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Sneaky Stairs

There are at least four public stairways in Potrero...can you find them?

Setting out to find San Francisco’s stairways will take you to parts of the city you can’t see from a bus seat.  Stairways give reason to explore the parts of the city hidden behind the stage dressing provided to the world.  Stairways point to the wondrous bits of a bewitching city we might otherwise miss as we rush around. Story has it there are over three hundred stairways in San Francisco. 


The Myth

Urban myth tells that San Francisco’s streets were laid out on paper by a bureaucrat in Washington, D.C., who had never been to San Francisco. Believing San Francisco to be as flat as the nation’s capitol, the urban planner simply dropped a grid onto the map, unaware of the forty tall hills that fill the peninsula. The result was a city filled with dramatically steep streets.  While the story isn’t true, it provides explanation for the city’s incredibly straight and steep streets and illustrates our long standing dislike for most of those living near the Potomac.


The Truth

In truth, Jasper O’Farrell, the civil engineer who laid forth most of San Francisco’s modern city plan, wanted curved streets which conformed to the terrain.  Real estate developers, however, had other plans.  They wanted straight streets which made lots easier to subdivide and sell. Thus, San Francisco ended up with numerous incredibly steep streets and uninterrupted history of greedy landlords.

Some of San Francisco’s streets were steep enough that horse-drawn carriages couldn’t make it up the inclines.  Cables connected to stream powered engines were required.  In other locations, the proposed streets were so exceptionally steep, the hills so impassible, that constructing roads was impossible.  Here, the city simply built stairways.  Over 300 of these stairways exist throughout the city, providing access and shortcuts to areas unreachable by any other means.  Aside from a handful of famous stairways such as those leading to Coit Tower, many of the stairways are quiet places, used only by locals and known to a handful of people.

Potrero Hill has at least four sets of stairs, two of which feature in this hunt. We'll leave it to you to find the rest...or ask at the next neighborhood meeting!


Visit to join the community fun as our gift to you during this year's "holidays at home" Shelter in Place.

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