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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.

© 2018 SHORPY INC.

[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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Looking up California: 1906

Looking up California: 1906

San Francisco after the earthquake and fire of April 18, 1906. "Looking up California Street from Sansome Street." At the top of the hill is the Fairmont Hotel, seen in yesterday's post. Detroit Publishing Co. View full size.

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Ghosts of 1906

When I find an image of San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake and fire I look for the site where the image was made and then go there to take a photograph of the site today. I then composit the two images to create an image with both the damaged and rebuilt structures.

Looking down on California

The panoramic view of San Francisco after the quake taken from a 'Captive Airship' by photographer George R. Lawrence can be found here.
It's worth downloading the giant size.

About that Market Street traffic

If you watch carefully, you'll see that some of the cars that pass by and in front of the camera appear more than once. The one with license plate 4867 does so at least five times, for example. You'll see it and at least a couple others passing, making u-turns, then overtaking the trolley again several times. Another with a boy riding the back bumper appears at least twice. Rick Prelinger features a restored version of the film, without the frame jumping, in his periodic "Lost Landscapes of San Francisco" presentations. In one, Chapter 12 here he says it's his understanding that the photographer arranged with some of his friends to zip around like that to add extra excitement to the film.

Prelinger Archive Movies

There's something heartening about the fact that people could, and did, rebuild after the quake and fires. They didn't hole up and defend their bunker or flee for the countryside. The built a beautiful city over the ruins. It wasn't easy or smooth; there was plenty of corruption and incompetence. But they *did* it.

A number of years back I saw a bird's-eye view of down town post-quake San Francisco, snapped from a tethered balloon. The place looked . . . nuked. A sea of rubble around the ferry building.

The wonderful Prelinger Archive has a number of movies taken in San Francisco before and after the quake. They are wonderful, and eerie.


Most displaced City residents lived in tents provided by the Army in places like Golden Gate Park and the Presidio.

How did they get around? Shoe leather. Took weeks to get public transit going again.

Market Street 1905

This film was shot less than a year before the quake. Look for the group of kids halfway through running alongside the trolley and grabbing onto passing cars. And speaking of cars, the controlled chaos of the road packed with horses, wagons, streetcars, and autos is fascinating to watch.

[It is indeed. The camera is filming from a streetcar as it travels toward the Ferry Building clock tower. I was surprised at the number of autos cutting in front of it. Mr. 4867 makes several appearances.- Dave]

Exodus to Oakland

Wikipedia has a long description of the quake, fire and aftermath. Hundreds of thousands of people apparently lived in Oakland and Berkeley for a couple years until the city rebuilt.

The building code was made stricter for a while, but was relaxed quite a bit after contractors complained that it was too much work to build earthquake-resistant buildings. They made the codes very lenient until the 1950s.

There's just been a major disaster!

Where's my suit?

A bit tidier today

Extra Rails

Great photo. You can just make out the tower of Old Saint Mary's Cathedral on the right at Grant Avenue and the Fairmont Hotel on the right at the top of the hill. They are the only buildings in this view that still survive. Note that there are slots and narrow gauge rails for the California Street Cable Railroad, and an outer set of gantlet rails for a franchise-holding horsecar line that ran from Kearny to Drumm. Michael Houlihan drove the single car. Here is a 1906 article from the San Francisco Call, published in the building we were admiring yesterday, about that operation:

Shake and bake

This is an amazing picture of the tragic event that shook and burned San Francisco. Makes me wonder how all of these dressed up folks lived and got around after all of the devastation.

A stark lesson...

In the wisdom of a) not building with excessive ornamental masonry cantilevered over the street, and b) studying seismology.


This is the same view today looking west on California Street from Battery Street taken is September of 2009. The large building on the left in the 1906 photograph (which looks like it has a little hut on the top) is the Merchants Exchange Building which still stands and can be seen in the current view as well.

Shock and Awe

What a stunning photograph. A still-worrying crack in the building on the left.

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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