Alexander Clark Real Estate

‘The Front Steps’: How Sea Lions Helped Build the Richmond

Previously, we wrote about the very first road into the Richmond, and how this umbilical connection to the rest of the city ushered in the housing development that made the Richmond, well, the Richmond.

But that’s only part of the story: Before the neighborhood properly existed in its own right, what were people coming out here for? What was the road leading to?

There was the ocean, of course; but you can visit the beach from any number of (at the time) more easily accessible points to the south.

One big attraction was of course the Cliff House (not the same as the modern Cliff House, but functionally close enough for our purposes), and before that, Seal Rock House. (The Sutro Baths came much late.) But that wasn’t all: In many people’s cases, it was all about the seals themselves, and their nearby Seal Rocks hangout.

According to the National Park Service, Seal Rocks (often incorrectly “Seal Rock” or “Seals Rock”) are actually a gift from Idaho of all places: Like much of the rest of the Lands End area, it consists largely of zircon crystals eroded from an Idaho mountain range and then carried here by a now non-existent river some 80 million years ago.

This of course is not what those latter-day sightseers were interested in: They came for the seals that give the coastal outcropping its name. For a glimpse of these sometimes majestic, sometimes clownish oceanic tenants, past San Franciscans would troupe for miles through the desert.

There is of course a problem with this anecdote: There actually never were any seals at the Seal Rocks, or at least, not in any significant number.

It was actually sea lions–both the California sea lion and the Stellars sea lion varietal–that hung out here en masse. It was these same sea lions whose barking conferred the name on nearby Point Lobos.

But that taxonomic trivia didn’t matter; what mattered is that people loved coming out here, and they did it enough to create demand for better transit access, and with access of course came increasing demand for housing, for realty, and eventually to properly incorporate these “outside lands” into the city itself.

So whether you’re buying a home in the Richmond, selling a home in the Richmond, or just living in a home in the Richmond, it’s worth it to stop and consider that this might be the only neighborhood in any major US city that was, in effect, built by sea lions.

That’s a simplification, of course: We now know that housing pressures in SF would rise to such a point that eventually almost no corner of the peninsula could escape the prospect of development.

But that’s not the way it happened here: Here, the development happened earlier, not just because of housing pressure but also in part because of sea lion pressure. Which turned out to be quite an economic driver in the long run.

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