Pier 70 , Phase I (Planning, Design or Conception) – San Francisco – 94107

Pier 70 , Phase I (Planning, Design or Conception) – San Francisco – 94107

Pier 70 , Phase I


Pier 70 in San Francisco, California, is a historic pier in San Francisco’s Potrero Point neighborhood.[1] The pier still has its historic buildings, which housed Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation’s administrative offices and Union Iron Works, and is currently occupied by BAE Systems Ship Repair, which once housed the SS Oceanic[2] (also known as the SS Independence) and Sims Group, a metal operator,[1] and the Port of San Francisco currently has plans for redevelopment.

Local Map


At the time of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, the San Francisco and Portland Steamship Company passenger liner Columbia was undergoing a refit at the hydraulic drydock of Pier 70. The earthquake knocked the Columbia off her supports, causing the iron-hulled steamer to roll onto the dock on her starboard side. The Columbia was damaged in eight places below the waterline and partially flooded, but was later repaired and returned to service in January of the following year. The drydock, being of great use to Union Iron Works, was irreparably damaged in the event.

Point, where Pier 70 sits on San Francisco’s eastern waterfront, was the most important center of western U.S. heavy industry for well over 100 years.


Union Iron Works with some of the naval ships it produced, early 1900s.
Source: San Francisco Maritime Museum Library

Before Potrero Point saw its first industrial development, it was part of the pasturage for Mission Dolores, later part of the large DeHaro ranch. After the conquest of California by the United States in the U.S. – Mexico War, a protracted legal struggle ensued and the DeHaro family eventually lost their claim to the land.

The area attracted early industrial operations because of its cheap land, deep-water access, and isolation from the more populated sections of the fast-growing city. This small cape of land, much enlarged and flattened over the decades, was the home of at least a half dozen major manufacturing and utility companies that played significant roles in the western and national economies, and in military and labor history.

Early Boat & Shipbuilding

Ships were built in the area around Potrero Point and nearby Mission Bay as far back as the Gold Rush.

The most famous early shipyard at Potrero Point was North’s Ship Yard, owned by a Norwegian immigrant named John G. North (born Johan Gunder Nordtvedt). North came to California from Norway in 1850, worked the gold fields briefly but soon began building boats and ships (including river steamboats, bay and ocean schooners). His boat building operations lasted from 1852 to 1872 – from 1862 or so at Potrero Point. North had a great reputation for the quality of his boats and his integrity. Unfortunately, no pictures of North’s Ship Yard have been found.

Read a 19th century magazine article about John North

Small boatbuilding and repair operations continued near Pier 70 even after the arrival of large-scale steel ship building in the 1880s. One significant boatbuilding operation was that of George Kneass & Sons, whose shed is still standing just north of Pier 70.

Early Industry at the Potrero (1850s – 1870s)

From the 1850s Potrero Point was also the site of two or three blasting powder manufacturers. As the area became more crowded the powder companies had to leave.

Also dating from the 1850s was the thousand foot long ropewalk of the Tubbs Cordage Company at the southern edge of Potrero Point. It was founded by two brothers in the ship chandlery business who realized the west needed rope for its growing maritime and other industries. They recruited a group of skilled workers from New England who formed the core of the Tubbs workforce for decades. Tubbs imported raw materials from the Phillipines and became a world-wide concern.

Other heavy industrial companies were located here as well. Pacific Rolling Mill operated at Potrero Point from 1866 until around 1900. (Its successor company then moved to 16th and Mississippi Streets nearby.) The first significant iron and steel mill in the west, Pacific Rolling Mill also produced machinery and specialized steel parts for the mining industry, construction, ship building, and rail equipment, including San Francisco’s famous cable cars.

The Risdon Iron & Locomotive Company operated on the same property from 1900 until 1911. Risdon produced much mining equipment and developed some of the first and most successful gold dredgers.

Later the Spreckels Sugar refinery was built nearby, as was a gasworks that later evolved into PG&E. In addition, a barrel manufacturer, and several other companies were active at Potrero Point.

In 1849 Irish immigrant Peter Donahue and two brothers established the first iron casting foundry in California, Union Iron and Brass Co. Soon known as Union Iron Works, it made many things, including architectural iron work used in many local buildings and powerful mining machinery that did much environmental damage in the gold country. Union Iron also produced marine engines at their shops near what is now First and Mission Streets. (In the early days, before Union Iron moved to Potrero, maritime operations were performed at Steamboat Cove near the present SBC Park).

