1908 Cistern Circles

Brick Circles On The Ground

The 1908 Cistern Circles in San Francisco are an intriguing part of the city’s history, particularly its approach to emergency water supply and disaster preparedness. After the devastating 1906 earthquake and subsequent fires, which highlighted the inadequacies in the city’s infrastructure, San Francisco undertook a significant project to improve its firefighting capabilities. Part of this project involved the construction of a series of underground cisterns in 1908.

These cisterns, located throughout the city, were designed to hold large quantities of water specifically reserved for firefighting. The idea was that, in the event of another major fire, these cisterns would provide an independent and reliable water source, crucial for combating fires should the regular water supply be compromised.

What makes these cisterns visually identifiable today are the brick circles visible on the streets above them. These circles, often painted in gold, mark the locations of the cisterns, serving as a unique and historical feature of San Francisco’s streetscape. The presence of these circles is a reminder of the city’s resilience and its proactive measures to protect itself against future disasters.

There are over 170 of these cisterns scattered throughout San Francisco, each holding tens of thousands of gallons of emergency water. While they are primarily functional in nature, the cisterns, and their street-level markers, have become an interesting and distinctive aspect of the city’s character.

For visitors interested in San Francisco’s history and its responses to natural disasters, these cistern circles offer a glimpse into the past and the city’s ongoing efforts to safeguard its residents. They are a testament to San Francisco’s commitment to resilience and innovation in urban planning. While exploring the city, finding and seeing these cistern circles can add an educational and historical layer to the experience of walking through San Francisco’s diverse neighborhoods.

Grant Avenue 413
San Francisco 94108 CA US
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