Visualize the Topography of Bernal Heights in 1853 (Hint: More Wet! Even More Hills!)

Although no one is alive today who ever once saw it, much of the land around Bernal Hill used to be riverbeds and wetlands — particularly to the north and east. But what exactly was the local topography like roughly around the time of the Gold Rush, before all the infill and reclamation that made yesterday’s wet parts dry today?

Architect Glenn Lym has created a 3D CAD map that illustrates the answer. Combining topographical data with historic surveys and a 2010 street grid, Glenn’s way-cool map reveals what was where around Bernalwood in 1853. Glenn explains:

The pics show the 1852-3 US Coast Survey showing Bernal, the Mission and Potrero Hill as they were, as if overlain by the current shoreline and the current streets (101 and 280 shown in orange). Among the items here are:

1. The old Precita Creek Marsh that was a part of Islais Creek and Marsh sneaks up what is now Cesar Chavez, the creek itself shown wiggling between Chavez and Precita Streets on the Bernal side of Cesar Chavez.  Note that Precita Street zigzags parallel to the old Serpentine Road/wall that was erected in the 1800’s, with the Precita Creek running down in the valley between these two landmarks (EDITOR’S NOTE: This is why Precita Street zig zags, even today.):

2. Bernal Heights had two other major peaks to it, to to the north east of the current peaks – roughly under what is now the flat planes that lie between Peralta, Rutledge and Franconia Streets .  Vicky Walker of the Bernal History Project sent me a couple of their aerial survey maps that show that these two peaks were removed sometime between 1938 and 1948.  Terry Milne said that they have been trying to find records which usually exist for 1900’s large excavations, about where all that hillside was dumped, but so far to no avail.  Note that the peak between Rutledge, Massasoit and Brewster was not just chopped off, but gouged out from the Bernal hillside:

Lots more detail on Glenn’s clever 3D CAD project here.

Images: Courtesy of Glenn Lym

8 thoughts on “Visualize the Topography of Bernal Heights in 1853 (Hint: More Wet! Even More Hills!)

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  2. Nice article. Correction, the street you point out as being Franconia is actually Brewster. Franconia is the unmarked street zig zagging just above it.

  3. And to think my humble boyhood abode (623 Precita) was built over Precita Creek! You guys do good work.

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