Wednesday, February 28, 2018

SearchResearch Challenge (2/28/18): How did this group of houses get to be here?

You know San Francisco is full of hills... 

... consequently, it's also full of stairs.  Some are ordinary, but some are wonderful and beautiful.  Here's one of my favorite places in SF, not just for the view, but also for the cherry trees that bloom in the spring, the steepness of the steps, and the freshness of the breeze off the Bay, all of which makes for a great morning run.  

Running down the Lyon St steps, cherry trees in bloom, the Bay in the distance, and the dome of the
Palace of Fine Arts gleaming in the upper center.

Lyon Street marks the eastern edge of the Presidio, the old fort in the heart of the city.  It's the best repurposing of a former military base that I've ever seen.  

The Presidio, in the northern part of San Francisco, with the Golden Gate bridge at the top left, and a
 mysterious set of houses marked off in the lower right.  

As a former military base, the perimeter of the base either follows natural boundaries (e.g., the edge of Lobos Creek in the lower left), or is an arrow straight line.  

So it was a huge surprise to see this as I jogged up Lyon Street

A Streetview image looking south on Lyon Street, towards houses that are inset into the edge of the Presidio.
At 37.795282, -122.446829

See those houses on the right side of the street?  Why are they there?  

The thing that struck me was that the low wall is the edge of the Presidio.  If that's the edge of the base, why would there be six civilian houses here.  When you look at a closeup of the map, it becomes even stranger: 

Those red-roofed buildings on the left are (former) military houses.  The buildings on the right of Lyon Street are all civilian.  But so are those six houses that somehow managed to sneak inside the boundary of the base.  

Huh?  How? 

The Presidio has been here for a LOONG time.  There's been a military fort in this location since 1776, when the first Spanish set it up as a forward base in Alta California.  

This odd set of houses has troubled me for years.  Can you help me figure out what's going on?  (It took me a while to get to the answer.  How long will it take you?) 

Today's Challenge: 

1.  What's the story behind this odd row of six houses that are inset into the natural boundaries of the Presidio?  How did this state of affairs come to be?   

I'll tell you now, once I figured this out, several pieces of history all suddenly linked together in ways I hadn't ever expected.  (Even more mysteriously, two of my favorite runs suddenly had a deep connection that I'd never known about.)  

Can you figure it out?  

Let us know!  (And let us know how you figured this out.) 

Search on! 


  1. LOT 956A from 1929 city map at Rumsey Maps

    Looking for 956A finds Wherein the six houses/lots are called MIRANDA TRACT

    San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library mentions homestead map on page 252 with Miranda grant The beginnings of SF References Thomes: On Land and Sea, or, California in the years 1843, 44 amd 45"pages 187-8. "In 1838 Apolonario Miranda obtained one hundred varas of land near the presidio, known as the Ojo de Figueroa—the Well of Figueroa—where he had previously built a house. This well, which is still flowing, is near the middle of Lyon street, between Vallejo and Green. The water has been used until quite recently [1884]" Found in Google Books

    That was fun on a rainy day. So, it was an original land grant. jon

    1. Nice find, jon. "Apolonario" Miranda's first name was probably Apolinario, unless his godfather and parents were really trying to be different, or just ignorant. It's worth reading this corporal's request to his military commandant, and the ensuing grant, as transcribed on John Dwinelle's The Colonial History of the City of San Francisco.

    2. That's awsome, Luis. HOW did you find that book? (The Colonial History of the City of San Francisco, which just happens to contain that grant.) What insight did you have that led you to make the query that took you there?

    3. Nothing too fancy, I'm afraid. After I read jon's answer, I searched [ "apolonario miranda" ]. I was trying to check if "Apolonario" was jon's typo or his source's. My reasoning was "if this was the guy's real name or was transcribed like this somewhere", it will be a really easy search. The first result is indeed that book.

    4. This was a great point, Luís. I found references to both "Apolinario" AND "Apolonario" in about equal numbers. As I mentioned in my post, spelling was variable back in the day. (Remember that literacy was pretty hit-or-miss back then. Juana never learned to read or write, and signed all her legal documents with the sign of the cross.)

  2. 1. What's the story behind this odd row of six houses that are inset into the natural boundaries of the Presidio? How did this state of affairs come to be?

    [six house row presidio]

    THE PRESIDIO / New life for historic homes of Presidio's 'Pilots' Row' / Renovation of 13 vintage houses a $3 million project

    [six house row lyon street presidio]

    Lyon Street stairs is one of the most wonderful places in all of wonderful San Francisco From there clicked on link:

    Historically, el Presidio was the northernmost military outpost of New Spain (Mexico) and was established in 1776 along with Mission San Francisco de Asis (Mission Delores).

