The San Francisco Shipyard is a distinctive and integral part of San Francisco’s history,
industry and culture. Click on a decade to learn more about the area’s storied past.
Two San Francisco entrepreneurs break ground on a drydock that becomes the foundation for one of the world’s most impressive shipyards.1860’s
The California Drydock Company opens for commercial service.1870’s
San Francisco’s oldest theater, the Bayview Opera House, is built at the intersection of Third and Newcomb.1880’s
The US Navy cruiser San Francisco launches from Hunters Point.1890’s
1860: Hunters Point begins its historical journey
A.W. Von Schmidt and Thomas Hardy, two ruddy San Francisco entrepreneurs, buy 29 acres from the South San Francisco Association, under the condition that they build a drydock. The area, known as Hunters Point, lies four miles to the south of City Hall and boasts 2,000 feet of waterfront. Von Schmidt and Hardy set aside 11 acres for the dock and buildings and keep 18 acres for themselves. Smart move.
1866: San Francisco's first graving dock emerges
Von Schmidt and Hardy break ground on San Francisco’s first graving dock, a drainable dry-storage area where ships can be repaired from the hull up. In October they sign a contract to sell the docks to the California Drydock Company—later the San Francisco Drydock Company. One of the company’s principal investors is W.C. Ralston, founder of the Bank of California. From an article in the Daily Alta California, October 21, 1866: “Men familiar with drydocks express the opinion that it is admirably suited to the purpose and they are astonished that a dock has not been built before.” The contractors carve the dock straight out of the hard serpentine stone that makes up Hunters Point.
1867: The drydock is completed
After 18 months, Von Schmidt and Hardy finish construction on the drydock. When it is done, the facility resembles a large, ship-shaped amphitheater. At 450 feet long, 24 feet deep, and 100 feet wide at the top, it is the largest stone dock in the world. The facility includes a steam pump that is driven by a flywheel. The flywheel measures 30 feet in diameter and rings in at a mere 15 tons. The total cost to the contractors is $350,000. On October 24, the dock opens with a live demonstration. The steamship Ajax is hauled in, and the dock empties of water in just under two hours.
1870: the SF Drydock Co. opens for business
The California Drydock Company opens the shipyard at Hunters Point for commercial service. One commentator predicts that the “dock will draw hither ships from all parts of the North and perhaps, also, of the South Pacific.” He is right. By the turn of the century it is the busiest concern of its kind on the Pacific coast.
1870: English brew satisfies San Francisco
John Burnell, an English transplant to San Francisco, gets a thirst for his homeland ales. He finds a steady supply of fresh water at a natural spring in Hunters Point and builds the Albion Ale and Porter Brewery on top of it. Constructing the brewery in the style of a Norman castle, he erects beneath it extensive underground reservoirs, as well as mysterious tunnels and dungeons. Here Burnell stores his beer to maintain “cellar temperature,” in keeping with the English brewing tradition. He imports hops from Scotland and bottles from England. The building, now a private residence, still stands at 881 Innes St. The brewery is active until 1919, when Prohibition forces its doors to close. The building, now a private residence, still stands at 881 Innes St.
1875: An iconic American brand is born
Levi Strauss and two colleagues purchase the Mission and Pacific Woolen Mills. They repurpose the company’s blanket-weaving facility in Hunters Point to make flannel linings for their riveted dungarees.
1878: San Francisco gets its first taste of weird
While pumping out the drydock at Hunters Point to repair the cargo freighter Colima, Captain R.P. Davis discovers a strange-looking fish at the bottom of the graving works. Going for a closer look, he finds an octopus about two feet in length. He manages to keep it alive for two days, then preserves it in alcohol and sends it to Woodward’s Gardens, a popular amusement park in the Mission, where it is marveled at by children of all ages.
1888: Opera comes to Hunters Point
The 300-seat Bayview Opera House is built at 4705 Third Street, in the heart of Bayview-Hunters Point. It’s a magnificent Victorian edifice, inside and out. Although no opera ever takes the stage here, a large number of dramas and vaudeville acts are performed. Over the years, several renowned actors and actresses use the house as a launchpad for their careers. The most famous of these is playwright David Belasco, who later becomes influential in the New York theater scene. Running today as a non-profit arts organization, the Bayview Opera House remains the oldest theater in San Francisco.
1890: Heroic warship is launched from Hunters Point
The mighty USS San Francisco, a steel-protected Navy cruiser, is built at the Union Iron Works on nearby Potrero Point. She is finished and launched from the Hunters Point graving dock. After distinguishing herself as a flagship in the Spanish-American War, she defends the American coast from German submarines in World War I.
