|Searching out the stairways
of San Francisco might seem like an odd thing to do. After all, most
of the stairways are cement gradations leading from one street to another.
Setting out to find San Francisco’s stairways will take you to parts of
the city you can’t see from a bus seat while the guide cackles through
speakers overhead. Stairways give reason to explore the parts of
the city hidden behind the stage dressing provided to the world.
Stairways point to the wondrous bits of a bewitching city we might otherwise
miss as we rush by.
I’ve been told there are 300 stairways
in San Francisco. My goal is to visit them all and catalog them here,
however long that may take. I hope you’ll use this as a guide to
explore on your own. If you know of a hidden stairway I’ve yet to
visit, have a story or a comment to share, please contact
Urban myth tells that San Francisco’s
streets were laid out on paper by a bureaucrat in Washington, D.C., who
had never been to San Francisco. Believing San Francisco to be as flat
as the nation’s capitol, the urban planner simply dropped a grid onto the
map, unaware of the forty tall hills that fill the peninsula. The result
was a city filled with dramatically steep streets. While the story
isn’t true, it provides explanation for the city’s incredibly straight
and steep streets and illustrates our long standing dislike for most of
those living near the Potomac.
In truth, Jasper O’Farrell, the
civil engineer who laid forth most of San Francisco’s modern city plan,
wanted curved streets which conformed to the terrain. Real estate
developers, however, had other plans. They wanted straight streets
which made lots easier to subdivide and sell. Thus, San Francisco
ended up with numerous incredibly steep streets and uninterrupted history
of greedy landlords.
Some of San Francisco’s streets
were steep enough that horse-drawn carriages couldn’t make it up the inclines.
Cables connected to stream powered engines were required. In other
locations, the proposed streets were so exceptionally steep, the hills
so impassible, that constructing roads was impossible. Here, the
city simply built stairways. Over 300 of these stairways exist throughout
the city, providing access and shortcuts to areas unreachable by any other
means. Aside from a handful of famous stairways such as those leading
to Coit Tower, many of the stairways are quiet places, used only by locals
and known to a handful of people.
The Iron Street Stairs are some of San Francisco's last
wooden stairways. Rotting and worn, the stairs climb Twin Peaks...
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