Construction site for Transbay Terminal Transbay Center Construction

Among well-known American cities, San Francisco is one of the youngest. This is because, although it had a lively history beginning in the nineteenth century, the 1906 earthquake and fire destroyed many of the buildings and neighborhoods and roads which had dominated city life at that point. Quite a few of the sites that evoke San Francisco -- the Golden Gate Bridge, Coit Tower, the Transamerica Building, Fisherman's Wharf -- are creations of the twentieth century. But the traces of 19th century life are still visible to the curious. We recently acquired a guidebook, Historic Walks in San Francisco by Rand Richards, that has taken us into neighborhoods we would not otherwise have found. Our most recent walk took us over Rincon Hill to the neighborhood known as "South of Market".

Blacksmith Shop from 19th century This old shop is still working We took BART into San Francisco. From the Embarcadero station we walked about three blocks to 425 First Street, the site of an old clock tower and the beginning of our historic walk. On the way we saw several large building projects under construction. At least a couple of them will become part of the Transbay Center, due to be completed no sooner than 2017, which will shelter and control many kinds of transportation into and out of the city, including buses from neighboring areas, California light rail, and the planned high-speed train between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The door of an old brick warehouse The door to an old warehouse Our first stop was Klockars' Blacksmith Shop. Edwin Klockars began working here in 1928. The shop produced precision-made tools used in everything from the building of the Golden Gate Bridge through World War II shipbuilding and is apparently still in use today.

We paused at the entrance to the Seamen's Union building. In the next block we found a Pollinator Garden, a vacant lot decorated with images of butterflies and insects and housing a bee hive. Apparently the owner, unable to begin construction, supported the planting of wildflowers and grasses to encourage bees and other pollinators in the neighborhood.

Remembering jazzman Vernon Alley Plaque honoring Vernon Alley Rincon Hill was a highly desirable residential neighborhood in the 19th century, until one of the residents, a businessman and real estate developer, masterminded the construction of a cut to enable cargo to reach the docks without having to go over the hill. He thought it would improve real estate values, but the project was done so poorly that homes were left hanging over the cliff. In short order the Second Street Cut became a hangout for toughs and the wealthy moved elsewhere. It became a warehousing and industrial area and by the 1980s was home to several publishing companies, including Rolling Stone magazine. The area has again become popular with developers because (a) the waterfront has changed from industrial to recreational use; and (b) the area is close to the downtown financial district.

The old clock tower at 461 Second Street has been preserved as a historic edifice, but nonetheless turned into lofts. It is a pleasant and quite visible landmark. Our guide book had some photographs of the once elegant mansions which were located in the neighborhood before the fire. Sometimes, but The oldest surviving warehouse had this sign Sign on the oldest warehouse not often, there were historic plaques to mark the sites.

Our next stop was Vernon Alley. It was an alley, with its own street sign, but it was also the location of a plaque dedicated to jazz musician Vernon Alley. Mr. Alley was born in Winnemucca, Nevada, in 1959 but moved with his family to San Francisco as a child. He played bass with many of the major jazz stars of his generation -- Duke Ellington, Billie Holliday and the like, and was a lifelong San Francisco booster.

Later, we found a weatherbeaten Southern Pacific sign on the Oriental Bonded warehouse, built in 1867, the oldest structure on the southern waterfront. It was just a couple of blocks from the current headquarters of the San Francisco Fire Department which is housed in an old salt water pumping station; on display in the lobby An 1850s pumper to fight fires The historic pumper are some of the old pipes used by the boilers, and the building itself is still capable of performing its original funtion -- pumping saltwater from the Bay in case of fire. We admired a historic pumper cart which was ordered from New York. Crews of firemen alternately raised and lowered the long arms extending the length of the pumper. It could send a stream of water as far as 200 feet.

Our route now took us through South Park, a charming tree-shaded park which extends about a city block. Bordered on both sides by apartments and shops, it was filled during our visit with a variety of people playing dominos, eating lunch on park benches, walking the dogs, snoozing, and enjoying the Found on a building near AT&T Park Decorations for baseball lovers playground.

Then we came to AT&T Park, home of the former New York Giants (yes, we're that old), crossing the Embarcadero at Willie Mays Plaza. We appreciated the statue of his graceful movements, but we also enjoyed the bas-relief sculptures of baseball-playing mermen across the street!

We were getting ready for lunch. A building with large awnings welcomed us. It was the Delancey Street Restaurant where we had a tasty lunch, prepared and served by students of one of the training arms of the Delancey Foundation; all of their residents are ex-addicts and ex-convicts. It was the perfect ending for an excursion that had been filled with unexpected discoveries.