    [why civilian houses lyon street presidio]

    San Francisco's Military Base With Scenery (Published: October 16, 1988) ”... Perhaps the only city residents who don't have free access are the personnel of the Soviet Consulate, a block from the Presidio's east wall, who need State Department permission to enter the base…”

    The Presidio of San Francisco, located in San Francisco, California, has a history spanning over 200 years, but its activities during World War II are of particular importance in regard to Japanese Americans and others of Japanese descent.

    [why civilian houses lyon street presidio intext:"six houses"]

    “However, residences with views of Doyle Drive are
    limited to four to six houses located near the corner of Lyon Street and Marina Boulevard. “

    Something to use, probably, as a tool to find the answer “there are no more than six houses in a useful condition rith that of the Commandant rhich ras built the year before. "(From flies of "American Guide", Federal Writers' Project, W.P.A.) “

    “Princess Diaries” house (2601 Lyon Street at Green Street) – this house doubled as Grove High
    School in the “Princess Diaries” movie. These six houses were built in 1924 & are actually just inside the Presidio border; all are on the Register of Historic Places so the facades can’t be altered.
    This could be the answer. Still no confirmation.

    1. I was looking for videos about the Challenge and tried [Presidio historical houses] [2601 Lyon Street] among others and found these interesting videos

      History of the Presidio: The Walt Disney Family Museum

      I love the trees at 3:55 in the video

      Presidio in WWII

    2. Re 2601 Lyon Street that Ramon found. There is nothing about it or any of the 6 houses in which lists all Landmarks in SF by National, State and Local interest.


  3. [san francisco property miranda tract] finds California Ranchos, second edition , listing the land grants issued during the Spanish and Mexican periods of California history

    Finds on page 91: OJO DE AGUA DE FIGUEROA #159, San Francisco. Grant of 100 varas made first in 1833 by Gov. Figueroa and second in 1838 by Gov. Alvarado to Apolinario Miranda. Patent for 1.77 acres issued in 1877 to Miranda et al. In T 2S, R 5W, MDM.

    Varas are variable in use. However, This item says 100 varas=1.77 acres. The current very approximate size of the 6 lots in Miranda Tract is about 21,000 Sq Ft which is about .5 acre. So the original grant was about 3x bigger than what now exists.

    [ojo de agua de figueroa] finds has an old 1854 map of the grant 1 inch = 10 varas. Diseños - Hand-drawn Spanish-Mexican map demonstrating the physical boundaries of land granted to Mexican citizens by the Spanish or Mexican

    1. The source I cited in my comment to your first answer (The Colonial History of the City of San Francisco) dates the grant to November 16, 1838, as issued by the then Military Commandant, Francisco Sánchez. I wonder if civil governors could have granted military land.

      Nonetheless, it looks like the issue wasn't settled in the 1830s anyway. The first Google search result for [ "miranda tract" presidio ] is a 1897 article on San Francisco Call, accessible through CDNC (California Digital Newspaper Collection), here. Its headline reads "Lyon Street Is to Be Extended as the Eastern Boundary. An Affair of 21 Years' Standing Comes Up for Final Adjustment." Now I wonder what happened in 1876, that is, 21 years before 1897.

      I also wonder when was anything built there, apart from the house Miranda himself had already built no very legally. The current buildings are much more recent. According to the San Francisco Property Information Map (SF PIM), the outermost ones are from 1922, all the others, including the fancy central one, with street number 2601, from 1923.

    2. Here's some spin off research…

      My first, and relatively unproductive, search was something like [ lyon street "presidio" "san francisco" "2525" | "2601" | "2637" ]. My reasoning for this complicated search was that any history of those *seven* buildings should mention the street numbers of at least the outermost buildings or the central one. I was wrong.

      Nonetheless, as I found out because of this search, the story of that tract of land doesn't quite finish in 1922/23. The Blue Book (old name for white pages) doesn't mention the street name on their 1924 edition, and the people who lived there in 1928/30/31 were living somewhere else before.

      This is also how I found a book where the central fancy building is said to be the set for some scenes of the 2001 movie The Princess Diaries. And in fact here it is on the movie trailer. Compare with Google Street View.

    3. I must have been very tired yesterday, because I counted seven buildings instead of six multiple times…

    4. how's that for a coincidence…? – it's Anne's Tesla (from the P Diaries… Anne, not the Tesla)
      Anne & the Starmen

  4. all I have are random fragments - still can't tie in to the source of the early '20s building boom that produced the six houses on the tract…
    buying the streets
    built in 1923… it's appreciated a bit… for a cow hollow place
    some pics

    Juana Briones de Miranda

    nearby - 2013 - di Suvero at Crissy Field
    also near… ever been?
    the sound of water and land
    things to ruminate on while not living or playing golf there (among other things…)
    also in the Presidio…

    Dan, you're not running the steps 6 hours a day are you?
    Carmelo Franky Santos
    commercial star
    closer to reality
    closer/golden heart
    these are scenic too
    I read where there were more hills in SF, but some became fill… and five horses were pulled backwards to their demise pulling a trolley on a steep hill
    and that was part of the impetus for mechanical cable cars…
    did you notice all the trees on top of this house across the street?
    roof tree garden & street view did a 'cement shoes' number on this Tesla on Lyon St.

