There’s no place like an airport to ponder the notion of place in both its microscopic and macroscopic manifestations – in its continuities, and its evolutions.
Next time you fly in or out of San Francisco’s International Airport, take a stroll down to Terminal 2 (post-security), where a series of historic local maps and drawings are on display. The images, on loan from Long Now Board Member David Rumsey‘s collection, document San Francisco’s transformation from sleepy backwater into lively boomtown during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
San Francisco was at once improbable and inevitable. Much of the land at the northern tip of this hilly peninsula consisted of wind-swept sand dunes and was frequently blanketed with a cold fog during its summer season. But its location at the entrance to the largest natural harbor on the Pacific Coast, a series of auspicious events, and consecutive generations of citizens boldly reinventing their home on their own terms all combined to produce a city considered by many of its residents and visitors to be one of the world’s finest only fifty years after its founding. By all accounts, the transition of this sleepy village clinging to the shoreline of a sheltered cove to a boisterous, thriving metropolis was sudden. Charts, maps, and illustrated views document the remarkable pace of San Francisco’s early development in the latter half of the nineteenth century and its perpetual state of transformation throughout the twentieth century.
For those who would rather avoid the TSA, the exhibit is also viewable online. Every image includes a link to David Rumsey’s own online collection, where you’ll find detailed information about each map.