Thursday, March 8, 2018

Answer: How did this group of houses get to be here?

As you recall, 

...our SearchResearch Challenge this week was to figure out the history behind this funny group of houses that extends from Lyon Street into the Presidio. 

Here are the 6 houses that have somehow pushed the boundary of the Presidio a bit to the west.
How did this tiny enclave come to be?  (My edits of a Google Maps image.)  

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 have to admit that I was a little puzzled about how to even describe this set of six houses.

Is there some term of art that I could use to find a relevant document that would describe this?  Maybe "enclave" would work, but searches like [ Lyon Street enclave San Francisco ] just were NOT working out.  (I had to add the "San Francisco" to the query to miss all of the Lyon streets in other places.)

So, how can I find out about this funny set of houses?

My first thought was to go back and look at a previous SRS post--the one on Who Owns that Piece of Land.  That post recommends first searching for the street addresses, then checking Wikimapia, then checking the county assessor's map.

To find the assessor's web site, I did:

     [ San Francisco county assessor ]

which quickly took me to SF county assessor's web site.  From there, you can enter a street address and get the public data on the property in question.  I chose the southernmost street address, and got this display from the site:

This looks great!  There's even a "parcel history" link.  Alas, when you click it, the history is blank.  Drat.

However, if you scroll to the bottom of that panel, you'll see this (circled with dotted lines):

So we know this house was built in 1922, and when you visit the Assessor's Block Map you can see this:

Know we know that this is Assessor's block 956A, developed in 1922. 

And clicking on the Sanborn map link gives us this excerpt (check out the note on the really steep part of Lyon street--the part to the right of this diagram... "Impassable for teams"--meaning that horse teams couldn't go up this section--that's where the Lyon Steps are today).

We have also figured out that it really IS the Presidio Military Reservation on all sides of the enclave. 

We also have another clue:  this isn't just tract 956A, but in the upper right we see the name "Miranda Tract." 

Interesting.  But what's THAT?

Searching for: 

     [ Miranda tract San Francisco ] 

... leads to a number of low quality results (lots of houses for sale, etc.).  BUT I persevered, and found that the 10th result of the SERP is a link to the book California Ranchos (by Burgess McK Shumway), which tells us that there are two tracts of land granted to someone named Miranda.  One of them would turn out to be the Miranda Tract in San Francisco.  

On page 91 we find that "Ojo de Agua Figueroa" of 100 varas (about 1 acre) in San Francisco was granted to Apolinario Miranda in 1838.  

Meanwhile, on page 119 we learn that "La Purísima Concepción" was a grant in Santa Clara county (a bit south of San Francisco) to Juana Briones de Miranda in 1871.  

What do you suppose the chances are that these are connected somehow? 

Let's start with the Ojo grant.  I searched for: 

     [ "ojo de agua de figueroa" San Francisco ] 

and found multiple hits for this.  Probably the most interesting document was at the Digital Commons collection of Californian historical documents which has a digitized copy of the original map of this grant.  This map, called a diseño marks the boundaries of this property that was granted to Apolinario Miranda.  

(For reference, this map can be found at the UC Berkeley Bancroft Library; U.S. District Court. California, Northern District. Land case 401 ND, page 45; land case map D-854. 1854.)  

Here's an image of that diseño: 

But look in the lower right corner.  There's a legend that says "Heirs of Apolinario Miranda.. Sep 29, 1854"  Meanwhile, at the top of the diseño is the text "Plan of a 100 vara lot called the "Ojo de agua de figuera as claimed by Mrs. Bryones and others.  100 varas to the inch."  

Given that spelling was fairly loosey-goosey in these days, do you suppose that "Mrs. Bryones" and "Juana Briones de Miranda" are the same person?  

The map shows that the "Ojo" flows from a cluster of trees.  But is the Ojo near Lyon Street? 

Another search for: 

     [ "Ojo de agua" San Francisco Lyon ] 

took me to another book, Juana Briones of Nineteenth Century California (by Jeanne Farr McDonnell), where we read:
"The Ojo de Agua stands out in a city replete with unusual corners.  Its western boundary shows on ordinary San Francisco street maps as a rectangular notch in the otherwise straight Lyon Street border of the Presidio, straight because no claimant other than Juana won suits for title to lands that impinged on the Presidio.  Six tall, elegant residences now grace the indentation that juts into the wall of the former army base and present national park.  In proving up her claim as Apolinario's widow, Juana hired the best attorney in California, Henry Wager Halleck, which assuredly helped." 
That pretty much answers the question.  That notch is the remainder of the old Ojo de Agua diseño that was originally granted to Apolinario Miranda, but then asserted by the widow Juana Briones de Miranda.  

