The changing face of a growing city: the creation map for Columbus Avenue, bound in its original municipal report.

[With Municipal Report] Montgomery Avenue: Showing the land condemned, buildings destroyed, frontage on each block, profile of grade, and district to be assessed.

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SKU: NL-01514 Category: Tag:
Cartographer(s): Britton & Rey
Date: ca. 1872
Place: San Francisco
Dimensions: Map: 62 x 21 cm (24.5 x 8.25 in)
Condition Rating: VG+
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This is an early map of the proposed Montgomery Avenue, later Columbus Avenue, now one of the main thoroughfares of San Francisco, traversing the North Beach and Chinatown neighborhoods.

As can be seen, the avenue was cut through existing areas of development, slashing diagonally through San Francisco’s uniform grid system. Oriented towards the west, the map indicates the buildings and land to be cleared to make way for the new thoroughfare, running from Beach St. to Montgomery St., where it terminated at the site of the Montgomery Block.

Montgomery Block was the tallest building west of the Mississippi River and the first earthquake-resistant building in San Francisco when constructed in 1853. Constructed in what was originally a red-light district, it became a Bohemian center attracting artists and writers, including Mark Twain and Jack London, but was demolished in 1959. A decade later, the Transamerica Pyramid was built on the site. Still, the area’s association with writers continued well into the 20th century and remains even still, primarily through the City Lights Bookstore, on Columbus Ave. between Broadway and Pacific. 

The map is color-coded to indicate framed versus brick buildings to be demolished to make way for the avenue. It also includes a table of frontages organized by block, a profile demonstrating the elevation changes on the proposed avenue, and an inset overhead plan at the bottom right. Aside from Montgomery Avenue, which was changed to Columbus Avenue in 1909, the street names shown here remain the same today, with the exception of Dupont Ave., which was renamed Grant Ave. during reconstruction following the 1906 earthquake and fire (Chinese-speaking locals still refer to the street using the transliteration of Dupont, 都板街).



This map appeared in the San Francisco Municipal Reports for the Fiscal Year 1872-73, Ending June 30, 1873. It was lithographed by the prolific local publishers Britton & Rey. The map is independently cataloged among the holdings of the University of California Berkeley and the Huntington Library.


Britton & Rey

Britton & Rey (1852 – 1906) was a lithographic printing firm based in San Francisco and founded by Joseph Britton and Jacques Joseph Rey in 1852. Especially during the second half of the 19th century, Britton and Rey became the leading lithography firm in San Francisco, and probably California. Among their many publications were birds-eye-views of Californian cities, depictions of the exquisite landscapes, stock certificates, and no least maps. While Rey was the primary artist, Britton worked not only as the main lithographer but was essentially also the man running the business. In addition to their own material, the firm reproduced the works of other American artists like Thomas Almond Ayres (1816 – 1858), George Holbrook Baker (1824 – 1906), Charles Christian Nahl (1818 – 1878), and Frederick August Wenderoth (1819 – 1884). Following Rey’s death in 1892 Britton passed the form on to Rey’s son, Valentine J. A. Rey, who ran it until the great earthquake and fire of 1906 destroyed most of the company’s assets.

Joseph Britton (1825 – July 18, 1901) was a lithographer and the co-founder of the 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.

Jacques Joseph Rey (1820 – 1892) was a French engraver and lithographer born in the Alsatian town of Bouxwiller. At the age of about 30, he emigrated to America, eventually settling in California. Here, he soon entered into a partnership with local entrepreneur and civic leader Joseph Britton. Three years later, Rey also married Britton’s sister, allowing his business partner and brother-in-law Britton to live in their house with them. Rey and Britton were not only an important part of the San Francisco printing and publishing scene but also owned a plumbing and gas-fitting firm. In the early years, both men would sometimes partner up with others on specific projects, but by the late 1860s, their partnership was more or less exclusive.

Condition Description

Very good.