News & Tall Tales. 1800s.
June 1, 1853, Daily Alta California, San Francisco
Have we a Grumbler Among us?
"D -- -- n your wharves," was the polite salutation given me the other evening for assisting a gentleman out of a "man trap," into which he had plunged thigh deep. He had not even broken his leg, and I told him that a "barked" shin was of no consequence, he ought to be thankful that he had not lost his life. "I'll sue your city for damages, d -- -- n me if I don't," was his reply. (He evidently thought, from the rotundity of my vest, that I was an Alderman.) I was about to leave him as a surly growler under the influence of bad digestion; no doubt he had eaten an ill-cooked steak or a cold dinner, or had drank some of -- -- 's "table claret." But my new acquaintance was not to be so easily shaken of, and an Alderman is not caught every day by the ears, " in flagrante delicta." "Why, sir," said he, "I can take two men, a cart and a few planks, and thoroughly repair every murder hole in your city in three days time," and yet your Aldermen are too lazy or fear the expense!" (he put a peculiar emphasis on this word). "If only one leg is yet to be broken by these holes the city would be well rewarded for any labor they might take to save that one leg; but the experience of the past proves that unless something be done, dozens of lives will be lost ' sir, sir, 'tis sure as fate that a man is now on his way here, plowing the sea for thousands of miles, in order to dive into one of these holes for a grave. Ponder that, Mr. Alderman." "Pooh, pooh," said I, "neither you nor your man need come here. We can take care of ourselves." But the surly individual would thrust his notions upon me. He imagined himself a modern Themistocles! He could evidently build a city himself.
When we had arrived at the Plaza he inquired if this was not a suburb of the city!
Then he thought the people ought to water their streets more, (just as if we had time to throw away on such trifles). Another wise suggestion was that the occupant of every house should be compelled to keep two or three casks of water in the upper story of his residence, so as to check the first outbreak of a fire ' but here I begged him not to compromise me by making any hints that could in the most relate to "the fire department," as he might be overheard. It is an axiom, that the king of England and "The Department" San Francisco cannot do wrong. He quietly acknowledged our firemen to be the most efficient in the world. The next began to find fault with our treatment of foreigners; how they were driven from the mines, how frequently insulted &c., and was regaling me with a long story about a poor Chinese having his eyes "bunged" by a potato, as he landed, and how the influence of that potato would extend to relations and acquaintances innumerable in the celestial kingdom and so on ' when I took advantage of an alarm of "the bells" to slip away from him. But I leave to you Messrs. Editors, if there is not a Grumbler among us.
June 7, 1863, Daily Alta California, San Francisco
The Water Front of San Francisco.
The waterfront of San Francisco is an estate of immense value, but it has been managed in a most improper, incompetent, dishonest and disgraceful manner. The entire front ought to be under the control or supervision of one board; there ought to be a firm and durable sea wall, belonging to the State, and extending the whole length of the front; there ought to be a sufficient depth of water to accommodate large ships at the main wharves; there ought to be a uniform rate of tolls; there ought to be a regular percentage paid, from all the tolls collected, into a public fund for the repair of old wharves, the construction of new ones, and the dredging of the slips; and there ought to be a complete and clear record of all the important facts relative to the material, legal and pecuniary condition of every part of the water front. It requires no argument to prove that these things ought to be done; it requires very little research to ascertain that they are not. The mismanagement commenced thirteen years ago and will not soon be ended. The last Legislature created a Board of Harbor Commissioners, who are to take charge of the water front, and they may do great good to the city and State by an honest and competent discharge of their duties; but they have no trifling task before them.
That portion of the water front of San Francisco now used by vessels for receiving and discharging cargo is a mile and two-fifths in length, extending from Hathaway's wharf at Rincon Point, on the south, to Lombard Dock at North Point, on the north. On this line all the shipping business of the harbor is done; or if anything is done at the North Beach or in Mission Bay beyond these limits, it is so little as scarcely to deserve attention. The line of this water front now in use is nearly straight, running in a northwest and southeastern direction. The line may be laid off into certain divisions:
- From Hathaway's Wharf to Folsom street Wharf, one sixth of a mile. This part of the water front has never been leased by the city, and pays no rent to it.
