Farewell Bob Isaacson

Bob Isaacson at the annual Fourth of July party at Huffaker Park along Mission Creek, 2013.

Saturday, May 7, 2022 at the Bayview Boathouse, a memorial for Bob Isaacson.

I am sorry not to be here in person, but as I am still testing positive for Covid, I think it best to stay home.

I met Bob Isaacson around 2010. I had known the amazing book Vanished Waters: A History of San Francisco’s Mission Bay for some years; it was (and is) the main source for understanding the history of the eastern side of San Francisco—Mission Bay, once a body of water, and now a dense and modern neighborhood. The book was produced in 1986 by the Mission Creek Conservancy and written by historian Nancy Olmsted. I was interested in getting more copies and when I made inquiries, Bob responded to let me know the book was out of print.

One thing led to another, and a few months later I was involved with Bob in exploring how we could reproduce the book and publish a 2nd edition. It was made more difficult by the fact that all the original materials for the first edition were lost, so it was going to take a fair amount of sleuthing and research to find the maps and photos from the first book, and of course all the text would have to be re-done as well. This was up my alley, being a book designer and longtime typesetter, as well as a self-taught historian and curator for Shaping San Francisco’s digital archive at foundsf.org.

About a year later, we had a sparkling new edition, with new and improved maps and images, and several new chapters that I wrote, some of which depended on Bob and his ability to wrangle a number of key participants in the multi-year process of building the new Mission Bay, to participate in a series of oral history interviews.

Bob himself was an indispensable character through all the years that Mission Bay went from a derelict industrial and rail yard zone to the dynamic neighborhood it is today. Along with Ginny, Corinne, Toby, Phillip, Ruth, and other Mission Creek Conservancy members Bob’s years-long effort to make Mission Creek an ecological gem has borne fruit. What was once a smelly Shit Creek, is now an ecological wonderland, a birding paradise, and a thriving waterway with rich life on and below the surface. Bob worked tirelessly to reconnect the area to its own history, both socially and ecologically. And he did it with great modesty, kindness, and good humor.

Few San Franciscans have left as important a legacy as Bob Isaacson, and though he has gone largely unheralded during his life for his steady presence and dedicated vision, I’m here to say that he deserves to be remembered in the pantheon of our most revered, and that he will not be forgotten. Thank you Bob!

A heron stands in the pickleweed overlooking Mission Creek, a vision inconceivable without the stalwart efforts of Bob Isaacson.

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