The “Great White Fleet” pays a visit to Hunters Point.1900’s
Chinese fishermen form a large-scale shrimp fishery at Hunters Point.1910’s
Congress decides not to install a permanent Navy base at Hunters Point.1920’s
As the conflict in Europe reaches a boiling point, the US Navy acquires the yard and docks at Hunters Point to scale shipbuilding efforts.1930’s
1903: SF Drydock Co. builds a second graving dock
The San Francisco Drydock Company—formerly the California Drydock Company—constructs a second graving dock at Hunters Point. At 750 feet long and 30 feet deep, the facility is capable of docking the largest merchant vessels then afloat. According to one engineer: “The plant at Hunters Point is one of the best to be found anywhere. The conditions there are ideal. The drydocks are built on a rock foundation and the channel there is deep at all times. When the company desires to clean it out, all that is necessary is to send a tug in and work the propeller and the current cleans the approach.”
1908: The world's greatest shipping yard
Union Iron Works purchases the San Francisco Drydock for $1.9 million. That’s about $48 million today. Charles M. Schwab negotiates the deal. Schwab, who bears no relation to the banker, is head of Bethlehem Steel, Union Iron Works’ parent company. In an interview, he says with the modesty of a steel magnate, “We intend to improve the plant in such a manner that it will provide facilities for docking and repairing ships unequaled by any shipping yard in the Pacific and probably unsurpassed by any system of docks in the world. There will not be a ship afloat in any part of the world we will not be able to handle.”
1908: Roosevelt seeks help from the San Francisco Shipyard
President Theodore Roosevelt’s “Great White Fleet” calls in San Francisco during its two-year circumnavigation of the globe. Because the channel at Mare Island Navy Yard is too shallow for battleships, Roosevelt orders the fleet to report to the drydocks at Hunters Point. Between May and July, Union Iron Works services 23 of the ships.
1910: Chinese shrimpers establish a lucrative fishery
A community of Chinese fishermen who have called Hunters Point home since the late 1800s join together to form a large-scale shrimp fishery. At its peak in 1920, the fishery represents 12 different shrimping companies, comprising altogether 504 nets, 16 boats and 53 men—a testament to the Chinese contribution to San Francisco’s productive waterfront industries.
1916: Third drydock installed at the Shipyard
Bethlehem Steel builds a third drydock at Hunters Point. This one, at 1,000 feet long, can hold the world’s largest warships and passenger steamers.
1920: No Navy for Hunters Point
A Congressional hearing on Pacific Coast Naval Bases takes place at San Francisco City Hall. At the meeting, Mayor James Rolph and other City representatives, defend a proposal to establish a Navy shipyard at Hunters Point. Congress says “No thanks” to the proposal. Instead, they sign a bill authorizing the Navy to contract with Bethlehem Steel and other private companies at Hunters Point for shipbuilding and repair services.
1938: Hunters Point houses its first artist
Painter and sculptor Adrien Voisin purchases the old Albion Brewing Company castle. He spends the next 20 years converting it into a private residence and studio.
1938: Government forces Bayview-Hunter's Point residents to relocate
Congress rethinks its 1920 decision not to establish a permanent Navy base at Hunters Point. As World War II ramps up in Europe, the US government acquires the thriving Chinese shrimping community in Hunters Point through eminent domain. Many of the former residents are relocated to San Francisco’s and Oakland’s Chinatowns.
1939: the United States Navy takes ownership of the Shipyard
The Navy and local community join together to form the Hunters Point Improvement Association. The group is tasked with developing the district and deepening its connections to greater San Francisco. One of the association’s key goals early on is to build housing for defense workers. Almost overnight, they organize to build more than 12,000 new homes in Bayview-Hunters Point. It’s around this time, in fact, that “Bayview-Hunters Point” is recognized as its own San Francisco district, and the name—already long in use among locals—is set in stone.
