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Our holdings include hundreds of glass and film negatives/transparencies that we've scanned ourselves; in addition, many other photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs) in the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) They are adjusted, restored and reworked by your webmaster in accordance with his aesthetic sensibilities before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here. All of these images (including "derivative works") are protected by copyright laws of the United States and other jurisdictions and may not be sold, reproduced or otherwise used for commercial purposes without permission.

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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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Fish Grotto: 1957

Fish Grotto: 1957

Bernstein's Fish Grotto restaurant on Powell Street in San Francisco in 1957. I like the building facade; when someone said "take a bow," Bernstein's took it literally! Color slide by my father. View full size.

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ANY photos very appreciated

My great-great-grandfather John E. Mullen built the exterior and interior of Bernstien's Fish Grotto in about 1912. I am trying to build a scale replica for the family to keep forever and would SO appreciate any more info, and especially photos of the inside and outside. I am posting a drawing that we have of him building the façade that was part of a portrait of him for the fun of it (hand lettering is by him)

Thank so much in advance!

All the best,
Craig Elliott

I know it's an ancient post, but...

My family moved to SF back in the early 70s when I was maybe 11 or 12, My younger brother and I were explorers and climbers.
One of the first places we discovered and 'explored' was the grotto. We climbed up the side of the boat to reach the rope and board walkways, then got on deck and had fun playing around for a bit. Then we discovered that directly below the walkways were storage rooms open to the sky behind dummy pilings. On further exploration, we learned that the doors from the storage rooms to the restaurant proper were not locked. Odd thing is, when we mentioned it to a friend of my mom's who managed the place, we got in trouble for trespassing, but they never did anything to secure the place. Was still 'easy access' when I moved out of SF in 1980.

Ship's Origin

The ship represented Columbus' Nina but the design was pure whimsy. The second deck would never have been seen on a real ship. For more info on Bernstein's, see: SAN FRANCISCO'S LOST LANDMARKS. Every SF library has a copy.
Photo - Interior of Bernsteins.


I lived in and around San Francisco in 1968 and 1969, but for the life of me, I can't remember this landmark. Does anyone know if it existed then?

The Ship is gone

The building is still there but it couldn't be more bland if they tried.

View Larger Map

"The ship that never goes to sea"

The entrance to Bernstein's Fish Grotto faithfully follows in size and detail the Nina, flagship of Columbus.

Hello Columbus

Some sites such as Time Shutter indicate the ship was modeled after the Nina.

Fanciful part of SF's past

Bernstein's restaurant apparently took its nautical exterior from an earlier chapter in San Francisco history. During the Gold Rush, the shallow Yerba Buena Cove adjacent to boomtown San Francisco was rapidly filled to create badly-need commercial space, and many ships in the harbor ended up literally surrounded by the the encroaching city. The attached image, although with some artistic license, shows the result: ships entombed in dry land converted into hotels, warehouses, and residences.

The upper parts of the stranded ships were eventually dismantled or burned, but to this day there are at least forty buried hulks beneath today's financial district and South of Market areas. (One was discovered in 1978 immediately adjacent to the famous Transamerica Pyramid, the cargo ship Niantic, complete with 13 cases of champagne.)

Although Bernstein's was located on Powell Street, far away from the filled-in Yerba Buena cove, the spirit of '49 was definitely there.

Stacked Figureheads

Strangest looking ship's bow I have ever seen. It's as if a second, larger deck was added to the original bow to increase the street presence. I suppose the neon tubes snaking out of the hawseholes are supposed to represent shrouds. Any nautical Shorpy readers know if this type of hull is patterned after an actual sailing vessel?

SHORPY OLD PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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