One of the first ships to bring fortune seekers rushing to the Gold Fields of California, the whaler Niantic was abandoned by her crew and left to rot in San Francisco Bay.
Enterprising locals, in somewhat desperate need of shelter and building materials in the rapidly growing city, dragged her and derelict ships like her ashore and converted them into some of the city’s first storehouses, hotels and saloons, creating a waterfront of “shipwreck” buildings serving the early metropolis.
Over years and decades, the ships became boxed in, or burnt in the city’s many epic fires. The Niantic was rebuilt and rebuilt, with a little less left of the original ship remaining each time, until finally a fire in 1872 closed it down for good.
The Niantic was slowly forgotten, and the site was built over in subsequent years becoming the site of the famous Montgomery Block building.
It was during later construction that she was rediscovered again, in 1978 during excavation for the Mark Twain Plaza Complex. Several artifacts were recovered, including several bottles of Gold Rush era champagne, discovered remarkably, miraculously intact. At the same time this piece of her stern was removed and preserved.
Today she is once again buried, the site near the Transamerica Pyramid, is marked by a plaque, and the stern can be visited at the Maritime Museum in the Aquatic Park Bathhouse Building near Hyde Pier.
Although virtually no sign remains visible above ground, memories and markers of lost shipwrecks of San Francisco’s early days can be found at the Old Ship Saloon or by exploring the audio tour “The Armada of Broken Dreams.”
Know Before You Go
Locating the ruins is a bit of a gamble, as there are three locations for S. F. Maritime Museum along Fisherman's Wharf. The relics rest in the Art Deco building at the foot of Polk and Beach Street.
Parking is at a premium in San Francisco, so expect to park some distance away from the Aquatic Park,(especially on weekends & holidays).