king had built his own power company to belch smoke in retailiation for the smoke from the other power company dirtying his building.
Deeper in Potrero Point, the shipbuilding factory and current drydocks were observed. President McKinley’s last major public appearance before his assassination was the launching of the U.S.S. Ohio from this shipyard. Eventually bought by Bethlehem Steel, which went bankrupt in the 70s after its Defense Dept. contracts dried up. Thus several abandoned administrative buildings, and the entire Pier 70 purchased by the city for $1 to be used for public good.