San Francisco’s Ship Cemetery: The Financial District


Most people know that San Francisco’s coastline has been altered through the years by periodically filling in various parts of the Bay.  However, fewer people know that much of the Financial District is literally built on top of old ships.

The story behind this goes back to 1848 when gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill.  In the coming years, people swarmed to San Francisco in search of fortune.  In Yerba Buena Cove, which is now the heart of San Francisco’s Financial District, over 500 ships were at the docks.  Many of these were left abandoned as people headed inland to get rich.

As a consequence, many ships rotted and sank, while others were converted into warehouses, stores and hotels to accommodate the influx of people.  Over time however, the ships collapsed and as the cove was filled in, ships were entombed in mud.

Fast-forward about 160 years, and many of the ship locations are where the high-rise buildings of the Financial District are.  So, where exactly are these ships?  Fortunately, the exact or approximate locations of up to 60 ships scattered throughout San Francisco has been mapped.  Below, you can see a map with ship locations marked, as well as the ancient shoreline.


From the maps above, what immediately becomes startling is how much of San Francisco used to be part of the Bay.  This highlights a problem associated with much of San Francisco, liquefaction.  It’s important to point out that nearly all areas that used to be part of San Francisco Bay, now have a very high liquefaction susceptibility.  This puts the entire area at risk in the event of an earthquake.

It’s entirely possible that if you work in the Financial District, there was once an old gold rush ship beneath your building.

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Source: Temblor