Map: Here’s what San Francisco looked like in 1856

SF Market Scoop

March 23, 2018

Map: Here’s what San Francisco looked like in 1856

In 1848, when news of gold in the California River first touched off a frenzy in America, San Francisco was home to only about 1,000 people.

Within two years the city swelled to some 25,000, a “speedy transition from a city of tents and shacks to one of brick and stone buildings, architecturally on a par with those of Atlantic seaboard cities,” as the history site SF Museum puts it.

But what did the rough and tumble “Instant City” look like in those day? It can be hard to imagine, since so much of 19th century San Francisco was lost to the 1906 earthquake.

A series of photos from 1856—the year San Francisco County formed and first distinguished itself from San Mateo County, by which time SF was populated at roughly 30,000—shows a resolute and established metro by the bay, one that looks as if it had spent decades percolating.

These scenes, photographed by G.R. Fardon, appear in a number of collections, but in this case have been licensed to Curbed SF by Southern Methodist Univeristy’s DeGolyer Library in Dallas, Texas, here applied to a modern map to create a tactile sense of San Francisco as it existed at the height of gold fever.

(Note that locations are approximate and modern street addresses are used to get map locales on the same block as historical sites rather than to pinpoint them precisely.)

For more historic imagery of Baghdad by the Bay, check out Curbed SF’s 10 oldest photos of San Franciscorare photos of days before the 1906 quake, and 150 years of Dolores Park.

1 View of Alcatraz

Before the jailhouse rocked.

San Francisco
CA 94133
(415) 561-4900

2 North Beach, from Telegraph Hill

A look at a bald North Beach.

North Beach
San Francisco, CA

3 View down Stockton Street

Looking north toward Marin.

1701 Stockton St
San Francisco, CA 94133

4 Telegraph Hill (as seen from Stockton and Sacramento)

A populated little hamlet in one of they city’s most charming neighborhoods.

Telegraph Hill
San Francisco, CA

5 Russian Hill, from Telegraph Hill

Another scene of homes dotting the landscape.

Russian Hill
San Francisco, CA

6 Montgomery Street (east side)

Most of these dwellings are no longer standing.

Montgomery St
San Francisco, CA

7 Kearny Street

Got to love that hardware store signage. Simple, elegant.

Kearny St
San Francisco, CA

8 Custom House

The current historical Custom House on Battery Street dates to 1911. This previous Battery Street locale was possibly the first seismically retrofitted building in U.S. history.

444 Washington St
San Francisco, CA 94111

9 Merchants’ Exchange

The first of three Merchants’ Exchange locales in San Francisco.

423 Washington St
San Francisco, CA 94111

10 Firehouse, Monumental Engine Company

”It was a magnificent building, originally two stones in height, the first having a granite front, the second being freestone, massive pilasters of Corinthian style supported cornices,” notes Guardians of the City about this firehouse. “In the facade was a large clock, which was illuminated by night. Over the pediment of the clock was a cupola the dome of which rested on eight Corinthian columns.”

San Francisco
CA 94111

11 Former post office, Portsmouth Square

Onetime post office in what would later become Chinatown.

733 Kearny St
San Francisco, CA 94108
(415) 982-6353

12 City Hall

SF’s original City Hall, located off Portsmouth Square.

716 Kearny St
San Francisco, CA 94111

13 “Fort Vigilance”

This converted warehouse served as armory and headquarters for one of SF’s many vigilante gangs.

Two Embarcadero Center
2 Embarcadero Center, San Francisco, CA 94111

14 View down Sacramento Street

Sacramento street was always a looker.

585 Kearny St
San Francisco, CA 94108

15 St Mary’s Cathedral

The church that still stands today.

651 California St
San Francisco, CA 94108

16 View from Rincon Point

Near the coastline at the Rincon Hill/Embarcadero border.

Rincon Point
San Francisco, CA 94105

17 California Street

Unidentified strip of buildings along California.

California St
San Francisco, CA

18 Happy Valley (now South of Market)

This onetime neighborhood started as a collection of gold miner’s tents in 1849.

111 Minna St
San Francisco, CA 94105

19 South Park

San Francisco’s oldest park’s, which still exists.

South Park
San Francisco, CA 94107

20 Mission San Francisco de Asís

AKA, “the old mission.”

Mission Dolores
San Francisco, CA


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