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On the street and at our feet

April 5, 2010

The pink paint marking the drains, and the broken water main a few months ago, drew attention to all the stuff that’s happening below our streets.

High Voltage

So the other day, we wandered around with our cameras pointing at all the circles and rectangles on the sidewalk. There were a lot of them: a wealth of services beneath our feet, representing civilization, urban comfort, and the conveniences of Forest Knolls. It’s strange to think we’re only a couple of generations away from fetching water from wells, using outhouses, and lighting our nights with candles and our streets with gas.

PG&E high voltage

It was an interesting mix of covers. This grating was like a piece of modern art, with the ladder reaching down to a reflective circle of water below. At first, it appeared to be a drain of some sort… but it’s got the words  PG&E and “High Voltage.” Another “High Voltage” cover was more prosaic, a simple concrete rectangle. [As usual, clicking on the picture leads to a larger image.]


In fact, quite a few covers on the street were from PG&E. This manhole cover with a nice geometric design seems to be, though it’s difficult to know which cover does what. (If anyone knows, leave a comment! Or email us at


Another whole bunch were from the Water Department. (The sewer cover’s included here, though it’s actually labeled SFDPW.) The little square with holes in it is most probably a drain cover…

SFWD, Two covers


Scott Co (drain cover?)


…but the handsomest cover on the street is a cast iron oval with the Golden Gate Bridge on it, labeled San Francisco Water Department Meter Box. Wonder when it was made? Some time in the 1950s, when Forest Knolls was built?

SFWD meter box

SFDPW sewer


And then there’s the Telephones. And the TV Cable. And  the Survey Monument, which doesn’t represent a utility but instead helps put us on the map and define the lots on which our homes are built.  And the Street Lights. And “Electrical” again, but it’s not clear what and why, though it may be connected with the Street Lights since the covers are together and next to a lamp post.


Survey Monument

Telephone (with graffiti?)

TV Cable


Street Lighting


Pacific Telephones and Telegraph

And then there was this odd-looking pair of covers labeled PT-T. Anyone know what they are?

Or why X marks the spot on this sewer-cover?

Edited to Add: PT-T probably stands for Pacific Telephones and Telegraphs… (see the comment to this post – Thanks, Laura).

X marked sewer


Edited to Add: Just saw this — the moss has picked out “Bell System” on this cover.

After the rain, moss picks out BELL SYSTEM


4 Comments leave one →
  1. Laura permalink
    April 6, 2010 11:15 am

    PT-T must be Pacific Telephone and Telegraph, our local phone carrier before SBC/AT&T, etc.

    Great photo-article. Thanks.

  2. Joshua Weinberg permalink
    May 17, 2010 5:39 pm

    You might be interested in this book in the history room of the SF Public Library: San Francisco underfoot : there’s much more than pavement beneath your feet / by Bernard C. Winn

    • webmaster permalink*
      May 18, 2010 2:41 am

      Joshua, thanks for that reference. Sounds interesting!

  3. Bernard C. Winn permalink
    December 27, 2010 6:44 pm

    I am the author of San Francisco Underfoot, a limited edition book on all the “stuff” in the sidewalks and streets of san Francisco. The book is no longer in print, however. You should spend a few hours i downtown SF and see all the large variety of covers there are.

    Bern C. Winn

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