    1. Six hours a day? No... not that much. The longest I've ever run was 4 hours (for a slow marathon a few years ago).

    2. took a break from crawling & being mauled (only took about 52 seconds/41steps) by the Lyon steps and wondered about this… reMMij – drussell vs realdan@G+
      been hacked, seldom used account, impostor, doppelgänger, multi-dans?
      from Henk via Tena Prelec

  5. (I tried to publish the following yesterday but Blogspot didn't allow me to for undisclosed reasons.)

    Searching for the (now I'm certain) ill-written "Apolonario" (or to be exact [ "apolonario miranda" ] leads me to unforeseen great results. An information vortex is pulling me to the recesses of the Internet. Here are some books where "Apolonario" is mentioned:

    Bernard Moses's The establishment of municipal government in San Francisco (on
    Zoeth Skinner Eldredge's The beginnings of San Francisco (on
    Theodore H. Hittell's History of California (on

    On the first one, I found out that there were other people living in the Presidio, including a Candelario Miranda. With this great taste for names, this family could very well be friends with the fictional Buendías of García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude.

    On the second one, I found out that Apol[io]nario Miranda's wife was Juana Briones, which happens to have an amazing life story herself. Further info on the National Park Service website (1) and Wikipedia (2). There's an entire book from 2007 or 2008 dedicated to her (Juana Briones of Nineteenth-Century California); beware that it might be a tad too speculative (check this review). (This revelation has also made me wonder if the other Dan Russell's run migh be on Juana Briones Park, in Palo Alto.)

    The third one leads me to think that the Ojo de Agua de Figueroa was not the tract of land in question, but another one just outside the Presidio, which was also granted to Miranda (by the governor, this time).

    Arguably, if instead of searching the misspelled "Apolonario" I searched "Apolinario", the results would be better. In fact, the first result of the Google Book search [ "apolinario miranda" ] is Barbara L. Voss's The Archaeology of Ethnogenesis: Race and Sexuality in Colonial San Francisco (at Google Books). On pp. 163-171, a short but detailed biography of Juana Briones explains her relation with that tract of land and with her husband, including the transcription of her disturbing and powerful #MeToo divorce letter.

    As to the Miranda Tract being (or not) Ojo de Agua de Figueroa, and as to who exactly granted this/these tract(s) of land, I didn' reach any solid conclusion, but the last book I cited is probably the best of my secondary sources.

    I'm now forcing myself to stop searching, because I need to sleep. I had great fun though.

  6. Found while working over Elephind: We see that Miranda and Oja de Agua are the same property

    San Francisco Call, Volume 87, Number 29, 29 June 1902
    . . .The street [Lyon] as dedicated traverses a small Spanish grant, sometimes called Miranda grant and sometimes the Figueroa grant, which included nearly 300 running feet of Lyon Street. . .This delivered to the city by its own attorney Lane.

    San Francisco Call, Volume 87, Number 140, 18 October 1902
    The committee requested the Board of Public Works to solicit tenders from owners of the "Miranda grant" for the sale of property to the city for the opening of Lyon street to the bay

    San Francisco Call, Volume 94, Number 16, 16 June 1903
    THe sum of $[6?]500 was authorised to be expended in payment as the purchase price of land required for the opening and extension of Lyon and Green streets through the Miranda grant.

    San Francisco Call, Volume 94, Number 143, 21 October 1903
    The Board of Supervisors has already purchased the Miranda grant for $6500, so Lyon street may be extended and It Is now the duty of the Board of Works to proceed with the work. .

    1. Great! I didn't know Elephind, already bookmarked, thanks! In the meantime, and inspired by this, I decided to search Google Book Ngram Viewer. The Pioneer; or, California Monthly Magazine, in its Vol. 1 (1st half of 1854), has a great article across several issus on "Alcalde Grants in the City of San Francisco", including transcriptions of a lot of documents. This is where I realized that Figueroa (the name on the property) was not only Governor but also military commandant of the Presidio (a general, no less).

      (The 1919 photo on your latest comment is a great find too.)

  7. IF I already posted this today, Dan, please ignore; its a long day

    Still poking around, I find that has a photo of the Miranda Tract shortly before it was built upon--1919.

