One of the most impressive and beautiful urban plans in the history of American mapmaking.
A fine example of Augustus Chevalier’s stunning map of San Francisco, the premier map of the city following the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. It represents the height of cartographic design and chromolithography. By overlaying an up-to-date urban survey over fine topographical contours, Chevalier created a sophisticated map with an elegant depth of vision and an abundance of detail.
Chevalier was a native of France who arrived in San Francisco in 1890. He issued this map several times during a period spanning from the pre-Earthquake era of 1903 until the 1915 Panama–Pacific International Exposition. The map was published both as a wall map (this example) and as a folding tourist map. Very few examples of the wall map have survived, and a precise census of its different editions and states remains elusive.
The destruction of the 1906 earthquake and fires provided a proverbial clean slate that allowed entrepreneurial city councilors, urban planners, and businessmen to instigate a series of urban renewal projects that would modernize San Francisco and protect it from similar disasters in the future. In 1911, Chevalier created this new edition of his map, using cartography as a means of branding the city, reassuring investors, citizens, and visitors alike that San Francisco was back, stronger than ever. In doing so, he successfully created a narrative to show how the city had used its worst calamity to renew the very fabric of urbanity, improving everything from commercial and supply infrastructure to public safety.
Modernizing San Francisco
During the first decades of the 20th century, Chevalier’s map became the most influential cartographic depiction of San Francisco and achieved substantial commercial success. Chevalier shrewdly aligned himself with the city’s power brokers, and indeed this is a map with the imprints of San Francisco’s most influential and wealthy politicians and businessmen all over it. In addition to the mighty Southern Pacific Railroad, the Spring Valley Water Company – the largest privately-owned public utility water company by the time this map was published – was involved in many of the development projects featured on this map.
A massive overhaul of commercial and industrial developments in San Francisco is palpable. Throughout the map, extensive swathes of land and waterfront are planned for development. We see the waterfront area stretching from Potrero Point, across the Hunter’s Point peninsula, and down to Candlestick Point and the new railroad yard. Hundreds of neighborhood blocks have been planned on water lots, essentially enveloping the entire western coastline in an enormous waterfront development project. The commercial potential of this vision is made quite clear. In addition to the new land, there are outlines of docking and mooring facilities, dry docks for repair and construction, large canals to give way to the inner city, and many other features. This grandiose project would prove a crucial expansion of San Francisco over the following decades.
As stated above, this wall map was published in several different editions and states, and a precise census has been hindered by the rarity of their survival. The original copyright dates to 1903, with another edition appearing in 1904. Copies of these early editions can be found in a number of institutional libraries in America, including Brown, Cornell, and U.C. Berkeley (OCLC no. 65191368).
After the earthquake, the map first reappeared in 1911. Chevalier also published an updated map to coincide with the Panama–Pacific International Exposition World’s Fair held from February 20 to December 4, 1915. The Rumsey collection includes both the 1911 edition (list no. 0140) and the 1915 map (list no. 10996).
This copy is co-owned with BLR Maps in La Jolla.