The US Navy begins shipbuilding operations in the new San Francisco Naval Shipyard at Hunters Point.1940’s
The Shipyard becomes a star.1950’s
Bayview-Hunters Point becomes the trailblazer for civil rights in San Francisco.1960’s
The Shipyard returns to private hands.1970’s
1941: A shipbuilding boom
Just 11 days after the December 7 attack on Pearl Harbor, the US Navy completes the acquisition of the San Francisco Shipyard from long-time owners, Bethlehem Steel Dry Docks. They rename the facility the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard and expand Drydock No. 4, once again making Hunters Point home to the world’s largest graving dock. The Navy officially begins shipbuilding operations to aid in the World War II effort. This marks the beginning of San Francisco’s role as a shipbuilding behemoth during World War II. The takeover also yields a massive influx of blue-collar workers in the 1940’s. This population explosion, which is also tied to the Great Migration of African Americans from the South, transforms Bayview-Hunters Point from a rural fringe area into an urban center almost overnight. At its heart is a bustling district known as the Third Street corridor.
1945: The Shipyard plays a strategic role in WWII
The key components of the “Little Boy” atomic bomb are loaded onto the USS Indianapolis, which is docked at the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard. “Little Boy” is dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, on August 6, 1945.
1947: The iconic Shipyard crane is erected
The crane goes up. The American Bridge Company, known for its role in the construction of the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building, and the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, builds a 630-ton gantry crane. It’s the largest in the world at the time, capable of lifting battleship gun turrets and other objects weighing up to one million pounds. The crane’s 730-foot runway spans a pier 405 feet wide and extends more than 160 feet over the water on either side. Writes one journalist at the time, “Completion of the giant lift will make Uncle Sam fastest on the draw among the nations.” Today the crane remains an iconic feature of the city’s skyline.
1958: Hunters Point makes its film debut
The Hunters Point Shipyard makes a cameo appearance in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. When Scottie Fergusson goes to visit Gavin Elster in the offices of Elster’s shipping company, the shipyard’s cranes are hard at work in the background. Hitchcock directs the shoot at Paramount Studios, and the shipyard scene is projected onto the background to create a virtual location.
1959: Pre-mayoral candidate Sam Jordan opens bar
In 1959, African American Navy veteran and former boxer Sam Jordan opens his eponymous bar, which matures into a Bayview-Hunters Point institution. The iconic establishment does much more than serve drinks. It becomes known for hosting scholarship drives, business luncheons, and significant political gatherings. The bar goes on to receive landmark status in 2013, making it the third African American institution in San Francisco to be awarded the distinction.
1959: Operation Skycatch
Lockheed’s Missiles and Space Division uses the crane for “Operation Skycatch,” a launch study for the Polaris missile project.
The test goes something like this. A powerful rocket blast sends the missile into the air. At the top of its trajectory, a cable assembly rigged up to the crane snags the multi-ton missile out of the sky. The crane then lowers the missile for examination and preparation for the next round of tests.
This proves to be a much simpler and more affordable method than the one Lockheed had employed before, which involved shooting the missile into San Francisco Bay and dredging it up by ship.
1963: Sam Jordan runs for mayor
Sam Jordan, longtime Bayview resident and owner of Sam Jordan’s Bar, makes history as the first African American man to run for mayor of San Francisco. In the 1963 race, he campaigns for equality, civil rights and the rights of working class citizens. Finishing fourth in a crowded field of eight candidates, Jordan paves the way for future African American officials elected in San Francisco.
1963: James Baldwin pays a visit
Author and activist James Baldwin visits Bayview-Hunters Point to document the lives of local residents in his film Take this Hammer. In bringing to light the marginalization of African Americans in San Francisco, Take This Hammer feeds the sentiment that leads to the 1966 Hunters Point Uprising and draws San Francisco further into the national Civil Rights Movement.
1966: A flashpoint for civil rights in San Francisco
Residents of Bayview-Hunters Point take to the streets in what becomes known as the Hunters Point Uprising. The 128-hour demonstration, which involves a standoff between residents and the California National Guard, is the most significant of its kind in San Francisco’s civil rights struggle.
During the demonstration a young Willie Brown, at the time a State Assemblyman, promises: “There will be real, meaningful changes in the lives of people in this community, in terms of jobs, in terms of housing, and in terms of education.”
The events bring attention to an area that has been largely neglected for almost two decades. The federal government grants $150 million for Bayview-Hunters Point to use at its discretion. The community elects to build 3,000 new homes on Hunters Point Hill and transform an area known as Butchertown into the India Basin Industrial Park. The rejuvenation creates more than 4,000 jobs, many of which are filled by workers from the Bayview-Hunters Point community.
At the time, five local women become the leaders of the community’s growth and rejuvenation: Eloise Westbrook, Julia Colmer, Rosalie Williams, Ms. Freeman and Oceola Washington.
