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.

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:

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


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

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

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