Map showing changes on the Water Front of the City and County of San Francisco made by proposed Thoroughfare and System of Piers. T. J. Arnold. Chief Engineer of Board of State Harbor Commissioners.

Constructing San Francisco’s Embarcadero – 1877 map of proposed changes to the waterfront.

Cartographer(s): Britton & Rey
Date: 1877
Place: San Francisco
Dimensions: 190.5 x 65 cm (75 x 25.5 in)
Condition Rating: VG

Out of stock

SKU: NL-00639 Category:


This is a large panoramic map of the San Francisco waterfront stretching from South Basin to the edge of the Presidio. It was originally published in an important pamphlet regarding proposed changes to the seawall between the city and San Francisco Bay, titled: “Report of the Board of State Harbor Commissioners on the New Water-Front Line of San Francisco, to the Legislature of the State of California 1877-8.”

The map is oriented with west at top, maintaining focus on the water front by extending the visible area inland by only a limited number city blocks. It depicts parts of many San Francisco neighborhoods; from left to right (i.e. south to north), we see parts of today’s Candlestick Point, Hunter’s Point, Dogpatch, Mission Bay, South Beach, the Financial District, North Beach, Russian Hill, and the Marina.

The map illustrates a proposal by Board of State Harbor Commissioners chief engineer T. J. Arnold to address the patchwork of jagged lines and mismatched piers that grew to define the waterfront in the first decades after the Gold Rush. Arnold proposed a design similar to New York’s riverwall, with a continuously curving 200-foot-wide thoroughfare along the waterfront in place of the zigzag of 150-foot-wide streets that was under construction (Voget 1943:137). This was adopted by the Board of State Harbor Commissioners in 1878 (BSHC 1877-1878:6-7) and built gradually following the completion of the sections of the seawall. The new design would substantially shorten the distances needed to haul cargo along the waterfront, “between the piers and the wholesale district of the city” (BSHC 1926-1928:12). It was designed as a working area which, together with the seawall lots, provided the space needed to move cargo between the city and the port, and to hold it temporarily while ships entered and left. Originally called East Street, its name was changed to the Embarcadero in 1909 (Voget 1943:138).

Eventually constructed between 1879 and 1916, the seawall was built by dredging a trench through the mud, filling that trench with rock and rubble, covering the filled land with a timber pile bulkhead wall and wharf, and then filling the tidal marshland area behind the seawall. More than 500 acres of land were filled behind the seawall, extending the footprint of the city. The seawall acts as a retaining wall for the filled land behind it. It is the foundation of the Embarcadero Historic District, which includes the bulkhead buildings and finger piers that extend into the Bay.

In 1898, the Ferry Building was built and served as the headquarters for the Harbor Commission.


Britton & Rey

Joseph Britton (1825 – July 18, 1901) was a lithographer and the co-founder of prominent San Francisco lithography studio Britton and Rey. He was also a civic leader in San Francisco, serving on the Board of Supervisors and helping to draft a new city charter. In 1852, he became active in lithography and publishing, first under the name ‘Pollard and Britton,’ and then ‘Britton and Rey,’ a printing company founded with his friend and eventual brother-in-law Jacques Joseph Rey. Britton and Rey became the premier lithographic and engraving studio of the Gold Rush era, producing letter sheets, maps, and artistic prints.

Condition Description

Joined and backed on linen. Minor loss and some discoloration and offsetting.