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Crews Unearth Shipwreck on San Francisco Condo Project

Mon November 14, 2005 - West Edition
Ron Harris

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) The remains of a massive Gold Rush-era sailing ship dating to the early l800s have been discovered at the site of a large construction project in downtown San Francisco, archaeologists at the scene confirmed.

The ship’s decaying bow peeked through mounds of earth as workers under the direction of an archaeologist brushed away generations of dirt from its aging timbers. A dig crew unearthed the first portions of the ship in early Sept. as they carved away dirt to lay the foundation for a 650-unit condominium development.

“This is awesome. Everybody gets excited about this. It makes digging in all that mud worthwhile,” said James Allan, an archaeologist with Williams Self Associates overseeing the removal and cataloging of the ship’s remains.

The city of San Francisco, the site developer and Allan’s firm have a standing agreement to record the historical value of any submerged cultural resources they come across at such sites, Allan said. It’s not the first such find; the city’s financial district rests atop a nautical morgue, of sorts, with hundreds of ships forming a portion of the landfill that used to be prime waterfront.

Allan said the ship remains do not have anything of value in it, other than history.

The ship was likely abandoned as Gold Rush fever overtook the region in the mid-1800s. In the l850s, as many as 600 ships were abandoned in San Francisco’s harbor, burned or simply junked by owners who switched their focus to mining the rich gold veins in the state’s interior, according to Wolfgang Schubert, who gives historical walking tours of San Francisco’s waterfront for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

What’s left of the ship would be removed, up to the Folsom Street property line. The rest of the ship, likely most of the stern, would remain buried, Allan said.

In a warehouse across the street from the construction site, Angela Cook, also an archaeologist for WSA, worked on sketches of large timber pieces already removed from the site. Many of the thick wooden beams bore numbers carved into them, while others were held together by decaying iron bands.

The waters of the San Francisco Bay and the nearby coastline are a graveyard for shipwrecks from centuries past, as schooners, steamers and clippers failed to properly navigate the region’s rugged sea floor. But this relic is two large blocks inland. just a stone’s throw from the headquarters of Gap Inc.

Other now-inland shipwrecks serve as interesting obstacles for public works projects.

The new Municipal Railway tunnel extension, which takes baseball fans out to SBC park, goes right through the hull of The Rome, a ship’s remains underground at the intersection of Market Street and the Embarcadero along the waterfront.

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