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Our holdings include hundreds of glass and film negatives/transparencies that we've scanned ourselves; in addition, many other photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs) in the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) They are adjusted, restored and reworked by your webmaster in accordance with his aesthetic sensibilities before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here. All of these images (including "derivative works") are protected by copyright laws of the United States and other jurisdictions and may not be sold, reproduced or otherwise used for commercial purposes without permission.

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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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San Fran: 1939

San Fran: 1939

April 1939. "San Francisco, California, seen from the First Street ramp of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge." Photo by Dorothea Lange. View full size.

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Gilmore Oil Co.

Gilmore was a California-based oil company that was bought out by Socony-Vacuum in 1940, later to become Mobil. The car on the billboard appears to be a 1939 Plymouth.


Two automaker ads and one for gasoline, all aimed at the motorists coming off the bridge. The ad for gas says "Let's go to the Fair..." a reference to the Golden Gate International Exposition, a Pacific Rim oriented World's Fair.

There seems to be a large cartoon of a car on the "Gilmore" billboard but I don't know enough San Francisco history to know what that refers to. Perhaps tterrace would know?

And I remember mucilage. It came in a slender glass bottle the size of a salt shaker and had a pale red rubber top that always seemed to have dried goo all over it. I'd rather use Spray Mount these days.

The Man in the High Castle

It makes me think of that SF novel by Philip K. Dick, where the axis powers won WW2. In that novel, he describes a San Francisco city which never boomed in the 50's and 60's, due to the fact that the US lost the war, and that its global economy went down.

He describes the city as having kept most of its pre-war architecture, never to have developed the modern skyline we know now.

Lower level of Bay Bridge

The lower level of the Bay Bridge had tracks for street cars and two lanes for trucks: an east lane and a west. The upper level had two lanes each way for cars.

Key System

Just to the left of centre you can make out a Key System articulated "Bridge Unit". The overhead was provided for Interurban Electric Railway and Sacramento Northern trains running on 1200 volts - in 1939 the Key System cars ran on the third rail at 600 volts. After the IER and SN abandoned passenger service over the bridge the overhead volatge was reduced to 600 volts so the Key trains could use it if the third rail failed.

SHORPY HISTORICAL PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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