1970: Apprenticeship and job training at the Shipyard
Community organizers from the Navy orchestrate the Pre-Apprenticeship Program, one of the most successful local job training efforts in the U.S. at the time. The program recruits youth from the Bayview-Hunters Point community to work in shipyard shops. At its apex in 1973, the program employs 119 young people. By offering training and valuable paid work experience, the program turns out “a tremendous number of very, very good employees who know their trade well because they were trained by the old timers.”
1974: A base decommissioned
In 1974, the US Navy decommissions the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard and leases the facilities to private tenants. Triple A Machine Shop, a commercial ship repair company, takes over the majority of the space.
Meanwhile, others start to trickle in. Though it still goes by its popular name—The Hunters Point Shipyard—the area begins to cultivate a new identity as a crucible for artistic production.
1976: A sculptor discovers the shipyard
After the Navy opens up the shipyard to private ventures, sculptor Jacques Terzian sublets a warehouse and transforms it into an artist’s studio. He sets up a company, Patterns Ltd., which designs, fabricates and installs a distinctive class of found-object, industrial and detritus-based art. Terzian creates furniture and installations whose influence spreads from California to New York and abroad.
This is a homecoming of sorts for Terzian. He had learned to weld in Richmond, CA, and worked on repair crews at the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard during World War II.
Back on home soil, as it were, Terzian lays the foundation for a radical reimagining of the Shipyard’s purpose. He invites friends and colleagues to open their own studios nearby.
Art takes over.1980’s
The Navy disembarks.1990’s
The City of San Francisco commits to a bold new redevelopment plan in Bayview-Hunters Point, with the San Francisco Shipyard as its capstone.2000’s
A new community is forged.2010’s
1980: The beginning of a conversation
A group of community leaders in Bayview-Hunters Point goes to the San Francisco Planning Department in 1980 to start a conversation about how to adapt to the economic vacuum left after the Navy’s departure. A series of meetings over the decade set the wheels in motion for a redevelopment plan that begins to blossom in the mid-2010s.
1983: Artists come to The Point
Following the lead of sculptor and urban pioneer Jacques Terzian, visual artists, musicians and writers descend en masse on the shipyard. Within months, more than 300 working artists have opened studios and workspaces in the former Navy facilities.
They organize to form The Point, which grows to become the largest artist colony in the United States.
1984: Eclectic Cookery gives birth to a food scene
Scott Madison, a local restaurateur, opens Eclectic Cookery in the shipyard’s former Marine Corps barracks. The Cookery provides time-shared kitchen facilities to new food businesses. Over the next three decades, the space serves as a launch pad for hundreds of San Francisco’s beloved food establishments—including El Porteño, Divine Petites Bakery, Hey Boo, Miz Lynn’s, Yvonne’s Southern Sweets and Run Around Smokin’ Q.
In recent years, the Cookery has become a major incubator for the ever-popular food trucks roaming the City’s streets. McGee Cajun Creole and Your Community Foods are just a couple of the highlights.
1985: What's the Point
The City of San Francisco and US Navy announce plans to rebuild the base, establishing the Shipyard as the home port of the USS Missouri and other vessels.
It’s tough news for artists at The Point.
When the Navy opts not to renew private leases, the colony mobilizes to preserve the unique ecosystem of arts and small business that has flourished there. Bedecked in bright orange t-shirts with the slogan “What’s the Point,” hundreds of artists and other tenants flood City Hall to protest the evictions.
The Point’s artists then join a coalition of community leaders and environmentalists to campaign against the base reconstruction. They successfully stall the evictions until 1989, when the home porting proposal is overturned.
1991: The Navy exits
After decades of productivity, the Navy closes down the base and shipyard facilities as part of a post-Cold War realignment and disposal program. This is the advent of a new and transformative age for the district.
1993: A committee convenes
In 1993, community members convene the Hunters Point Shipyard Citizen’s Advisory Committee. Their mission is to increase community participation in the district’s redevelopment.
The committee becomes a voice for Bayview-Hunters Point, advising the Mayor, Board of Supervisors and the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency. Over the next two years, through dozens of public meetings and workshops, they formulate a set of planning guidelines resulting from a strong community consensus. The guidelines range from creating jobs for economic vitality to supporting an artist community to environmentally-responsible development.
The CAC still holds monthly public meetings at the Southeast Community Facility in Bayview.
