The ships weren’t necessarily abandoned – often a keeper was hired to keep an eye on them, Everett says but they languished and began to deteriorate.
Sometimes the ships were put to other uses. The most famous example is the whaling ship Niantic, which was intentionally run aground in 1849 and used as a warehouse, saloon, and hotel before it burned down in a huge fire in 1851 that claimed many other ships in the cove. A hotel was later built atop the remnants of the Niantic at the corner of Clay and Sansome streets, about six blocks from the current shoreline (see map).
A few ships were sunk intentionally. Then as now, real estate was a hot commodity in San Francisco, but the laws at the time had a few more loopholes. “You could sink a ship and claim the land under it,” Everett says. You could even pay someone to tow your ship into position and sink it for you. Then, as landfill covered the cove, you’d eventually end up with a piece of the prime real estate. All this maneuvering and the competition for space led to a few skirmishes and gunfights.
– Buried ships along San Francisco`s waterfront