Islais Creek is an inlet of the San Francisco Bay located in the Central Waterfront between Potrero Hill and Bayview/Hunters Point. The area was once a vast salt marsh which when diked and drained contained small truck farms. In 1925 the State Legislature created a reclamation district to drain and develop the Islais Creek basin as an industrial area leaving only a small shipping channel.
World War II provided the impetus for the construction of factories and warehouses. During the War, the creek served as parking areas for large ocean-going tugs. Further up along the shore of the creek is located the largest copra coconut processing plant in the entire United States west coast region. In fact, the abandoned five-story high copra crane, shown in the picture above was used to transport large amount of copras (coconut kernels or meat) from ships to the plant as late as 1974, is still standing on the creek bank today and is preserved as a historic landmark.
ILWU Local 10 longshoremen worked the pier, using picks and shovels to break up the large pieces of copra in the ships’ hulls. A large suction pump known as a blower then moved the copra pieces to the mill where ILWU Local 6 members processed it into oil. The remaining “copra meal” was pressed into pellets, put into 100 pound sacks and the warehousemen prepared it to be shipped across the bay to warehouses at Colgate-Palmolive-Peet and McKessin-Robbins. The crane was used to load the copra meal onto outbound ships.
Many local community organizations were set up to improve the condition of the creek and nearby areas. Friends of Islais Creek, established back in 1984, and David Erickson, a local community figure, were committed to build a waterfront park in Islais Creek. The initial plan for a park was finally launched in 1988 with a $50,000 grant from the State Department of Water Resources as well as community groups in The Bayview. With an additional of $100,000 federal and local grants as well as supports from non-profit organizations and governmental agencies, namely the Sierra Club, San Francisco Municipal Railway (MUNI), Department of Public Works, Public Utilities Commission, Port of San Francisco, and Caltrans, the park was finished in 1998.Located adjacent to Pier 80 on the shores of the creek, the Muwekma Ohlone Park or the Muwekma Ohlone Sanctuary is named after the native inhabitants and has since became an important habitat for a wide array of wildlife, including the Pacific Chorus Frog and Mission blue butterfly.
The Copra Crane has been the subject of a campaign to save it as a monument to the old days of longshoring at the creek. In the video above, aerial dancers “re-purpose” the Copra Crane on Islais Creek for a unique dance performance in 1999.
The Copra Crane on San Francisco’s Islais Creek is a highly visible reminder of toil on the waterfront. It symbolizes a worldwide process — harvesting coconuts from palm trees on Pacific plantations; shipping and unloading dried copra; processing the copra for oil for food, soap, perfume, and medicine; and recycling the residue for animal feed. Islais Creek, once the home of tanneries, canneries, and slaughterhouses, meant both welcome jobs and careless damage to a bay inlet. As factories faced obsolescence, they were abandoned. In the last decade, community conservationists and preservationists have banded together to restore the natural creek, and return wildlife to its shores. Islais Creek marks a story not yet ended. Where enterprise meets environment, the earth’s fate is in the balance. The Copra Crane, a labor landmark, represents demanding work. It is also a dramatic industrial structure, as well as a signpost along humanity’s road.