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Before Fort Mason and Aquatic Park, There was Black Point

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Welcome to Curbed's ongoing series titled Hidden History, where Curbed highlights a Bay Area location with a secret past. Maybe it's no longer there, maybe it's been converted into something else, but each spot holds a place in Bay Area history - even if not many people know it. Have a suggestion or know a place with a secret history? The tipline's always open or you can leave a comment after the jump.

Black Point, c1870 [Photo: Found SF]

Fort Mason served as a military site since way back in 1864, but what was it like during the early days of the Gold Rush? Imagine a self-sustaining pioneer farmstead, home to military officer and one of the first California senators John C. Fremont.

Black Point Beach was a crescent-shaped beach that curved inland from what is today Fort Mason to the Selby smelting plant at the end of Hyde Street. Back then the waterfront on the Marina side of the bay hadn't been filled yet, so the water came up to current Beach Street. An outcropping between today's Aquatic Park beach and the Fort Mason piers was called Black Point.Fremont bought his wife a farm on the small rocky peninsula around 1860.

Map of Aquatic Park [Photo: NPS]

When the Civil War started, the Fremonts were drawn back to the east coast. The federal government took over Black Point soon after, renaming it Point San Jose and building military structures in 1864. The fort was named Fort Mason in 1882.

Black Point, 1882 [Photo: SAN FRANCISCO HISTORY CENTER, SAN FRANCISCO PUBLIC LIBRARY]

For a while Black Point Beach was a popular swimming cove, with lots of bathhouses lining the water. In the mid-1880s, seawater swimming was all the rage, as people thought sea water had medicinal benefits. At one point, salt water spas provided over 300 bathing cabins for daily rent along Black Point Beach. Eventually tastes changed, and crowds began to prefer the enclosed pools like Sutro Baths. Most of the open?air sea baths east of Black Point had pretty much disappeared by the turn of the century. The once-popular swimming area is now the site of Aquatic Park.

· History of Fort Mason [GGNRA]
· Jessie Benton Fremont at Blackpoint [Found SF]
· The Waning of Black Point Beach [SF Gate]
· Fisherman's Wharf Public Realm Plan Project (pdf) [SF Planning]

Fort Mason

100 Marina Boulevard, San Francisco, CA 94123 415 345 7500