Telegraph Hill

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Telegraph Hill and Washington Square, 1865

A signal station was erected on the Hill in 1849 to advise the City of the approach of ships. In September 1853, the first Marine Telegraph in California, which extended eight miles to Point Lobos, was stationed here, giving the Hill its name.


The Hill was named due to the semaphore placed on the summit in 1849 to advise the City of the approach of ships. The Marine Telegraph enabled the type of vessel to be communicated as they came into the Bay. Washington Square, named after George Washington is seen in the foreground.

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Observatory and Signal Station, Telegraph Hill, c. 1890

The Observatory, built by Frederick O. Layman in the style of a German baronial castle, opened in 1882 with a restaurant and concert hall. Unfortunately the cable car system designed to climb the steep Hill was unsuccessful, and the place failed. It was burnt down in 1903.
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Collection of Oakland Public Library

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Handtinting by Bennett Hall









Pioneer Park atop Telegraph Hill, c. 1928


Ceremonial Event in the newly constructed parking lot at the top of Telegraph Hill, where the Coit Tower would be soon constructed circa 1928

The Hill was severely eroded by quarrying activities, beginning from the Gold Rush period when ships bringing in supplies left with full ballasts of rock destined for other cities. In 1876 land at the summit was purchased by businessmen for preservation, and they donated it to the City to form Pioneer Park.

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San Francisco Bay from Pioneer Park, Telegraph Hill, 1928

Pioneer Park, at the summit of the Hill, was donated to the City in 1876, and many plans were debated for its development. In 1923 a serpentine road to the summit was graded, followed by a 4' high concrete balustrade with "funeral urns" to surround the parking area - a design which obstructed the views from cars, and was later removed.

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William Powell and Myrna Loy view the Bay Bridge, Telegraph Hill, 1936

On the stage and in motion pictures, Telegraph Hill has been represented many times. One of the most famous hills in the U.S., it holds a mysterious fascination with its history, tales of local characters and the Bohemian life. Powell and Loy enjoy the view between scenes from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's 'After the Thin Man'.

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Meisel's Grocery, Montgomery near Alta Street, Telegraph Hill, c. 1921

Residents of the area settled mainly at the base of the hill until the 1870's.

Local grocery stores were popular in this hilly area before the advent of the automobile, which enabled increased mobility of the residents. By the 1920's there were only two or three stores at any one time, and after 1933 only one remained.

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Telegraph Hill

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