A largely untouched Islais Creek marshland, 1869
Mapped by the United States Coast Survey
David Rumsey Collection

A largely untouched Islais Creek marshland, 1869


San Francisco Peninsula after the establishment of Butchertown, 1926
Mapped by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey
David Rumsey Collection

San Francisco Peninsula after the establishment of Butchertown, 1926.


Islais Channel, 2004
This image and the maps above show precisely the same area
Aerial Photograph courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey

Islais Channel, 2004.

Islais Landing

Islais Landing Waterfront Park is situated on the current southern bank of Islais Creek, near its outlet into San Francisco Bay. Before San Francisco was settled, this area was a vast tidal marshland, through which Islais Creek meandered on its way from its origin in Twin Peaks (visible in the film and video in the far distance) to San Francisco Bay (behind the camera). The creek's decline began during the Gold Rush, when it was used to dispose of waste from the numerous makeshift encampments along its banks. In the 1870s, the city's butchers were moved to this area, by city ordinance, from their prior location near downtown. The new Butcher's Reservation—or "Butchertown"—was erected on wooden piers over the marshland, and ultimately grew to cover nearly the entire tidal flat. At its peak, Butchertown was home to more than 35 butchering operations processing as many as 2,800 animals per day, as well as ancillary industries—tanneries, fertilizer plants, and hair mattress and glue factories. The blood and offal, along with garbage and sewage from nearby residences, were dumped directly into the creek. By all accounts, the stench was overpowering. Eventually, "Shit Creek" (as the creek was commonly known) was understood to be unfit for any use, and diverted to run in underground culverts.

Animal processing in this area came to an end in the 1940s, with the passage of stricter sanitary regulations and pressure from nearby residents. Numerous auto-wrecking yards replaced the slaughterhouses, heavy industry moved in, and a deep-water channel was dredged from the last mile of Islais Creek that remained above ground.

Today, the area is again changing, transitioning from such base industries and embracing tourism and the culture industry. Nearby buildings house several set construction facilities for the advertising and film industries, a large-volume commercial photography studio, and San Francisco's only sound stage. At night, sight-seeing busses are parked behind a fenced lot beside the channel.

The cameras in Account are situated within the recently established Islais Landing Waterfront Park. The park, with its native plantings, picnic area, and kayak club, signals a shift in interpreting and utilizing this urban landscape as a space for leisure and recreation rather than labor and production. The exposed pilings near the shore are the sole remains of what was once Islais Street.

Butchertown, 1906.

Damage to piers and wood-plank street in Butchertown following the 1906 earthquake
Collection of the Bancroft Library, University of California