Lyon Street.

Lyon Street / Ojo de Agua. Google 3D view.

We achieved our goal and answered our original question about why that notch in the Presidio is there.  But in the process of doing this research,  are two other things have come up that cry out for further investigation.    

1.  Who is Juana Briones de Miranda?   

That book we found earlier ( Juana Briones of Nineteenth Century California) is full of fascinating detail about her life's story.  Obviously, she's the wife (and later, widow) of Apolinario Miranda.  

In 1820, Juana married Apolinario Miranda, a cavalryman stationed at the Presidio.  They settled on their Ojo de Agua de Figueroa location. Apolinario and Juana eventually had eleven children, eight of whom lived to adulthood.  Juana tended sick sailors and converted her attic into a sanctuary for deserting sailors while arranging for their passage to her brother's ranch in the East Bay.

In 1835, Juana’s husband had become abusive and, with the aid of a local bishop and the mayor, she moved to the western foot of Loma Alta (now called Telegraph Hill).  She also managed to somehow get an annulment of her marriage to Apolinario.  At Loma Alta, Juana built a small adobe home—the first private house built between the Presidio and Mission Dolores... and held the title in her own name. Juana sold milk and vegetables to ships' crews and also serving as a nurse and midwife. Without formal medical training, she treated smallpox and scurvy patients, delivered babies, and set broken jaws.

In reading through this text we find that she IS the same Juana Briones who got the grant of "La Purísima Concepción" grant in Santa Clara county, some 40 miles south of the Ojo.  You can see the original plat of the grant from 1863.  

Now this gets personally interesting because this is one of the places I go running quite a bit.  Naturally, I did a search for [ Juana Briones home ] to see if I could find where she lived.  It didn't take long to find the SavingPlaces website for the Briones adobe (dedicated to finding and preserving historic buildings).  And in that site I found that the house was located at 4155 Old Adobe Road (gee... wonder why it was given that name?!).   

I jogged over there, since it's not far from where I live.  Near that address on Old Adobe Road I found this marker: 

When I do research, I always expect to learn interesting things... I just don't expect them to lead practically to my back yard.  

And I didn't expect to learn about an early California wonder-woman who defied expectations and overcame all kinds of limitations of her era.  What a remarkable person!  

2.  What happens to this area of San Francisco (near Lyon Street) over time?  

I ask because I noticed something interesting.  

One of my attempts to figure out what happened was to look for old maps of San Francisco.  Luckily, I happen to know that the Rumsey Maps Collection (at Stanford University, which you could easily discover by doing a search for [ old maps San Francisco ] ).  By searching there for maps of SF, I found a bunch, and it was easy to find maps of the region.  Drawing on those resources, I made some side-by-side comparisons of the greater Lyon Street area with the Ojo de Agua area marked off in a red box. 

Notice that the 1870 map is just plain wrong.  Green Street ends at Lyon, not on Walnut.  Something went serious askew here.  On the other hand, a map from just a few years later gets it right (1876).  

A different kind of error is made in 1882.  In the map on the left, the 1882 map by the Faust company gets the intersection of Green Street all wrong.  I added the box at the place where Green St. hits the edge of the Presidio.  That should be Lyon St., but someone messed up this entire section of the city.  Luckily, the 1894 Faust company map has it fixed up. This is correct, but doesn't show the Miranda Tract.   

In 1906, there's a small shadow showing the Miranda Tract, although nothing has been built there. And in 1926, the first official map that recognizes the Miranda Tract with the Lyon Street enclave is seen.  

The enclave is marked correctly in the 1929 map by But the houses disappear again in 1938 from the Thomas Brothers map.  (They're still there, the mapmakers just decided to not mark them down.)  

However, look at this map from 1963.  Notice anything really different?  The houses are still not marked, but there's another, even bigger difference.  

The greater Lyon Street area, 1963.  We seem to be missing the Laurel Hill cemetery. 
Look near the bottom of the map, just to the left of Pine, Bush, and Sutter.  See what's NOT there? Compare with this current map of the area.  

That big tilted box at the bottom is the location of the former Laurel Hill Cemetery. 

A quick search for: 

     [ Laurel Hill San Francisco cemetery history ] 

quickly takes us to a multitude of articles that all say the same thing (example: Mercury News or San Francisco Curbed history site).  After years of filling up the western side of San Francisco, the city supervisors realized that they needed to remove the cemeteries from the city, and forced the cemeteries (of which there were many--including one for the Catholics, one for the Masons, one for the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, etc.) to remove the bodies from the city.  

