Cobblestone Peek-A-Boo

by Katie Cook

The asphalt at the corner of Liberty and Noe Streets has worn away revealing the original cobblestone street.

I noticed this spot of cobblestone peeking out from under the asphalt on Liberty Street, near Noe Street. I started to imagine this Victorian-lined street with a quaint cobblestone road and I had to snap a picture before this piece of history was paved over once again.

After a little research I discovered that the city began paving over cobblestone streets as early as 1905. Cobblestone was replaced by asphalt because asphalt was seen as a sanitary alternative to “disease breeding” cobblestone. Before gutters and sidewalk drains were installed, city residents had to manually sweep the streets clean but refuse would get stuck between the cobblestones, making for some pretty nasty streets. In addition to collecting filth, cobblestones were also frequently used as impromptu weapons. It was common for a criminal to hurl cobblestones at police or to bash victims on the head with a cobblestone during┬ástreet fights and robberies.

As a tribute to the cobblestone streets of San Francisco’s past here’s a photo of Castro near Market Street in 1927 and a recent photo from the same location. Aside from the cobblestone streets many of the buildings still look the same, including the Bank of Italy which is currently the Diesel store at Market and 17th Street.

This photograph from 1927 shows Castro Street near Market Street. Source: San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection. Negative # 4136.

Castro Street certainly has more trees and cars, but in this photo Castro Street from 16th Street, looking towards Market Street, looks similar to the photo from the 1920s.

Source: “Chinatown Pavements: Waterproof Material Needed to Displace Cobblestones.” San Francisco Chronicle (1869-Current File); Apr 25, 1905; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: San Francisco Chronicle (1865-1922), pg. 6.

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