Baby Bell

The other day I was watching a video on CNET about AT&T trying to acquire T-Mobile. The video is hosted by CBS’ Kara Tsuboi reporting from Downtown San Francisco. At one point she explains that many stores will probably close as a result of the merger, for example redundant stores which are located near each other. To illustrate the point she stands on a corner that has a T-Mobile store across the street from an AT&T store. So what does all this have to do with El Camino? As the camera zooms in on AT&T, the storefront is obscured by an El Camino Real bell!


My jaw dropped. I had no idea there was a bell Downtown San Francisco. The only one I had seen in the city is at Mission Dolores. I didn’t recognize the corner but fortunately the street address of the store is clearly visible so it was easy to figure out the bell is at 3rd and Market. Here’s the odd thing: on Google Street View, the bell is not there. Maybe it’s brand new?

View Larger Map

Nope, I found this article which states that bell was erected in December, 2009. There’s more to the story. The first El Camino Real bell was installed in Los Angeles in 1906, but the thirteenth was located a few years later here at 3rd and Mission in San Francisco. At some point the bell disappeared but in 2009 Caltrans found and restored one of the original 100-year-old bells and installed it in the same spot.

Last year I decided that Mission Street in Downtown San Francisco counts as El Camino Real, so I can’t say why the bell is a couple blocks over on Market. My guess is the bell was placed here in 1909 because of its proximity to Lotta’s Fountain which held a special significance to the city as a meeting place after the still-fresh 1906 earthquake and fire. The city commemorates the earthquake here every year on its anniversary, April 18.

It’s surprising that Google Street View for that intersection hasn’t been updated in over a year. The next time I’m in the area I’ll definitely take some pictures. However I must credit CNET with the scoop.

Watch the full video at CNET:

2 Responses to “Baby Bell”

  1. Micah says:

    Hey Bill,

    What’s an El Camino Real bell? I mean I can guess, but tell me more….

  2. Bill says:

    Thanks for the question! I’ll let you in on a secret: I’m planning a series of FAQ posts, and bells will definitely be one of them. In the meantime…

    After the U.S. took over California, the old Spanish Missions crumbled and faded. Around 1900 the California Federation of Womens’ Clubs decided the missions needed to be preserved along with El Camino Real as historical treasures. They designed the bell markers to be placed on ECR every mile from San Diego to Sonoma and the first was installed in 1906. The bell evokes a mission, and the stand symbolizes a padre’s shepherd’s crook. Many disappeared over the decades but since 1996 Caltrans has installed a bunch of new ones. Actually anyone can purchase a bell so they pop up in unexpected places.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.