Laurel Hill, one of the larger cemeteries, was set up in 1892.  But when the order in the early 1930s came to exhume the bodies and relocate them to points farther south, Laurel Hill (and others) fought back.  But it's hard to fight City Hall, and by 1937, the city election forced the issue and the entire dead population of San Francisco was forced to retire to the next city to the south, Colma.  

Starting in 1940, organized disinterment began, with around 2,500 bodies being moved each month.  Even so, it took years to move the dead. Every day, a parade of hearses left San Francisco for Colma with new refugees from the northern necropoli.

The 35,000 former inhabitants of Laurel Hill are now all in Colma, merged into a subterranean crypt now called the Laurel Hill Mound.  

But, to this day, occasional gravesites are still found in San Francisco.  The former cemetery is now the Laurel Hill campus of the University of California, San Francisco.  

I guess it's true what they say, "the dead shall be raised"  ... if the City wants the land.  

Search Lessons 

A couple of things leapt out at me as I did this Challenge... 

1.  Expect the unexpected.  Keep your powers of observation sharp!   This Challenge took me a while because I kept finding new and ever more interesting things about early San Francisco.  

2.  Even small clues can have a big impact on your search process.  In this Challenge, finding the words "Miranda Tract" on the County Assessor's map of Lyon Street opened up the search process tremendously.  I was having trouble figuring out how to search for this odd grouping of houses.  But when I found the Assessor's map, and noticed those words on the plat--I could use those terms to track down everything else.  It was the key that unlocked the whole Challenge.  Pay attention as you find things!  

Hope you enjoyed this Challenge as much as I did!  

In the spirit of Juana Briones, Happy International Women's Day!  

Search On!   


  1. I uploaded that image to Wikipedia. Hope they get around to approving it sometime soon!

  2. glad to hear you are adding your plaque photo - Juana would probably appreciate that… adobe, some sticks, the unknowable = history/a collective memory
    "The San Francisco Columbarium, containing over five thousand niches, was designed by British architect Bernard J. Cahill and opened in 1898 in what was then the 167-acre Odd Fellows Cemetery. In 1910, San Francisco passed a law prohibiting cremations, and the crematory was demolished. Later all bodies in the cemetery were relocated outside the city. The Columbarium survived but from 1934 to 1979 it was abandoned to raccoons and birds, mushrooms and fungus."… what? no banana slugs…
    San Francisco Landmark #209 San Francisco Columbarium
    interesting site for Santa Clara & beyond…
    part of the larger site
    wiki overview
    a pathway to many other rabbit holes… like this:
    The Silicon Valley Librarian
    Lone Mountain, a.k.a. Laurel Hill Cemetery
    fwiw, a little look at the general area over to Tahoe - glimpse of the Sierra snowpack… btw, used search skills - should have just read the comments - a Alenia C-27JSpartan & a EADS HC-144 Ocean Sentry…
    P1D… notice the use of screens/devices too… and female ATC
    San Francisco Bay tour - headed toward the Presidio ~ 10:30 in
    Coast Guard Air Station Sacramento
    Folsom Lake SERP
    …meanwhile, at Oroville -
    Secant Wall
    Mercury News
    secant pile, or cut-off wall
    Secant SERP

    and for fliers/doggers… Piper's tale ✯✯✯✯✯
    good boy
    a cool look
    Traverse City

  3. I found a really amazingly well made tool called San Francisco 2015 Property Assessments, made by Darkhorse Analytics, and I thought of sharing it here, for future reference:

  4. You might be focused on SF only, however, have you ever looked into how David Jacks swindled many Mexican rancheros out of their land grants? Maps played a crucial role in proving the title to such lands.

  5. I did a ride around the area of Ojo de Agua de Figueroa and took a lot of pics:

  6. Did a ride around the area of Ojo de Agua de Figueroa and took some pics:

  7. Did a ride today around the area of the Ojo de Agua de Figueroa and took some pics. It is a naturally intense location and the spring which would have flowed there for thousands of years, nourishing life would have been magical. One can only imagine what it must have been like around there before it was 'developed'

  8. Did another ride around the Ojo de Agua de Figueroa today and was able to hike to a spot on the hillside directly above where the spring would have flowed from

  9. One thing I'll mention about the environmental impact that having livestock in the South Bay hills as Juana Briones did - I've actually hiked around where the satellite dishes are on the upper Stanford campus area near where Juana's house was, and the effect of cattle grazing there for years has devastated the soil in that area. Instead of loose dirt, the soil becomes compacted and very hard. Perhaps because livestock grazing is incompatible with the type of soil and also with the arid climate which dries and compacts the ground in to a hard, impenetrable cake. While people celebrate Juana as a pioneer, people like her inadvertently brought a lot of destruction and extensive environmental disruption with them.