Alleys & Ruins no. 102, Goast Pier (2008, San Francisco, CA, 11:30pm)
Goast Pier is in the Bayview/Hunter’s Point neighborhood of San Francisco. I wanted to learn more about the crane, the channel and the abandoned buildings in the area. What I learned was amazing.
The waterway in Goast Pier is Islais Creek Channel, once the largest body of fresh water in San Francisco, and once the source of most of the city’s drinking water. It has suffered one indignity after another.
In the 1860’s, slaughterhouses in downtown San Francisco were forced to pack up and get outta Dodge – the city had had enough with the smells, sounds and carnage from the butchering. Islais Creek was pristine and in the wilderness in those days, so the city’s eighteen slaughterhouses converged here, and “Butchertown” was born. Eventually, 35 slaughterhouses would open here, and you can imagine what happened. The creek, which emptied into the Bay, was the preferred destination for their waste, and in no time became a cesspool, literally running red with blood, and rotting with offal from the butchering. Along with the human waste being dumped here, it became an open sewer and soon earned the well-deserved name “Shit Creek.”
The abandoned building in Goast Pier was one of these slaughterhouses, the last of which closed down in the late 1960’s.
Over the years, and especially after the 1906 earthquake, almost the entire creek was unceremoniously filled in, covered and converted into a culvert, so that today this stream runs under the city. The Bay itself is about a mile from the setting of Goast Pier, and this one mile channel is what remains today of the visible creek.
The crane in the image is another tale all together. At five-stories tall, and supported by rotting pilings, it towers over the creek. Its name is the Copra Crane and it had one purpose: to load and unload processed coconut meat (known as copra) from ships coming in from Southeast Asia. It was the last hand-operated crane in the Bay, and it took a toll on the workers. Longshoreman were paid extra to work this pier due to the harsh conditions. It was last used in the 1970’s, and was soon targeted for demolition.
In the 1980’s an effort was made to revitalize the area around the creek. Copra Crane was saved and deemed a historic labor monument and parks were built, along with a water treatment plant. It was a stunning reversal for a much tortured creek. Celebrations inaugurated the opening of the park, and from all accounts the area’s transformation was a roaring success. But for all this effort, the area could not stop the bad luck and ineptitude that would soon follow.
Another indignity to the creek occurred in 2001 when a sewer main under the creek ruptured, flooding the creek with sewage. The park area had to be excavated, costing as much as the original improvements. The creek and park never fully recovered and the area remains an industrial slum. While standing in the park, I had to read a sign to realize that I was in fact in a park. I was not convinced. Still, for someone who loves urban decay, this is a fascinating area to explore.
In an effort to save the crane, Flyaway Productions performed a modern dance on the Copra Crane. I doubt they would trust the structure today.
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