    1. nice photo find Jon - good view of the Palace of Fine Arts… prior to houses… still cars on the street, cats in the air? ;-P

  8. …was spurred on by Luís Miguel Viterbo's finds to do a bit more looking… starting with the 'Ojo de Agua de Figueroa' – seems all the locations were driven
    by the locations of springs on the land… 'Ojo de Agua de Figueroa' seems to be the house location for Briones/Apolinario Miranda on future '6 house tract'
    at the edge of the Presidio - she sounds like she, and her sisters, were remarkable women.
    Ojo de Agua de Figueroa presidio SERP led to this ⬇
    a flickr explanation…
    from the Andy Proehl flickr page:
    "The wall separating the base from San Francisco is still there but no longer guarded. The Presidio is now part of the National Park System. Juana Briones' house is long gone, replaced by 6 mansions in today’s Lower Pacific Heights. The El Ojo de Agua Figueroa spring no longer flows but the strange border created by this bright, independent and pioneering woman remains. A sign that even an army and the US Government are no match for the will of a woman bent on controlling her destiny."

    related history nearer the 'Plex
    page 1 of 2
    Juana Briones House - Palo Alto Stanford Heritage
    Stanford film documentation
    house dismantled
    location in Los Altos - worth zooming & checking street view/different dates

    handy Ojo de Agua de Figueroa SERP searched by image found drawing of Juana Briones, went from there…
    Juana Briones - San Francisco's founding mother:
    "In 1833, Briones' husband was granted land 1,000 yards east, on another spring called El Ojo de Agua Figueroa. Briones and her family moved there, just outside the Presidio borders - thus becoming the first non-Indian San Franciscans to live somewhere other than on the Presidio or at Mission Dolores. The waters of the spring were visible until 1912, and it is said that they still run under the site of her long-vanished house."
    & "At the bottom of the steps, there is an odd indentation in the adjoining Presidio wall, a notch occupied by six houses. That notch in the otherwise ruler-straight Presidio boundary is a tangible reminder of one of the most remarkable and inspiring figures in San Francisco history - Juana Briones."

    video - El Polín Spring/Tennessee Hollow Watershed/Presidio - purported photo? of Juana ~ :50 in
    video 2016, El Polín
    Presidio related pieces
    wiki on Juana Briones de Miranda

    1. The woman on that photo doesn't look a little bit Latina, much less mestiza as Juana Briones reportedly was. She also doesn't look like an elder version of the young portrait that was made many many years later based on the accounts of relatives who, reportedly, look like granma Juana. The largest resolution of this photo I found online is on a FoundSF page, a small historical essay on Juana Briones, where the photo bears the following caption: "This is believed to be a photograph of Juana Briones taken in the 1860s, but it has not been definitively identified. Image Courtesy of Point Reyes National Seashore Museum." I also found at least two reputable websites where this photo is indexed by Google but no longer to be found there. In sum, I strongly suspect that this lady is not Juana Briones at all.

  9. the springs & sources that drove settlement…
    SF water - mentions El Polin Spring in the Presidio
    Water in the Presidio
    example from elsewhere… beware Leyden:
    "In Colorado, accidentally released plutonium from the former Rocky Flats nuclear bomb trigger factory has permanently destroyed the integrity of the groundwater supply. Water now being widely used for Denver area swimming pools and playground sprinklers has been shown to contain plutonium, deadly in minute doses."

  10. Replies
    1. The first photo was posted, most appropriately, on the subreddit r/morbidlybeautiful (

    2. seems to be a modified photo too… this video says a graphic artist retouched the photo -
      the actual remains would have been fairly grim…
      not unlike the retouched/hand drawn additions to the purported Briones photo.
      The Garden of Innocence, an organization that buries abandoned and unidentified children
      from the Reddit link you provided
      the artist that did the re-touch
      another news piece
      a subreddit that I hadn't seen before…
      Goya on morbidlybeautiful - 41,038 readers
      how is it that he isn't there?
      JPW SERP
      the mystery of the photos may be diminished by the video, but it does lend some insight to hear his own words…
      Joel-Peter WITKIN “The Soul Has No Gender”

  11. not a cherry, nor a plum, but a monkey in the Presidio… (check the landmark trees list with locations) interesting site
    monkey puzzle tree (Araucaria arcaucana)
    close to yours, Lyon Street Steps in San Francisco on April 3, 2008

  12. I remember when I first took Dr. Russell's and Google's MOOC "Power Searching with Google" one of the videos there is made by Matt Cutts. So I am sorry and sad for he and his family for the passing of his wife Cindy Cutts. May she rest in peace and hope Matt and his family soon can find resignation and peace. He posted this sad news on his G+ profile.