Mapping the Redstone


The idea of place is mostly missing in European tradition. This is a culture wrapped up in individuality to the point that it is in danger of losing its past. Very Americans today see history in the context of how traditional peoples before us did. Yes, we celebrate great buildings, wars or where we were born. Yet this pales in comparison to socalled prehistoric people. This project has just begun with the goal of recreating the past of this sacred place known as the Redstone Building today.

Within a very specialized segment of the Bay Area's environmental community, there is a movement to rebuild Ohlone communities and their world. For the Redstone building, the first small steps of recreating its past came in 1997 when the Clarion Alley Mural Project won a grant to create murals in the lobby and first floor of the Redstone Building.

During the several months of research, the muralists discovered that an Ohlone whalebone shard was found during construction of the building during excavation that took place in 1913-4. During the summer of 2009, as part of the annual LaborFest month, a new project was started to dig up the building's past. Part of that project is this initial website and the online images and resources.

The following thumbnail images can be clicked on for a closer look.

Here's a nice Google Earth image of the Western half of the city as it looks today:

Here's a city map from 1915 of the exact same area:

And here's the exact same location for how the area looked in 1859:

Let's zoom in and take a closer look: Yes. You are looking at the corner of 16th and Mission from 1859.

And then Here's the same view from 1853:

And finally, Let's put the Redstone Building back on the map...


But wait! There's controversy to be had! Where's the famous Dolores Lagoon? In the above map its not covering the vacinity as claimed by some historians.

Here's the map that is causing all the controversy.

According to this map and the discussion here, the Redstone building would be completely under water. Or... What we (the building, \/ ) look like now...

Would look kind of like this (excuse the bad art)...

The above location of Dolores Lagoon doesn't look anything like the 1859 overlay below, that includes topographical terrain levels...

If you look at the larger version of the 1853 Map, the topographical contours show gradients moving away from Mission Creek on the right of up to 40 feet. in the area that may or may not have been the location of the Lagoon. According to the above discussion that includes a number of historic discussions about the Lagoon, lets assume that there was one.

If so, then that suggests that an immense amount of landfill has come down to fill nearly 8 square blocks with a vast amount of new material. Is it possible that the Ohlone were used to fill in such a huge amount of land to make the area usable, or did the Lagoon dry up due to many years of draught or agricultural usage by the Mission, due to its rather shallow nature?

It sure would be nice to get a bead on the map that showed the original. There is clearly water directly below the Redstone building today. It requires around the clock pumping to keep the basement free of water. Watermarks during construction implied that the basement could literally fill up to at least 7 feet above the current basement floor if pumping isn't constant. The above map shows gradients of just 10 feet above sealevel on the north side of the building. And of course, if you look at where the worst damages took place in the 1989 Earthquake, they were over on Shotwell and 18th and down in front of Rainbow Grocery on 14-15th and Folsom, which lines up perfectly with the Mission Creek.

There's the chance that somebody placed the rather two small lagoons just off Mission Creek where the Creek takes a sharp turn to the south (Folsom and Division), blowing them way up out of proportion. Or there was a substantially larger Dolores Lagoon as suggested. At present, however, those gradient lines in the 1853 map don't come close to matching the historic claims of the older Lagoon, and this is especially the case if there was a whole lot of water that dissappeared over a 60 year period of time.

There is no doubt that the entire area has a lot of water right below the surface. Its clear there needs to be a bit more discussion about this as those 1853/9 maps aren't wrong.

Hopefully this will be a first in a series to look more closely at our neighborhood and the place we call the Redstone Building.


Google Earth was used to overlay and align maps from the Durnsey online Map collections.

If you have Google Earth software click here and then pick any one of the maps that can be overlaid on top of the satellite image for the city.

Here's Burrito Justice's investigation of the above water bodies, including maps.

And the story about Dolores Lagoon.

And just a parting bit of food for thought. The modern city of San Francisco, once known as Yerbe Buena prior to 1846, was named after St. Francis of Asisis. But it also is of interest that the the Padre who first came here as well as founded Mission Dolores was Francisco Palau. Was our town really named after St. Francis, or the guy that opened up shop?


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