Saturday, June 1, 2013

Film of San Francisco, 1906

A Ride Down Market Street

Okay, without further ado, I will start off with the video and discuss them below. Lots of interesting facts are known about this video in case you are curious who took it, when, and why.

First up: a colorized version.

Next, we will view it in the original black and white.

Another version just in case the one above gets deleted.

Actual film taken only days before the destruction of San Franciso.

I don't have a lot to add to what the video description says, which I reproduce in its entirety below. This is a terrific ride into the past that any history buff should enjoy. Many of the people shown in this short clip no doubt died four days later in the great San Francisco 1906 earthquake.
Unlike the film of New York City in 1939 that I have put up elsewhere, which seem eerily familiar to the modern eye, these scenes unequivocably show an alien and vastly different society than the present. One could say that there were far greater changes during the thirty years from 1906 to 1939 than the changes from 1939 to the present, in much more than double the amount of time, at least judging from a comparison of the two films.
San Francisco Earthquake
Grant Avenue.
While the men are dressed much more formally than is common today, they wouldn't look too out of place today at a formal occasion or in certain professions. The women, though, are much more elaborately dressed and have a distinctive 19th Century air about them. One thing, though, hasn't changed at all, and that is the tendency of people to mug and show off for the cameras.
San Francisco earthquake 1906
It's amazing how the Ferry Building survived so handily. That goes to show you the importance of building codes.
Produced as part of the popular Hale's Tours of the World film series, the film begins at the location of the Miles Brothers film studio, 1139 Market Street, between 8th and 9th Streets; it was filmed 14 April 1906, four days before the devastating earthquake and fire of 18 April 1906, which virtually destroyed the entire downtown area. The negative was taken by train to the Miles New York office on 17 April 1906, narrowly saving it from destruction by one day and thus preserving a moment in the history of San Francisco that would soon cease to exist.
San Francisco earthquake 1906
Utter devastation in San Francisco.
Public domain film from the Prelinger Archive (Library of Congress), slightly cropped to remove uneven edges, with the aspect ratio corrected, and mild video noise reduction applied.

This film was silent. I have added piano music composed and performed by Taylor Hayward. Mr. Hayward says: " to download and play, free to rebroadcast in any form for any purpose, free to play in public, free to publish for profit, and free to sample... There is no copyright on this music."

"This film, shot from the front window of a moving Market Street cable car, is a rare record of San Francisco's principal thoroughfare and downtown area before their destruction in the 1906 earthquake and fire. The filmed ride covers 1.55 miles at an average speed of nearly 10 miles per hour...
San Francisco 1906
Repairing this must have been intense.
Market Street, graded through sand dunes in the 1850s, is 120 feet wide, and nearly 3.5 miles long. The street runs northeast from the foot of Twin Peaks to the Ferry Building. Different street grids, diagonal on the northwest side and parallel on the southeast side, create several awkward diagonal intersections along Market Street, contributing to the chaotic traffic situation that is evident in the film.
San Francisco earthquake 1906
The people are dressed the same, but everything else is different.
San Francisco's cable cars, which first began operations in 1873, have no power of their own and operate by "gripping" a moving cable beneath a slot in the street. This is the origin of the name "south of the slot" for the South-of-Market Street district.
San Francisco Call newspaper building 1906 earthquake
San Francisco Call newspaper building in flames.
The Market Street lines, dating from 1883, merged in 1902 to form the United Railroads of San Francisco. Dark cars served westerly neighborhood lines extending along McAllister, Hayes and Haight streets, light cars served southwesterly neighborhoods, with the lines extending along Valencia and Castro streets.

San Francisco earthquake 1906
This photo is particularly poignant, taken from the route of the film on Market Street.
The Market Street section of the lines ended at the Ferry Building, where passengers boarded ferries for Oakland, Alameda, or Berkeley, across San Francisco Bay. East of Sutter Street, horsecars ran along Market Street. Independently owned, they ran on sidetracks to the Ferry Building. A few electric streetcars, dating from 1892, are seen in the film crossing Market Street. Market Street itself reverted to electric streetcars in 1906, following the earthquake and fire. In all, the film shows some thirty cable cars, four horse cars, and four streetcars.
San Francisco earthquake 1906
Nothing but smoking ruins.
An interesting feature of the film is the apparent abundance of automobiles. However, careful tracking of automobile traffic shows that almost all of the autos seen circle around the camera/cable car many times (one ten times). This traffic was apparently staged by the producer to give Market Street the appearance of a prosperous modern boulevard with many automobiles..."
Russian Hill Telegraph San Francisco earthquake 1906
Russian and Telegraph Hills.
It must have been quite a show - from a safe distance.
San Francisco fire 1906
A crowd gathers to watch from a nearby hill. What else could you do? If you go down there, you might just become another victim and add to the burden of rescue efforts.
It could happen again. Mother Nature is always in operation.

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