Development plans for Pier 70 call for five apartment buildings, six stories or taller, to surround the last piece of historic Irish Hill, a rocky outcrop backed by tall eucalyptus trees, easily seen from Illinois Street between 20th and 22nd streets. If those designs are realized, Irish Hill would be only partially seen through openings between the structures from Illinois, 21st – a proposed street – and 22nd streets. An anticipated “Irish Hill Playground” in the courtyard formed by the edifices would be shady much of the year, with the main vantage point of Irish Hill from the roofs of two proposed buildings, looking down on the Hill from structures twice its height.
Irish Hill was once ten city blocks in size, home to a scrappy working class neighborhood, reached by a 98-step stairway. The community most closely associated with the shipyards at its base, Irish Hill was largely demolished bit by bit for industrial expansion. Its last remaining piece tells the stories of other dramatic manmade changes in the landscape: the filling-in of Mission Bay, the chopping away of Potrero Hill, and the expansion of industry onto reclaimed Bayshore land. Although current plans preserve the hill itself, its context would be lost. Isolation isn’t preservation.
Potrero Hill Archives Project members met with representatives of Forest City, Pier 70’s developer, last month. They seemed truly interested in learning more about the site’s rich history. The Archives Project believes that the view from Illinois Street of Irish Hill is most important to preserve; from that vantage point, a spectator can get a sense of the Hill’s original size and the sculpting which took place. We hope to see revised plans from Forest City, giving Irish Hill breathing room and connecting it visually to the neighborhood it helped build.
Steven Herraiz’s detailed history of Irish Hill can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eUZ6qhcI7fg. Sign the ‘Don’t Hide Irish Hill!’ petition at Christopher’s Books, 18th and Missouri streets.