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Turning Back the Clock on the Giants' Mission Rock

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Welcome to Hidden Histories, where we highlight 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.

World Series champs the San Francisco Giants have plans to reimagine Mission Rock and expand waterfront access, complete with a pier walkway, public open space, and a restaurant and production facility for main tenant Anchor Brewery. But before the area was connected to Pier 50 or any other part of the port, Mission Rock was indeed ... just a rock.

Super-early maps of San Francisco show Mission Rock as an outcropping right outside of Mission Bay.

The rock was a pretty convenient anchoring point off the bay, and soon enough it became a dumping ground for ballast (that's gravel sandy stuff that that would be added to ships to help with stability in the water). The rocky landing grew and grew, with warehouses and a pier eventually constructed.

Salt marshes and mud flats in Mission Bay were bridged over, and eventually filled in with sand from parts of the city that were getting leveled. The fill kept extending until finally it was planked and paved over.

Around the turn of the last century, things started to get tricky. In 1898, the rock was owned by the California Dry Dock Company, which had erected a bunch of low wooden sheds that were in pretty shoddy condition. The US Navy decided it needed a suitable site in San Francisco Bay for a large coal depot, and thought Mission Rock was the best choice.

California Dry Dock Co. offered to sell the land for a cool $250,000 (that's almost $7 million today), but the government realized the private company didn't really hold a title to the land; instead, the State of California did. But, oh wait—they then decided that as soon as California became a state, the land became federal property. There was the inevitable back-and-forth between the Navy and the company over title, including litigation that lasted for 38 years, but eventually the US Supreme Court awarded ownership to the Navy. In a total burn, the Navy then decided they didn't want it and transferred ownership to the State Harbor Commission. The rock went on to be bought and sold a bunch more times, and eventually became a grain terminal.

In the 1920s, there was talk of connecting the rock to the newly constructed Pier 50. At the time there were only 200 feet separating the two. The $8 million proposal from Mission Rock Company would have converted the rock into "a great shipping terminal and industrial site" with facilities for commerce and bulkheads to berth up to eight ships, in exchange for an extended lease of the site.

It took a while to get the plan in motion, but by 1946 the remaining buildings on the island, including the old grain terminal, were burned in a massive fire and the new shipping terminal was built.

Today, the Mission Rock Terminal is still an active freight terminal.

· San Francisco's Lost Landmarks [James Smith, via Google Books]
· Annual reports of the Navy Department - 1899 [US Department of Navy]
· Biennial report of the Board of State Harbor Commissioners (1924-1926) [Internet Archive]
· Previous Coverage of Mission Rock [Curbed SF]

Mission Rock

Pier 50, , CA 94158