28 January 2013

Forgotten Hills: Fort Mason's Black Point

The high mountains and steep hills get all of the attention. What about the shorter hills with history and character? What about the strategic hills that historically protected the bay with cannons 100 feet above the bay. In the latest installment of Forgotten Hills, we look at Black Point at Fort Mason.
Looking west to Golden Gate from Black Point batteries. A Civil War battery in foreground with Fort Mason Center wharves to right.

Fort Mason's hill is covered in trees. In the center middle ground is one of the Fort Mason Wharves. Golden Gate Bridge and Marin are in the background while Aquatic Park is in the foreground.
UPDATE: Find about about other Forgotten Hills. Hunters Point Hill, and La Portezuela


The hill in question rises as a bluff above Black Point looking over San Francisco Bay at the northern edge of Fort Mason. Lying to the west of Aquatic Park, and east of Marina Green, the hill rises 111 feet above what is possibly the last original and untouched San Francisco coastline on the bay. Despite having modest defenses installed during Spanish times when it was called Point San Jose, or later during the American Civil War when batteries of cannons were installed at the Post at Point San Jose, the hill does not seem to have an official name.
Location of hill at Black Point in Fort Mason.
As shown in the map above, the hill at Fort Mason may even be the northernmost peak on mainland San Francisco. Although the ridge leading to Fort Point is higher, it doesn't have an outright peak that is further north than the Fort Mason Hill. Of course Alcatraz's high point and Goat Hill on Yerba Buena Island are further north but on islands.

Topographic surrounding of Black Point, aka Fort Mason Bluff
Fort Mason Bluff (aka Black Point) at 111' is overshadowed by Russian Hill's 302' peak nearby.


Is the hill simply Black Point? Black Point is the name of the land formation protruding into San Francisco Bay, much like Fort Point, or Point Lobos – not the hill itself. Or do we call the hill the more mundane Fort Mason Hill? What about Fort Mason Bluff? For our purposes, we'll just call this 111 foot forgotten hill Black Point.

Name: Black Point
Height: 111 feet
Ridge/Hill Group: Nob/Russian Hills
Prominence: 23 feet (but 111 feet from north, east and west)
Confusion: Lacks a specific name. The point into the bay is not technically the hill.
Where: Fort Mason in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area at the Black Point Battery
Cross Streets: just north of the intersection of Franklin St and Funston St

10 January 2013

Great Harbor Matchups: Mountain Harbors of the Future

I've always wondered why cities of the future always look so great, yet somehow unbelievable. Whether it's in a science fiction film, or an architect's vision of a city, cities of the future often look too good to be true. But some cities actually look futuristic. Dubai's skyline is full of fanciful looking buildings for example, but when you get onto the ground, it's not nearly as lively as you might like (or so I've heard).

Hong Kong Light Show, Photo: Rates To Go
Two cities actually almost have it all. Vancouver and Hong Kong, have very modern skylines. They've even got amazingly huge mountains as their backdrop, big harbors, and lively street life. In the previous Great Harbor Matchup, we looked at the two "Golden" cities, San Francisco and Istanbul. In this installment we take a look at two "futuristic"mountain harbor" cities: Vancouver and Hong Kong. 

Vancouver was actually used as the template for the fictitious Caprica City in the television shows Battlestar Galactica, and Caprica. The image below even shows mountains in the background. Vancouver was even used as a city template for a Franklin Templeton investment bank tv commercial showing a fictitious city with the great skyscrapers of the world.
Caprica City. Image: Battlestar Galactica Wiki
I'm not familiar with any films using Hong Kong as a fictitious future city. However, with it's unique skyline, mountain backdrops, varied architecture and amazing light shows, it already looks like a city of the future. 
Vancouver and Hong Kong were also selected as a matchup for their cultural/economic connection to each other, not to mention being former colonies of the British Empire.

One overarching element that makes the cities different is their size. As we will see, Hong Kong is a very large city that is incredibly dense, while Vancouver is a medium large city with a dense downtown.

Full disclosure: I've visited Vancouver several times, but never visited Hong Kong. I hope to visit Hong Kong sometime soon.

View of Hong Kong Harbor from Victoria Peak, Photo: Citynoise.org

Downtown Vancouver from False Creek. Photo: Everett Potter
Geography Comparison
Although the two harbors both have large mountains looming over them, they have few other significant similarities.
  • Protected Harbors: Burrard Inlet in Vancouver and Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong provide naturally deep and protected harbors, both accessed from adjacent seas: Salish Sea (Strait of Georgia) and South China Sea, respectively
    • The term Salish Sea is quite new, dating officially from 2010 when both Canadian and American geographical boards adopted the name. The sea comprises of the Strait of Gerogia, Pugeot Sound and Strait of Juan de Fuca. Think of it this way, imagine if the Mediterranean Sea was only known as a group of a dozen seas (Aegean, Ionian, Adriatic, Tyrrhenian, Cilician, Libyan, Crete, Ligurian, Belearic, Alboran Seas, etc.) but had no unifying name. Well that's the case with the Salish Sea. A combination of a national border and somewhat unique geography likely prevented a unified name. Thanks to geographic societies and professionals we now have a unified name. Quick question: Is the Johnstone Strait part of the Salish Sea? Should it be included?
  • Delta Adjacent: Neither city is situated along a major river, unlike many great harbor cities (e.g. Shanghai, New York City, St. Petersburg). However, both are very close to major river deltas. Vancouver is 6 miles from the Fraser River delta, and Hong Kong is about 30 miles from the Pearl River Delta (Zhujiang Delta).