History of Islais Creek

Contributed by Pearl Winaker and Bernard C Winn

 

This is the creek referred to on the first page of this article as fresh water. It lies beyond the limit of the area covered by the article, but because of the fact that it bore the same name as the estuary it should be described.

 

One of its sources was in the glen on the southern slope of Twin Peaks, formerly known as San Miguel Hills, just north of Portola Drive. Portola Drive was originally San Miguel Toll Road, and the little kiosk which was the toll house is in the glen just north of the drive, where the Shetland ponies are now kept for children to ride.

 

South of Portola Drive is a deep and wide canyon which narrows as it extends southeasterly. The creek coursed through this canyon and by Glen Park and then through what is now Bosworth Street until it reached the bottom over which Mission Street viaduct is built. The other source is about where Cayuga Avenue and Regent Street intersect. Its channel was what is now Cayuga Avenue and joined the other branch under the Mission Street viaduct. The creek widened between Niagara and Geneva Avenues to form what was known as Lake Geneva. It then took a generally southeasterly course in a channel that is now Alemany Boulevard and, crossing San Bruno Road, emptied into Islais Creek estuary at about where Industrial Street is shown on the map.

 

The name given the creek has the appearance of being Spanish, but the Spanish dictionary does not contain it. An Indian word “islay,” meaning wild cherry, suggests the origin of the name. There were many wild cherry trees on the peninsula, and it is probable that some of them grew on the banks of Islais Creek and that the Spanish may have adopted the name and given it a Spanish form, something that has been done frequently with native names.

( Pearl Renaker)

 

At the turn of the century, (1900) Islais Creek, formerly DeVress Creek, was referred to as Islais Swamp. The natural drainage outlet for a basin occupying nearly 5,000 acres, it flowed eastward into a shallow marshy bay before reaching San Francisco Bay,

 

By 1871, more than 100 buildings and stables were built on piles over Islais Creek, Southwest of Kentucky Street in San Francisco's "New Butchertown."

 

Before the sardines disappeared from the west coast in the 1950s, the area east of the drawbridge that now spans Islais Creek, was home to the largest sardine canning industry in the world.

 

During World War ll, large ocean-going tugs berthed along the north side of the creek on the west side of the bridge. A little further up the creek was the only copra (coconut meat) processing plant on the west coast of the U.S. A very small part of the operaton still exists and is an historical landmark, I believe.

 

After the earthquake of 1906, thousands of tons of debris were dumped into the marshland that existed on both sides of the creek.

 

( Bernard C Winn)