This piece was originally published in our April-June 2023 edition of SF Heritage News. To view the full issue, click here.
Written by Christopher Verplanck
The Bayview-Hunter’s Point community is the focus of our Heritage in the Neighborhoods program for 2023. This is the first in a series of three articles drawn from the research in the Bayview-Hunters Point Survey, Historic Context Statement prepared by Kelley & VerPlanck for the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency (2010).
Bayview-Hunters Point is one of San Francisco’s oldest and most historic communities. Originally occupied by plains of coastal grasslands, hillsides covered in coastal sage scrub, and extensive marshlands, the physical character of the district has been extensively transformed from the initial contact era between Spanish explorers and the native Ohlone inhabitants. During the Spanish and Mexican periods, what is now the Bayview-Hunters Point district was home to cattle herds, belonging first to Mission Dolores and later José Bernal’s Rancho Rincón de las Salinas y Potrero Viejo. After the American conquest of California, the land comprising today’s Bayview-Hunters Point district was quickly subdivided into house and garden lots and gradually sold off to diverse group of American and European settlers. The area soon became San Francisco’s most ethnically varied community, housing British, Scandinavian, and German boat-builders at India Basin; several Chinese fishermen’s camps at Hunters Point; Italian, Maltese, and Portuguese truck farmers in the Bayview; and French tannery workers and Mexican and southwestern vaqueros at Butchertown.
Bayview-Hunters Point has a distinguished industrial history, beginning with the construction of the San Francisco Dry Dock at Hunters Point in 1866. Shipbuilding was soon augmented by Butchertown, San Francisco’s wholesale butchers’ reservation on Islais Creek. By the first World War, San Francisco’s industrial belt had extended south along the Central Waterfront to Islais Creek, leading to the filling of most of the Islais Creek Estuary for industrial sites during the 1920s and 1930s. However, it was not until the Second World War that Bayview-Hunters Point leapfrogged into the top ranks of industrial zones on the West Coast following the acquisition of the Hunters Point Dry Dock by the U.S. Navy in 1940. During this period the population of the district exploded as thousands of war workers (many of whom were African American) moved to Hunters Point to take jobs in the naval shipyard.
Despite extensive job losses following the closure of the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard in 1974 and the eventual decommissioning of the base in 1991, as well other problems stemming from isolation, neglect, and higher-than-average rates of poverty, Bayview-Hunters Point has remained a vibrant, predominantly (but not exclusively) African American neighborhood. Although longstanding issues facing the district persist, the future promises many changes, including a redeveloped shipyard, new housing and parks, and a revitalized commercial corridor.