1995: The City of San Francisco ratifies the Bayview-Hunters Point Area Plan
The plan, which guides the future development of the district, is based almost entirely on the Citizen Advisory Committee’s guidelines and the years of citizen input that influenced them. The decision becomes a landmark example of community ownership of urban development and revitalization. It covers everything from land use to urban design to open space to community services to public safety. While it represents the culmination of a years-long process of community soul-searching, it’s by no means the end of anything. Rather, it’s the beginning.
1997: Redevelopment plans solidify
The San Francisco Redevelopment Agency publishes the Hunters Point Shipyard Redevelopment Plan. Building on the 1995 Area Plan, the SFRA plan includes provisions for preserving and restoring historical sites in the community.
It also creates the Bayview-Hunters Point Project Area Committee, a state-funded community advisory body that will oversee the district’s redevelopment and make recommendations to the City based on the community’s interests.
1999: Lennar becomes lead developer
In March 1999, the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency selects Lennar Urban, now FivePoint, as the lead developer of the Hunters Point Shipyard.
2000: Good news in the new millennium
The City of San Francisco adopts the Bayview-Hunters Point Redevelopment Plan, which promises to bring a fresh story to the district.
Under the plan, the City commits to invest in local education, transportation, public open spaces, hiking and biking trails, community facilities and energy efficiency.
2004: The first parcel returns to San Francisco
In 2004, the Navy transfers the first parcel of land on the former shipyard site to the City of San Francisco, a milestone for the Bayview-Hunters Point Redevelopment Plan.
2007: The T arrives
On April 7, 2007, the City opens the T Third Street line, San Francisco’s first new light-rail route in half a century.
The T becomes the symbol of a new era for southeast San Francisco, as Bayview-Hunters Point, Dogpatch and Potrero Hill are reconnected to the heart of the City. New restaurants, cafes and music venues have cropped up along the Third Street corridor, bringing an energy reminiscent of the wartime shipbuilding days. Today, the T runs from Sunnydale Station, up Third Street to Embarcadero and downtown, where it merges with SF’s many transportation lines.
2008: San Francisco passes Prop G
“Shall it be City policy to encourage timely development of a mixed-use project in the Bayview on Candlestick Point and Hunters Point Shipyard?”
San Francisco says, “Yes!”
On June 3, 2008, citizens approve Proposition G, setting in motion the Bayview-Hunters Point redevelopment. The referendum calls for 300+ acres of public park and open space improvements, up to 10,000 homes for sale or rent and over 2 million square feet of office space for green business, science, technology and research.
2013: Clean energy comes to Bayview-Hunters Point
The nonprofit Clean Coalition, in partnership with PG&E, launches a clean energy pilot program in 2013. The goal is to demonstrate that distributed energy generation and intelligent grid technology can meet at least 25% of Bayview-Hunters Point’s energy needs. By deploying 50 megawatts of local solar cells in Bayview-Hunters Point, the area is projected to see massive benefits to the local economy, power grid and environment. Over the next 20 years, the program is predicted to reduce CO2 emissions by 7500 tons a year—the equivalent of taking 1,300 cars off the road. It will also save nearly 3 million gallons of water a year, and preserve 375 acres of land by using existing rooftops and parking lots.
On June 26, 2013, the City of San Francisco and Lennar Urban break ground on the first homes at The San Francisco Shipyard. Mayor Ed Lee, former Mayor Willie Brown, Supervisor Malia Cohen and former Supervisor Sophie Maxwell convene to celebrate the start of construction on area’s first residences in over half a century. Looking over the site, former Mayor Brown gives this appraisal: “This is just going to be an ideal place to live.”
2014: Reclaimed and reborn
Mayor Ed Lee gives his 2014 State of the City address at The San Francisco Shipyard. He states, “The Shipyard—which we see today—is reclaimed and reborn, from a foundry for ships to the crucible of a new community." The address makes an optimistic case for the future of The San Francisco Shipyard.
A bold mural adds color to the waterfront
Artist team Haddad Drugan create the striking illuminated mural Bayview Rise on the grain elevator and silos of the Port of San Francisco’s Pier 92. At a staggering 187 feet tall, the piece stands out as a stunning Bayview landmark. According to Haddad Drugan, Bayview Rise stands as a visual metaphor for the ongoing transformation of the community and its values. It incorporates symbols of its ecology, economy, past, present and future into a tangible, but also abstract pattern. The lighting ceremony and ribbon cutting take place on February 26, 2014.
2014: A new era begins
Lennar Urban, the home developer at The San Francisco Shipyard, introduces a collection of 88 townhomes and condos in two residential buildings, Olympia and Merchant.