San Francisco has some amazing history buried beneath the financial district, in what was once known as Yerba Buena Cove. When the city expanded during the gold rush, ships often came to port and never left. So many ships remained here that it was famously described as a “forest of masts.” In May 1851, this whole area burned down and San Franciscans built atop the skeletons of the ships. At least 30 ships have been pinpointed, though now there is little evidence of their existence.
The Buried Ships project would create street art monuments to these pillars of our city.
The plaques will be placed around the cove for local residents, employees, tourists, and wanderers to discover how San Francisco came to be home for so many people.
To achieve this, the Buried Ships project would use a unique infrastructure piece to San Francisco, its sewer vent covers. The project will replace the covers closest to the last known location of the ships. Each one would show the name of the ship and a coded number located on the face.
These plaques would be an integral part of a choose your own adventure story about the history of the city and its golden dreams. With an old map of the cove, available for free at cafes and shops, participants can explore the old harbor and hear different parts of its story by texting a ship’s code to the phone number on the plaque. This lets people listen to a story based around that ship and gives them a choice on where to go next. Using SMS and phone calls makes the stories accessible with any phone, without requiring web access or an app installation.
This project will give people a time-traveling moment where they can stand amongst the hectic traffic of current day life and imagine the streets as they once were. Through these stories of San Francisco’s history as a boom town brimming with hope and dreams, we’ll see that some things are not all that different from how they were 150 years ago.
Funded by San Francisco, CA (June 2019)