A stretch of mud facing San Francisco Bay in Hunters Point might as well be Siberia for most residents, but it is waterfront property in The City.
That makes the trash-strewn collection of old, crumbling buildings and giant wild fennel valuable.
And what makes this line of coast so special — and worth the nearly $3 million The City recently paid for it — is both what it was and what it could be: The last privately owned stretch of Bayfront property in San Francisco, envisioned as the anchor of a future network of parks that will be the Crissy Field of the south.
Neighbors in the area had been trying since the 1990s to secure the land at 900 Innes Ave., and the small Shipwright's Cottage that was built in the 1870s just down the hill from the Westbrook Apartments housing projects. Back then, it was briefly considered as the site for the below-market-rate housing.
That, architect Joe Butler said, would have meant developing one of only two stretches of original San Francisco Bay shoreline left in The City — that is, no landfill to extend the natural coast. The other is near Fort Mason. Everything else is landfill.
Neighbors nixed the idea, and it was permanently killed once The City in 2013 named the cottage a historic landmark.
And now that The City owns the land, the next step is making the area a public park.
Linked to the nearby India Basin open-space park, the Shipwright's Cottage area will be part of the Blue Greenway network of parks that is envisioned to someday link the entire San Francisco waterfront from AT&T Park to past Candlestick Point, officials say.
It will be that, but also something even grander, said Supervisor Malia Cohen, who represents the area and hopes the park network can not only dissipate the neighborhood's “bad rap,” but be a magnet for people from all over town.
“We have the potential to create another Crissy Field,” Jill Fox, one of the India Basin Neighborhood Association board members who pushed to secure the area, said in comparison to the stretch of waterfront park space just east of the Golden Gate Bridge in the Presidio.
The area is ripe with historical value to The City. It was once one of San Francisco's most important shipbuilding hubs.
Famous ships that would carry famous cargo were constructed at the property, which was bought by Dutch immigrant Jan Janse Dirks for $900 in 1875. He is also responsible for building the 900-square-foot, one-story Italianate cottage.
The Equator, a two-mast schooner that carried Robert Louis Stevenson to the South Seas in 1889, was definitely built there as well. So too, supposedly, was Jack London's legendary two-mast ketch Snark, the titular subject of his nonfiction book “The Cruise of the Snark.”
After the last boats left in the 1990s, the lot was gifted to the nonprofit housing developer Tenderloin Housing Clinic. The cottage survived neglect, squatters and a 2008 fire before the neighbors' push to acquire the land succeeded.
Now comes the real work. Meetings will be convened to determine the fate of the three crumbling outbuildings that accompany the cottage, along with the usefulness of other surviving buildings. There is no timetable as to when the park will be completed or when work can begin.
The Recreation and Park Department is seeking a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to clean up the site, and the overall planning process could be contentious.
But the first steps toward fulfilling the promise have been taken. And the vision is still grand.
“What we have here,” Rec and Park General Manager Phil Ginsburg said, “is what could be the most amazing park ever built.”