Black Point Beach Club

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San Francisco’s Aquatic Park has a history of heavy industry, leisure and tourism dating back to the Gold Rush. All three have been drawn to the area because of its proximity to the warm waters of the sheltered cove. It is the story of a dialogue between civilization and the sea. I have used the history and motif of the area’s beach clubs to explore the future of leisure adjacent to the changing coastline. The project centers around an adaptable object made up of wood units and orange cloth. The action of attempted assembly adds tension and struggle to leisure, thus increasing sensitivity to the ecosystem it interacts with.  

Dolphin Club members in front of their club house in 1890’s.

Dolphin Club members in front of their club house in 1890’s.

In 1860, explorer, farmer and California senator John C. Fremont purchased Black Point — an outcropping between today's Aquatic Park and Fort Mason — as a farm for his wife. The Fremonts had to abandon the farm during the Civil War as they were called back east and the federal government took control of the land, establishing Fort Mason in 1864. The area inland from the cove, that is now Aquatic Park, was an industrial hub and site of the Shelby Smelting and Lead Company’s lead refinery and smelter at the end of Hyde Street from 1865-1885.

During this time of industrial and military occupation, Black Point Beach was also a thriving weekend beach destination. The Neptune and Mermaid Swimming Baths hosted visitors to the beach in over 300 bath houses. “In the mid-1880s, seawater swimming was all the rage, as people thought seawater had medicinal benefits.” (Bevk) At the time the water came up to Beach Street, hence the name. However, the newly built lavish indoor swimming pool, Sutro Baths, and a major storm on Good Friday in 1885 spelled the end of the popularity of the beach clubs and by the 1890’s they had mostly closed. The Dolphin Club, founded in 1877 by John Wieland and his brothers along with the Kehrlein brothers has persisted as a rowing and swim club. The Dolphin Club celebrates the struggle of swimming in the Bay and hosts annual swim challenges. Originally, a small shed at the foot of Leavenworth Street was used as a clubhouse, but the clubhouse has moved over time in response to changes in the constructed landscape.

View of Aquatic Park from Black Point with The State Belt Railroad crossing the cove in the 1930’s.

View of Aquatic Park from Black Point with The State Belt Railroad crossing the cove in the 1930’s.

There is a lovely account of swimming in the cove during the 1890’s from Harry Brook of the city engineer's office. He remembers swimming near the outlet of Ghirardelli Chocolate Company’s cooling system which fed into the cove. “The factory in those days apparently used a water-cooling system for its machinery and discharged through this pipe a constant flow of warm water, which effectively raised the temperature in the cove for a radius of 20 or 30 yards from the outlet. No matter how icy the water was everywhere else in the Bay, Harry and his friend splashed about in this area as comfortably as if they had been in a heated pool.” (O’Brien) For the most part, swimming in the cove became unpopular due to the effluent that was released by near by industry.

The State Belt Railroad which ran freight up and down the Bay side of San Francisco went over the water at Black Point Beach beginning in the 1890’s. The train tunnel that boars through Black Point is the only relic of the tracks left on the site today. After the 1906 earthquake, what is now Aquatic Park was used for dumping of burned debris. Current day Aquatic Park sits on the landfill from the earthquake. The name was officially changed to Aquatic Park when the WPA built what is now The San Francisco Maritime Museum as a bathhouse in 1936. However, the bath house never opened due to the continued popularity of Sutro Baths. “After occupation by troops in WWII from 1941 through 1948, the building became home to the San Francisco Maritime Museum.” ( This history of leisure, industry and militarism has quite literally shaped the land and experience of Aquatic Park.


In response to this history I created a physical mediator to help think about the future of the sea front. The concurrent timing of industry and leisure in history combined with the formalization of leisure through the swim clubs and beach clubs provided a motif to consider how we might deal with sea level rise due to global warming. I used the sea level rise projection from set at 5 feet of sea level rise to create the logo for the beach club. This acknowledges that, now, more so than in the past, major changes to Aquatic Park, and our coastlines in general, will come from our indirect actions though global warming, not through direct actions like building a railroad or adding shoreline though landfill.

The object itself is meant to be assembled on site by members of the beach club in response to localized conditions. The system includes 18 inch units with eight holes each that are connected using lag bolts to form a structure. The units can be joined at any angle and multiple times and triangulate easily to add strength. The structure is then partially covered in fabric that is attached using smaller bolts. The fabric responds to the wind and other climatic phenomena that is highly temporal while the structure responds to the longer term but still changing landscape. The implied activity is meant to motivate a dialogue between person, place and time. It mirrors expected beach behavior, like building sand castles, but has a more serious focus. The photographs document the inaugural outing of the beach club and show the artifact in use at Aquatic Park.