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Here’s What It Looks Like Under Those Brick Circles In the Street

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Photo via google maps

Those mysterious brick circles you see on streets? They are cisterns — a form of ancient technology adopted after the 1906 earthquake to aid firefighting.

Photo via Scott Kildall

Here’s what they look like underground — pretty cool!

Photo via Robin Scheswohl

SF Water Power Sewer also tweeted this:

But, for reasons unbeknownst to me, the Outer Richmond and Outer Sunset have brick squares instead of circles over the cisterns. San Francisco loves to keep things weird, I guess.

Photo via google maps

Want to learn more about the cisterns? Check out this video below from the Exploratorium.

Sources: SF AWSS, Atlas Obscura, Instructables, Scott Kildall, SF Gate

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Jenna Homen

Jenna Homen

A Bay Area native, Jenna used to live in San Francisco and spent large amounts of her time ruminating on the happenings, history, and idiosyncrasies of San Francisco.


  1. Kirk Linn
    July 25, 2022 at 12:40 pm — Reply

    In the 1906 earthquake the only person who knew where the cisterns were was the Fire Chief who was not able to get the word out. By 1935 when Fire Chief Brannan was put in charge all of them were mapped and marked Fully by the rings you see today. The square ones are newer.

  2. Ivan
    July 26, 2022 at 6:15 am — Reply

    So are the cisterns actually full of water at any given time?

    • July 26, 2022 at 8:02 pm — Reply

      Good question.. hope you get a answer….

  3. Jose
    July 27, 2022 at 9:16 am — Reply

    I believe they are filled only if there’s major outage on the 2 underground water pipe networks as backup for firefighting.

  4. J
    July 28, 2022 at 11:15 am — Reply

    Love reading stuff like this. So fascinating.

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