M.M. O'Shaughnessy Employed as City Engineer
by Michael Maurice O'Shaughnessy
IN THE latter part of August, 1912, Mayor Rolph wired me at San Diego,
when as Chief Engineer of the Southern California Mountain Water Company I had completed
its system, asking if I would be available for the position of City Engineer of
San Francisco, and I answered advising him that I would need at least a week's consideration
to arrive at a decision on the subject. My previous contact, 29 years ago, with
public officials in the City of San Francisco had been discouraging. I was authorized
by the Democratic Board of Supervisors in 1891 to make surveys for the extension
of Market Street over Twin Peaks Mountain to the Pacific Ocean, at an expense of
$5,000, and through political juggling got cheated out of the fee for all my work.
I had a subsequent experience in 1892 with a succeeding Republican Board of Supervisorsthe
Taber Boardwhich retained me on the extension of the Potrero Avenue for the
opening of the so-called Bay Shore Boulevard from Ninth Street to the County Line,
and after a legal contest another $5,000 fee for a great volume of engineering work
went a-glimmering. Hence my hesitation about having any further business contacts
with the new generation of City Officials of San Francisco.
Other incentives, however, induced me to reconsider my attitude. Two thousand
thee hundred acres of the City had been destroyed by fire in 1906 and 100,000 people
deprived of homes. The reconstruction of public utilities was badly needed in this
portion of the City and domestic reasons above all, my wife being a native of the
City, influenced my decision and favorable consideration of the Mayor's proposal.
On Saturday forenoon, August 31st, 1912, I had my first official interview with
the Mayor in his office in the temporary City Hall,
now the Whitcomb Hotel building on the south side of Market Street, in which, after
discussion, he agreed to select me for City Engineer at a salary of $15,000 annually.
This to me was then a financial sacrifice, as my engineering fees the previous year
exceeded $30,000. He gave out the following interview on the result to the press:
The matter of the selection of a City Engineer succeeding Mr. Marsden Manson has
given me great concern, because the City Engineer will have to plan, initiate, and
accomplish during the next three years work of the very greatest extent and importance.
A newspaper of the City, of September 1, 1912, states that soon after
the appointment was made, the Mayor, who had called Mr. O'Shaughnessy to his offce,
Until the organization of a Metropolitan Water Board is completed, he
must carry out the preliminaries of the Freeman plans in bringing the Hetch Hetchy water to
our City and this will include undertaking the construction of immense dams, tunnels
and pipe lines. In short, he must organize the construction and administration of
a water system which will involve the economical and efficient expenditure of approximately
In addition to thjs system, if the City purchases the Spring Valley Water
Works he will take charge of the Engineering Department of that system and carry
to completion the development of the Spring Valley sources of supply and the much-needed
extensions of the distributing plant, including all the work heretofore done by
Mr. Hermann Schussler, who for many years received a salary of $25,000 per
annum as Chief Engineer of the company, and is at the present time receiving $12,000
per annum from them as Consulting Engineer.
He must also take charge of the construction and completion of the Geary
Street Railway and the contemplated extensions thereof. In addition, he will have
charge of the completion of the sewer system, the Auxiliary High Pressure Water
System for Fire Protection, the construction of the proposed tunnels, and
all the ordinary work of the City Engineer. I venture to say that no corporation
in the world, public or private, has a more extensive or varied program of immediate
construction, involving the expenditure of a larger amount of money, than the City
of San Francisco.
I deem this salary of $15,000 a year not exorbitant in view of the experience
and prestige of Mr. O'Shaughnessy and of the magnitude and cost of the work to be
done under his direction, in view also of the salaries usually paid to engineers
of other enterprises.
I am confident he will be able, with many suggestions dictated by his
experience, to save the City many times the amount of his salary.
Chief, you are in the saddle, you're it, you are in charge.
I expressed to the Mayor my strong objections to political interference
by elected officials with the business end of engineering projects, and hence his
comments. I got various letters from citizens, of which this is an excerpt:
Go to it, it's up to you, you must look on the City as your best girl
and treat her well.
Do what you think is best for her interests. Where reorganization is necessary,
We look to you with all confidence.