Peter Donahue sold the Union Iron Works in 1864. With the profits he founded San Francisco’s first gas works, later to become PG&E, and developed local railroad lines.

Pier 70 is a Port of San Francisco site that is approximately 69-acres located in the City’s Central Waterfront, generally between Mariposa and 22nd Street, east of Illinois Street. This site has been identified as a future National Historic District due to its over 150-years of continuous operations in Ship Building and Repair, the role it has played in the industrialization of the Western United States, the war efforts and architectural and engineering feats.

The Port of San Francisco working with its regulatory partners and through an extensive community planning process recently completed a Pier 70 Preferred Master Plan. The Preferred Master Plan outlines an approach to rehabilitate historic resources, provide new shoreline open space, allow for new infill development, continue the historic ship repair operations and conduct environmental remediation and infrastructure improvements where required.
Pier 70 is approximately 69 acres located generally
between Mariposa Street and 22nd Streets east of
Illinois Street. The area is the most intact industrial
maritime complex west of the Mississippi River.
It has operated as a ship building or repair yard
since the Spanish American War and continues
today. In 2010 the Port released a Preferred Master
Plan (sfport.com/pier70) for the entire Pier 70 area,
which culminated a three year community planning
process. The Preferred Master Plan balanced many
project goals including: (1) establishment of a
National Register Historic District and adaptive
reuse of historic structures; (2) retention of the
ship repair operations; (3) creation of new open
space including 11 acres of shoreline parks; (4) infill
development to bring back the sites historic activity
level and provide economic development; and (5)
new infrastructure and site remediation required to
support the overarching Plan Goals.

Since Completion of the Preferred Master Plan
in 2010, the Port has continued to work towards
project implementation including:
J Completion of the National Register Historic District
nomination for submittal this fall
J Completion of environmental site investigation and
approval of a Remedial Action Plan
J Progression of planning and design for Crane Cove
J Partnership with the ship repair operator to install
shoreside power and increase its business
J Competitive selection of two development
partners, Forest City for the Waterfront Site, and
Orton Development Inc. for the Historic Core
agency coordination
The depth and breadth of activity at Pier 70 requires
coordination between the Port and a wide range
of City and State agencies, including: the State
Lands Commission, the Regional Water Quality
Control Board, the San Francisco Bay Conservation
& Development Commission, the Mayor’s Office of
Economic & Workforce Development, the Planning
Department, the Public Utilities Commission,
the Department of Public Works, the Municipal
Transportation Agency, and others

cove SubdiStrict
Port of San Francisco | ~ 8 Acres
The Port is developing a Park Master Plan for Crane
Cove Park, and will begin to construct an initial
phase in late 2014. The plan includes, adaptive
reuse of historic slipway #4, including the cranes,
a human powered boat launch, new plazas and
landscape areas, shoreline cleanup and protection,
site interpretation, and connections to the Blue
Greenway and other Pier 70 sub-districts. Funding
for the first phase is through the 2008 Clean and Safe
Parks GO Bond. sfport.com/cranecovepark

HiStoric core SubdiStrict
Orton Development, Inc. | ~ 6 Acres | 250,000 ft2
Historic Rehabilitation
Orton Development Inc. will rehabilitate 6 historic
buildings that form the core of Pier 70 for new
office, commercial and light industrial uses
After completing the approval process in 2013,
construction will begin, with the buildings projected
for occupancy in 2014.

SHiP rePair SubdiStrict
BAE | ~ 17 Acres
BAE Systems Inc. operates the ship repair facility
at Pier 70, continuing the operations that began
in 1885. Recently the Port and BAE, have invested
over $12 million in the shipyard to serve the needs
of large modern ships, including the recently
completed shoreside power project. Ship repair is
one of the Port’s highest revenue maritime tenants,
employs hundreds of laborers and is important to
supporting San Francisco’s cruise industry

Waterfront SubdiStrict
Forest City | ~ 25 Acres | 210,000 ft2
of Historic
Rehabilitation & new Infill Development
The Port is in exclusive negotiations with Forest City
for the development of the Waterfront Sub-district.
Forest City has spent considerable time conducting
site due diligence and assessment for infrastructure,
site engineering, site cost, finances and user and
market research. Forest City will be reviewing their
concepts for the site to the Port Commission and
public this fall. pier70sf.com