From FoundSF

Historical Essay

by Dr. Weirde


This copy of the Burnham map shows the outline of the original bay in red. Burnham attempted to unify the two different grids the city is laid out in.

Map: Bancroft Library, Berkeley, CA


Aerial view from south to north, San Francisco's Financial District and environs, 1950.

Photo: Ed Brady

Today's Financial District is an overgrown termites' nest of concrete and steel, swarming with money-grubbing human insects. Few of its daily visitors know about the area's century-and-a-half old history of financial chicanery. On March 1st, 1847 the U.S. Military Governor, in an act that can only be described as a cross between a coup d'etat and a real estate swindle, created modern San Francisco with one bold, larcenous stroke of the pen. Despite having absolutely no formal authority to do so, he abolished the communal landholding system that had evolved under Mexican law, auctioned off the town commons and the waterfront, and set off an era of frenetic land speculation that was unmatched . . .

. . . until the late 1970's, when the City's equally larcenous landlords jacked San Francisco's historically low rents up to the highest levels in the nation. The City's greatest all-time punk band, the Dead Kennedys, responded with the hit song Let's Lynch the Landlord, and their lead singer, Jello Biafra, came close to being elected mayor. But Biafra lost, liberal mayor Moscone was assassinated, and the monied interests headquartered in the Financial District reasserted control over San Francisco. Today, the high-rise concrete jungle can be a boring, alienating place . . . unless you know some of the quirky, mysterious history that slumbers beneath the sidewalks.

--Dr. Weirde


View of downtown from the bay

Photo: Chris Carlsson

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