Dear Sir: This is what the people want. If you can do things (we don't
care how), you are worth twice the price, but if you can't do things, you are dear
at any price. We want things done. Good luck to you, don't mind red tape or a few
dollars, but get things done.
The following article is from a sympathizing writer, Jack Lindsay, in
a daily paper dated September 27, 1912:
PRINTS ARE FOR OFFICE FORCE
For a short time in 1888, 24 years before, I worked as a transitman in
the then City Engineer's office, and had a general knowledge of the routine work
connected with City streets and land surveys. In those days very little authority
for engineering was reposed in the City Surveyor. He had no responsibility for any
New City Engineer Man of Action
Theoretical Follows the Practical in City's
Many Important Engineering Problems.
The Mayor wears a self-satisfied smile these days when any mention is
made of the office of the City Engineer. His trouble with that important bureau
is at an end and if mention is made that there is some engineering defect that needs
attention, his answer is, "O'Shaughnessy has already taken the matter under consideration."
Judging from what has been done in the short time that the ndw City Engineer has
been in charge, many intricate engineerlng problems which the City has in hand have
been remedied. He has proven the confidene; reposed in him by the Mayor and took
hold of things personally and straightened out matters which tended to impede City
progress and embarrass the administration. He has not waited for the reports of
his subordinates, sat in his office and studied blue prints and then compiled an
elaborate and technical report without personal knowledge of the subject-matter.
Nothing of the kind for this virile man. He investigates first personally; visits
the spot where a correction is needed; makes a hasty, though no less accurate survey;
arrives at his conclusions; tells what should be done and then gets his accurate
measurcments and the blue prints follow later; and the practical and theoretical
are combined with good results.
He had not been in office a day before he was deep in the study of the
Twin Peaks Tunnel project and there is going to be a straight-from-the-shoulder
and a somewhat original report on this important matter in a short time. Condemnation
suits had begun for the Glen Park reservoir site for a municipally owned water supply.
O'Shaughnessy made a personal inspection before he was a week in office and in a
day decided the exact amount of land which would be needed, and by his orders the
excess was released from litigation immediately. There was no long preliminary announcement
that he was going to Hetch Hetchy to study the City's proposed source of a water
supply. The hustling engineer got up and went and spent ten days on foot and on
horseback covering every foot of the ground and came back prepared to tell exactly
what should be done, with a hundred or more arguments to support the City s contentions.
The Geary road engaged his attention at once and through his activity
it will be placed in commission earlier than if some other man had been depended
on to jog the contracton. He is still working on the Geary. For months little has
been done about the extension to the ocean. There were excuses that legislation
would be necessary to change street grades before the plans were made. O'Shaughnessy
thinks different. Yesterday he took the Public Utilities Committee with him to the
western end, showed where a street grade would have to be reduced several feet and
the approximate cost thereof, and then in his blunt fashion told the committee to
dig down and produce the cash to reimburse the property owners. This is probably
what will be done without a long wait and references to committees and the passage
of several ordinances. In the meantime the plans are complete and the City will
soon be in a position to let the contract. The Polk Street regrade has hung fire
for months; O'Shaughnessy will soon have that straightened out.
There are many other matters; the San Bruno grade, the Ocean Shore, Butchertown
sanitation, and other municipal problems which havc been on the calendar for a long
Watch O'Shaughnessy wipe them off the slate.
Under the new Charter framed by San Francisco under the auspices of Mayor
Phelan in 1898, the general antique government of the City was reorganized, with
a Board of Public Works of three commissioners appointed by the Mayor, at salaries
of $4,000 each a year, assuming charge of all engineering work and vested with authority
in the selection of a City Engineer and City Architect. Under instructions from
the Mayor, I was officially appointed by the Board of Public Works as City Engineer
on the 1st of September, 1912, and all my reports to the Mayor and Board of Supervisors
are made through the Board of Public Works. My predecessor, Mr. Manson, suffered
from failing health. He had two technical assistants of high standing in his ofice,
Mr. Loren E. Hunt, principal assistant engineer, and Mr. Thos. W. Ransom, consulting
An extensive system of sewer construction and a high pressure pipe system
for fire fighting, costing over $5,000,000, had been under way for three years.
My first activity in September was to spend two holidays with Mr. Loren E. Hunt,
principal assistant engineer, going over the organization of the office and field
forces, and making a survey of the different portions of work under construction.
