A Knotty History

Hella rope was made in the Dogpatch back in the day.

A small plaza is all that’s left of Tubb’s Cordage Co. in the Dogpatch (Nuala Sawyer)

In the late 1800s, San Franciscans were busy.

Thousands migrated across the country in pursuit of their fortunes, and in the bay, maritime industries boomed. One of the earliest industries to take advantage of the ships that regularly floated in and out of the Golden Gate was Tubbs Cordage Co., a large-scale rope production facility that operated near what is now 22nd and Iowa streets in the Dogpatch.

Business was good from the get-go, and brothers and co-owners Alfred and Hiram Tubbs were ruthless. In 1887, they bought the Pacific Cordage Co. of Oakland, only to break it down and move all the equipment to San Francisco. Three years later, a rope company on the East Coast tried to invade the West Coast market. Tubbs bought its entire supply of rope, and stole its top salesman. And in 1892, the Tubbs brothers purchased Portland Cordage Co., solidifying their reign across the entire Pacific coast.

By the turn of the last century, Tubbs was the largest rope manufacturer in the West, and sold halyards, downhauls, and jib sheets to shipbuilding and mining companies as far away as Peru and Japan. Their success was based in part on variety: According to an 1893 article in the San Francisco Morning Call, the types of rope produced ranged from those a quarter of an inch thick, to rope nine inches in circumference. Fibers were twisted in a large “rope walk,” a covered building that extended 1,000 feet through the neighborhood, where skilled workmen operated gears that made each strand. The task was laborious and dangerous: Ropes frequently caught fire, as dust coming off hemp ignites easily, and the distance between one end and the other meant workers often rode bicycles along the ropes to save time.

And the number of employees required was monumental. In the early 1900s, Tubbs was one of the largest employers in the area, with hundreds of workers. But it wasn’t all peace and rope-making at Tubbs — a quick search through the newspaper archives turns up strikes, child labor abuses, employee suicides, murders, and plenty of lawsuits that plagued the company during its 112-year reign.

Tubbs Cordage Co. shut down its S.F. operation in 1962, and many of its buildings were demolished to make way for an SFMTA bus yard. But fear knot: Rope history nerds can still visit the site near present-day Tubbs Street, which features a small plaza and informational placards about the old rope walk, and a guide to tying studding sail tack bends, single diamonds, and round turn two half-hitch knots.

Check out more stories in our feature on the Dogpatch here:

YIMBY-Land: Change Comes to the Dogpatch
But it has to be done smartly to keep the neighborhood livable, according to one activist who champions high levels of growth.

Infinite Appetite, Finite Budget: Where to Eat in the Dogpatch
This industrial quadrant is heavy on the artisans and dense with dining options.

A Dog By Any Other Name Would Smell as Sweet
Of all the city’s neighborhoods, the Dogpatch may have the weirdest name origin story.

Urban Freeways in Question
City planners weigh whether S.F. might be better off without Interstate 280.

Better Late Than Never?
In the next 10 years, the Dogpatch’s population is expected to quadruple.

What’s In A Stub?
Dogpatch holds the ever-quieting ghosts of Irish Hill’s raucous past.

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