Once at the site of a landmark rock so large it merited its own mark on early maps, there was an area of rich farmland used for growing food and raising animals into the 1920s, located just east of Sunnyside and south of the present Glen Park Bart Station. It is now lost under the kilotons of concrete that make up the I-280/San Jose Ave interchange.
The 1861 Wackenreuder map shows the rock itself.
The enormous rock that provided a landmark about five miles from downtown was probably removed in the course of the grading and construction of the railroad to San Jose in the mid-1860s; the last map we have found with the rock marked is dated 1869, but it may not be accurate.
This land was nestled between the creek from Glen Canyon, the creek from Sunnyside, and the main Islais Creek that both creeks fed into. Map below from Joel Pomerantz’s work mapping the lost waterways of San Francisco (SeepCity.org). There was a long history in this area of dairy grazing and vegetable farming before and even after early development; there was plenty growing for cows and goats to graze on, and a good supply of water available from wells that dug into the munificent Bay Watershed.
In 1891 a portion of Rock Ranch on the northeast was sold off to a speculator named Moses Salomon. He divided it into lots and filed his homestead called Salomon’s Portion of Rock Ranch with the City.
Salomon then sold these lots during the 1890s and early 1900s.
At the time of the 1915 Sanborn map, the larger portion was still planted as “vegetable gardens” and probably leased to Italian management and workers. There were three small buildings on the land, shown in photos below.
Three photos on OpenSFHistory show the gardens in this period. (Map with locations of photos follows.)
Map with views for photos marked:
By 1927 the widening of the Bernal Cut for auto traffic was finished, and this sliced off the northwest edge. The farm buildings shown in the photos above were demolished. “Salomon’s Portion” was being built up with houses.
The 1938 aerial photo (below) shows that the vegetable gardens land was still undeveloped even then, but probably not used for growing food at that point. It was crisscrossed with footpaths. (Note rabbit on east side, just entering warren.)
In the early 1940s, over one hundred houses were built on this plot of land–two bedroom, thousand-square-foot homes similar to ones being built all over San Francisco then. These show up on the 1950 Sanborn map.
However, with a few exceptions, these houses stood for only about 20 years. The construction of the Interstate 280 freeway meant the city bought the land and people were forced to give up their houses for minimal reimbursement. Some houses were hauled away to open lots elsewhere. The freeway cut through Balboa Park as well, following the line of the old Southern Pacific tracks. This was just before the freeway revolts that prevented such construction through parks and neighborhoods elsewhere in San Francisco, such as the Panhandle and Glen Canyon.
The 1990s Sanborn map below shows the ranch/farmland area as it is now, with multi-layered ribbons of concrete and pavement. A few of the 1940s houses are still standing on Gorham and Badger Streets.
Note for clarification: Land used for dairy farming in what is now Glen Canyon was also called “Rock Ranch” in some contexts, such as the 1869 account* of the explosion of the dynamite factory there. In the 1887 directory the dairy rancher at Glen Canyon (Reed) listed her address as “Rock Ranch near Chenery,” while the other rancher (Harrison) listed her spread as “Rock Ranch near the Old San Jose Road.” In 1891 dairywoman Melissa Huff listed her address as “Rock Ranch, Old San Jose Road.” In 1875 a milkman is listed at “Rock Ranch near Bernal Station” [near San Jose Ave and Roanoke now], as a variant.
* “Fearful Explosion,” SF Chronicle, 27 Nov 1869, p5.
7 thoughts on “Farmland to Freeway: a history of Rock Ranch”
I can’t thank you enough for this.
Excellent article, thank you for using the OpenSFHistory images.
The rock also appears on the 1869 Goddard map – http://www.davidrumsey.com/luna/servlet/s/5nms0t
This is great great work. Thank you for this. I live on Santa Rosa Ave. and seeing the area before all the homes were built is truly amazing!
Thanks! You can see more local photos by searching on ‘santa rosa’ at http://opensfhistory.org.
[…] When there was some excavation done on the reservoir later in 1933-34, the site was referred to as “truck gardens” (more on this below). It was one of the many sites in the fertile lowlands in the south-east part of the city then farmed by Italian immigrants. (Read more about that here.) […]
Glad to be of assistance! These deed maps are a little-used but richly informative resource.
Evelyn Rose and I have used that creek map over and over!