Mr. Hunt was a man of fine character and experience, having been previously engineer
of tests at the State University at Berkeley, and many of the assistant engineers
then employed on construction work were his former students. He died the first week
of January, 1916. I found the spirit of the men in the office good, everybody trying
to do the best they could for the City.
I canvassed with Mr. Hunt all the construction work under way, the percentage
of each job completed, and the work that remained to be done, and I found his records
in excellent condition.
Of the Auxiliary High Pressure Fire System there only remained two important
units to complete, the construction of Station No. 2 at Fort Mason on North Beach,
for pumping water into the system, and the design and construction of the Fire Alarm
Station in Jefferson Park. There was also under construction the Geary Street Carbarn
and the laying of tracks along Geary Street from Tenth Avenue to Market Street,
and at the westerly end the job of grading and extending tracks from Geary Street
and Thirty-third Avenue to Balboa Street and out to the ocean was not yet begun.
The operation of the Geary Street Municipal Railway line along Tenth Avenue and
Geary Street to Kearny Street commenced December 28, 1912. There were also under
construction 43 steel cars for the Municipal Railway system by a San Francisco contractor
who failed on the job. Plans were prepared and assessments levied for the construction
of a tunnel in Stockton Street between Sutter and Sacramento Streets.
The first row I had, my first week in office, was over the plans and specifications
for the Stockton Street Tunnel, which provided--on plans a year old--for a structure
lined with concrete. The brick men and their agents, making war for. their craft
against concrete, said thd work could not be done in concrete, there was no precedent
for it, and nothing but brick would do for the lining. After giving those brick
gentlemen an exhaustive hearing, I decided there was no merit in their contention
and that the concrete lining would be just as effective, if not superior to a brick
one. On April 11, 1913, a contract for this tunnel was awarded to Jacobson &
Bade. They got the job finished before the 28th day of December, 1914, just before
the Exposition opened and in readiness for the construction and operation of an
extension of the Stockton Street rail line along Columbus Avenue and Chestnut Street
to the Exposition site. Grave difficulties were encountered in the construction
of this tunnel due to unstable ground conditions, as it had the widest span of any
tunnel in the United States, being 50 feet in the clear inside the foundation walls.
An additional 7 feet extra width had to be excavated on each side for the abutment
walls, which made a severance of the formation 64 feet wide.
The character of the materials encountered was of a most composite nature,
starting with good shale on both ends of the tunnel at Bush Street and at California
Street, and running into very heavy schist near the center at Pine Street. The ground
in front of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company building sunk vertically over
2 feet, as it was a mass of very heavy clay, and the greatest care was exercised
on the part of my engineer on this job, Mr. L. T. McAfee, and the contractor, Mr.
Bade, to complete the tunnel without serious damage to adjacent property owners.
By excavating the space for the two side walls first and pouring concrete in those
sections of the tunnel lining, the central core of the tunnel was allowed to remain,
the roof meanwhile being supported with heavy timbering and stulls or pipes filled
with concrete projected from the core through the arch. The boarding house and hotel
proprietors along both sides of the tunnel were constantly ringing on the phone
and protesting against the explosion of blasts, giving us an unprecedented volume
of kicks, which the hardened officeholder generally ignores. The assessment for
the cost of this work was very nearly $700,000 and was apportioned to various property
owners by a previous Board of Public Works, and much comment was aroused due to
its inequitable distribution.
