SAN FRANCISCO — There's a hidden corner of the City by the Bay where rusted cranes used to build World War II battleships loom over dilapidated artist studios, where working-class fishermen bob up against first-class ocean liners docked for repair.
Residents of San Francisco's Dogpatch neighborhood overlook the rough-and-tumble Pier 70 waterfront and bask in the smell of fresh fish, the cacophony of fog horns and Canadian geese, the jumble of Victorian cottages tucked between corrugated barns and industrial brick icons of the late 1800s. It's a nautical nugget where few tourists have ventured.
The city plans to redevelop Pier 70, hoping to capitalize on its historic charms while providing badly needed jobs, commercial and residential space - all while maintaining the neighborhood essence that dates back to the mid-1800s when the Union Iron Works, Bethlehem Steel, Pacific Rolling Mills and the Spreckels Sugar refinery dominated the waterfront.
"The winds of change are blowing south and it's time to get Pier 70 and this area back into economic use," said Kathleen Diohep, project manager at the Port of San Francisco for the redevelopment plan. "We want to have the capacity for companies to grow, and we think that Pier 70 offers opportunities that are unlike anything else."
The port is tasked with restoring the two dozen buildings from what has been described as the most intact 19th-century industrial complex west of the Mississippi River. Ms. Diohep insisted that most of the historic buildings would not be razed and that new structures would integrate nicely. The port is working with developers who will present their proposals to a citizens advisory group Wednesday.
The roughly 1,000 residents, artists and small-business owners, shipyard workers, fishermen and boat builders are passionate that their historic surroundings and lifestyles not be harmed.
"I don't think the people in the city staff positions understand the nuances of what happens down here," said Allen Gross, a retired San Francisco Opera set carpenter who is restoring the Folly, a wooden cutter built in 1889.
Mr. Gross, 63, has been working on the Folly for more than five years. Wearing canvas overalls filled with rags and tools, the graybearded Mr. Gross shouts out greetings to others washing, scraping and painting their boats. They all express anxiety about losing this lifestyle.
"I think the folks at the port are seeing the slick, upscale stuff like what they've done out on the Embarcadero," Mr. Gross said.
The restored piers along the Embarcadero waterfront from the stadium where the Giants play baseball, under the Bay Bridge and up to the historic Ferry Building are now filled with tony restaurants, bakeries, coffee sellers and pricey artisan cheese and chocolate shops.
"They're going to have all this kind of frou-frou upscale stuff, and what they're going to lose in all of that are some of the things that are part of the fabric of this city," he said.
The gritty neighborhood at the foot of Potrero Hill on the eastern side of the city peninsula once manufactured supplies for the California gold rush and the Transcontinental Railway.
Ships built at Pier 70 supported U.S. military engagements from the Spanish-American War to the two world wars, including Adm. George Dewey's flagship, Olympia, and the battleships USS Oregon and USS California.
The shipyard has the largest floating dry dock on this side of the Pacific, where massive cruise liners come in for inspections and repairs and tiny tugs get their underbellies scrubbed free of barnacles.
The artists, filmmakers, architects and designers in the three-story, wood-frame Noonan Building at Pier 70, built in 1941 by the government as war production offices, overlook an auto impound yard and a rusted-out warehouse.
"This is the only place that artists can actually afford," said Jason Sussberg, a filmmaker with Dogpatch Films.
"I'm kind of torn," he said. "It's gorgeous and I love to see the smashed windows, the wild cats running around and the graffiti. It's totally fantastic and bizarre, but at the cost of all this wasted space, it's just not worth it."