An initial blast of ninety dynamite kegs in 1867 sheared away the once gentle slope on the eastern side to form the Telegraph Hill Quarry. The main purpose of the site was to supply rocks to be used as ballast for the empty sailing ships leaving port. George and Harry Gray’s quarry continued for another thirty years until lawsuits and rioting locals shut down the operation.
Following the 1906 earthquake, there was a need for new construction in its aftermath, including the building of a seawall on the Embarcadero. As the quarry encroached closer to housing, however, falling rocks injured children and adults, resulting in litigation and community protests. Soon thereafter, the company’s secretary was slain followed by George Gray himself.
The final blast at the quarry was timed to detonate in 1909 with the July 4th fireworks. The company continued for several years, concentrating their efforts at their Diamond Heights quarry where Harry Gray became a millionaire. Additional legal problems eventually caused the enterprise to shut down and declare bankruptcy. Almost one hundred years later in 2007, a massive slide on Telegraph Hill forced the evacuation of many residents. To the best of my knowledge, you can still descend Filbert Steps to the bottom of Telegraph Hill at Sansome Street.
For more photos and history of the district, scroll down and click on “Telegraph Hill”. For samples of our free monthly online magazine of old San Francisco and the Russian River, click on any of the dates below “Newsletter Archives”, also at the bottom of any page on the website. For a fun read of Telegraph Hill as well as the Russian River, check out Stumptown Daze, by going to “Novels”. Have fun exploring.