San Francisco History Center

Posted in personal at 11:07 pm by danvk

If you live in San Francisco, you owe it to yourself to pay a visit to the History Center on the sixth floor of the downtown library.

I’d heard about it in a Sparkletack episode and decided to do a little research on my apartment this weekend. The staff was incredibly helpful. I walked in and told them that I’d like to learn about the history of my apartment in Russian Hill. The staff took me by the hand showed me which resources I should consult, what sort of information I could expect to find, how to use the microfilm reader, etc.

As a first step, we looked at the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, which are accessible online with a SF Library card. Sanborn created detailed block-by-block maps of many American cities from the mid-late 1800′s to the mid-1900′s. We used these to establish that my apartment existed in its present form at least as early as 1913. Here’s a detail from my block in that year:


Next I looked at the San Francisco Block Books, which catalogued the owners of each property at various times from 1894 to 1915. For a span of 25 years, there was surprisingly little turnover on my block. Houses kept their owners, or changed hands within a family. We yuspies must not have found the neighborhood yet!

There was also an 1890 block book on microfilm, but they only had half of the Western Addition maps. Mine was in the other half which, as the main helping me explained, was probably destroyed in the fire after the 1906 earthquake.

Before the library closed, I took a look at the Water department’s records, also on microfilm. The date that the water was turned on at an address is a good indicator of the date the property was built. It also names the owner of the property at the time. There was an entry for 1371/3 Union Street from May 24, 1884 listing “Geo. L. Bradley” as the owner. There was a famous George L. Bradley who lived around this time, but I couldn’t find any evidence that he’d ever been to San Francisco.

That will have to wait for next time. I’ll definitely be heading back to the San Francisco History Center!

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