When the Twin Peaks Tunnel was started I resolved that we should avoid
this conflict over cost and take charge of the assessment, with the accompanying
burden of protests, and distribute it directly from the City Engineer's office,
where men with skill and experience in this subject were trained. This plan was
followed with relatively little kicking from over 30,000 property owners in a $4,500,000
project. This consisted in building a tunnel 1,750 feet long from Eureka Valley
at elevation 129 feet, climbing on a 3 per cent grade under Twin Peaks ridge to
Laguna Honda Station at elevation 375 feet, and then descending southerly to the
west portal at elevation 338 feet. The tunnel, 25 feet wide by 18 feet high, was
designed for the use of a double track municipal street car railway, to bring rapid
transit to 4281 acres of land beyond the peaks near the west portal. The route for
this particular tunnel was initially planned by Mr. J. Rowland Bibbins, assistant
engineer to Bion J. Arnold, well-known engineering expert of Chicago. He also contemplated
extending the tunnel north-easterly from Eureka Valley down to Valencia and Market
Streets, thereby adding about $3,000,000 to the cost. My previous experience 22
years before with assessment districts in San Francisco was educationally depressing,
such as my previous work for taking Market Street over the top of Twin Peaks to
the ocean and extending Potrero Avenue along the bay shore to the County Line, which
was so illuminating and unfortunate that I saw the utter impracticability of collecting
one $7,000,000 assessment from the lot owners of San Francisco for this project,
and I accordingly shortened the length of Mr. Arnold's tunnel about a mile to the
route now operated and reduced the investment to about $4,000,000.
Four owners of large real estate tracts beyond the Twin Peaks hill took
a very earnest part in aiding this project--they were A. S. Baldwin, Joseph Leonard
and J. E. Greene, since deceased, and Duncan McDuffie, the planner of St. Francis
Wood. A tunnel ordinance was especially drafted for the purpose of carrying through
this work, and a special counselor, Theodore J. Savage, was retained by the interested
property owners to assist the City officers in its legal consummation.
Surveys for the assessment district were made by Chas. H. Holcomb, an
experienced Assistant City Civil Engineer. The total area included was 4981 acres
of which the westerly district comprised 4281 acres, and the easterly district,
a narrow strip running down along Market Street on each side as far as Second Street,
701 acres. The assessment rate varies from 3 1/2 cents per square foot, in zones
of estimated maximum betterment, to 1/8 of a cent minimum per square foot for those
areas in the more remote regions.
It took a year and a half to get the plans ready and the assessment roll
validated. The final contract for the tunnel structure amounted to $3,947,856.70.
Work was commenced November 30, 1914, and was completed July 14, 1917, inside of
three years, the schedule time, by R. C. Storrie & Co., the contractors, who
were very highgrade construction men.
Opposition was offered to this tunnel from property owners who wanted
the grade elevated at its southwest end so that it would reach the surface of the
ground at Laguna Honda Station instead of being depressed 70 feet below the surface,
and suits were instituted which were defended by the City and all opposition was
finally killed. Mr. McAfee, the same engineer who had charge of the Stockton Street
tunnel, also conducted the construction of the Twin Peaks project, and made a fine
construdion record. After tunnel completion considerabie protest was made against
building the Municipal Railway by the construction of additional outer tracks down
Market Street, opposition being propagated by the United Railroads, owning the central
tracks. The company sought to restrain the construction of the outer tracks by injunction
proceedings, and the whole matter was bitterly fought through the courts. This finally
culminated in the sweeping decision of the Supreme Court of the United States on
April 21, 1919, in favor of the City, when it was granted permission to operate
cars on the outer tracks down Market Street. Dedicatory ceremonies on the completion
of the tunnel were held on French natal day, July 14, 1917, and on February 3, 1918,
the Twin Peaks Tunnel railway was operated down Market Street as far as Van Ness
Avenue. The completion of this tunnel has had a most wonderful effect in enhancing
property values. Land in the first block near the southwest portal has risen in
value from $20 a front foot in 1912 to $500 per foot in 1930, and the general level
of all the real estate west of Twin Peaks has improved from $10 a front foot up
to $60 a front foot, in the region served by the tunnel. The earnings of the Municipal
Railway have also advanced profoundly with the increased population in the district,
the receipts from the "K", "L", and "M" lines have increased from $250,886.90 for
the year 1919 to $691,024.65 in 1928.
All kinds of false predictions were made as to the influence of four tracks
on Market Street, which the practical operation of the line proved to be absolutely
untrue. The business of the Emporium, the largest store, increased from $10,126,042
in 1918 to $20,686,630 in 1928, or practically double. Hale Brothers retail dry
goods store has increased its business four times since the four tracks were operated.
So that fabricated propaganda put forth by antagonists of the City's policy that
four tracks would injure the business interests of Market Street had no foundation.
In: Hetch Hetchy ; Its Origin and History
[by] M. M. O'Shaughnessy
San Francisco, [s.n.] 1934
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