The government reserve sale

In San Francisco, on December 28, 1853, another important sale of waterfront property occurred. This involved a portion of what was then known as the government reserve between Pacific and Broadway Streets east of Sansome. Originally a part of a tract claimed to have been granted in 1842 to an American named Robert Ellwell as a place for him to salt cattle skins, as the major industry of California at that time was the trade of tallow and hides. But the grant was never archived and by this time it seemed doubtful that it had actually occured. In 1847 the property was marked on the map as government reserve and in 1849 was leased by the United States to John B. Steinberger, known as the Baron, who used it for his butchering business. But, as was common in early San Francisco, due to a trail of prior errors the lease was found to be invalid and the title reverted to the state of California.

San Francisco harbor 1851

After the failure of the waterfront extension scheme, the legislature passed an act to provide for the sale of beach and waterfront property that would yield returns of less than three hundred and fifty thousand dollars. The government reserve property sold under this act was divided into fifty-one lots and brought an average price at auction of a little less than six thousand five hundred dollars per lot. These prices, as well as those from the city slip sale two days before, were the highest ever obtained for San Francisco property and would remain the highest for many years to come.



  1. Harold Grice says

    Are those still waterfront properties or has the ‘waterfront’ moved further into the bay?

    • They began filling the bay early in the 1850’s. All of Yerba Buena Cove was filled in the 1850’s. There was a buried gold rush ship unearthed when they were building the Transamerica Pyramid on Montgomery Street some years ago. Check your modern map. That was the extent of the water line back then. But they’ve filled other places that you might know. Fisherman’s Wharf was once at the end of a 1000 foot pier. Now the pier where boats dock at Fisherman’s Wharf is right off shore. All over the bay, ever since the Mexican War, Americans have been filling in the San Francisco Bay. Californians finally got it stopped 20 or 30 years ago.

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