- Between Folsom and Market street Wharves, one fourth of a mile (except at Mission), which is occupied by lumbermen's piers, built on private property. The piers pay no revenue to the public Treasury.
- Market street to Vallejo Wharves, two fifths of a mile. In this district are the Market, Commercial, Clay, Washington, Jackson, Pacific, Broadway, and Vallejo Wharves, which, with the Folsom and Mission Wharves, yield all the revenue paid into the public Treasury from the waterfront. The wharves, from Mission to Vallejo, inclusive, extend out about six hundred feet into the water.
- From Vallejo street to Lombard Dock is two-fifths of a mile, including Minturn's, Cunningham's and Shaw's Wharves, and Indian, Greenwich, and Lombard Docks. The Town Council, in 1850, authorized the construction of Cunningham's Wharf, and the City Council, in 1853, authorized the construction of Lombard Dock; but no valid contract now in force was made in either case, and neither wharf now pays anything to the city.
About two-thirds of the city front is held and used by private parties for their exclusive profit. From Vallejo to Lombard Dock, two-fifths of a mile, and from Market street to Hathaway's Wharf, three-fifths of a mile, all is in the hands of private parties, without payment to the city, save Folsom and Mission Wharves. Besides, a considerably part of the district between Market and Vallejo Wharves, is in the possession of squatters, who occupy East street, and use it for storing wood or grain, or for receiving and discharging cargo.
The wharf system is full of confusion, and serious wrong results, as a consequence, to the public. Many of the wharves are almost useless. Property, in many places along the city front, has little value permanent improvements cannot be erected; and large vessels cannot come up to the wharves. The buildings are rickety and the wharves unsafe. Those who have managed to get possession of the water front with little cost, reap a profit, while they who bought honestly have to suffer.
Between Clay and Jackson streets, there is no East street. The space supposed to be dedicated for a street, 130 feet wide, was seized, under a Peter Smith sale, and the Supreme Court has decided that they have a good title, and there never was any sufficient dedication of the place for a street. If, therefore, the Harbor Commissioners are to have any control along there, the Legislature must create an East street outside of the private property.
Near North Point, the question of the position of the water line, has been thrown into some doubt by the act, in which a fraudulent interpolation was made to confirm Alcalde grants below low-water mark.
Of course where a man owns a lot which borders on the open waters of the bay, he cannot be prevented from using his lot as a wharf, and collecting such tolls and charges as he may see fit to levy. Now, it so happens that along a considerable portion of the water front, private lots do border legally, or practically, on the open bay. But from Folsom street wharf to Market street, East street has never been built up, and, therefore, the lumbermen there have their piers on their own land, and can disembark their lumber there without paying any revenue to the city. All that district might be brought under the jurisdiction of the Harbor Commissioners by building East street ' not otherwise.
There would be no injustice in this. East street was set apart for the water front, and the purchasers of the water lots between East and Steuart streets, did not buy with the expectation of having access to the open water. There is no good reason why lumber should not pay toll like domestic grain and foreign merchandise. It is probably that if East street were built up, the lumber yards would move to Mission Bay, near the line of Fourth street, where they would find accommodations as good, and be as near their customers as where they now are. The increase in the value of the lots now occupied, would more than pay for the trouble and loss of removal. In these places where private individuals own or hold a wharf or lot which borders directly on the open bay, the Legislature should create a street outside, and thus secure the possession of the water front.
Whoever has occasion to look into the legal and pecuniary condition of the wharves, will find that information is not to be obtained without much labor; and, on many points, cannot be obtained at all. Of a thousand important facts, one may be found in one place, and another in another, but the officers of the city government do not seem to have considered it their duty to collect all the facts together, and arrange them in a comprehensive report, by an examination of which any person might master the whole subject in a few minutes.
We shall recur to the topic again in a day or two.