Patriotic Celebration, 1909

Lots of streetcars but even more American flags on and around the Ferry Building on a bright afternoon in October 1909, 1:29 p.m. We don’t know the exact date or who took the photo; if someone knows, fill us in with a comment.

Lots to see in this shot. Double-click on the photo to enlarge it and take a tour. Permanent buildings are in place after the 1906 earthquake, some with electric signs (waffles, anyone?). The Southern Pacific is advertising train service atop that building to the left (it would soon build its impressive headquarters — still there as One Market — immediately to the right of the camera). A teamster’s wagon is front and center with a horse drawn water tank wagon wetting the pavement right behind the last streetcar in the long line of them waiting to get to the Ferry Loop.

Those streetcars frame the range of dates for us. They all appear to be part of the order of 200 cars, numbered 1550-1749, ordered by United Railroads from the St. Louis Car Company and delivered by the end of 1907. They don’t yet have route boxes on their roofs, so it was early in their life. A group of 80 somewhat different looking streetcars (the 100-class) arrived early in 1911 and took over the Sutter Street lines; at least one would likely be in this shot if it was taken then. While the shot shows four tracks on Market Street, these were all United Railroads tracks; the outside tracks only extended as far as Sutter. When Muni’s first lines were extended from Geary and Market to the Ferry in 1913, they shared the outer tracks on this stretch.

While all the flags make one think of the Fourth of July, this hoopla was actually for the Portola Festival, a big celebration from October 19-23, 1909, that ostensibly honored the 140th anniversary of when Don Gaspar de Portola (properly pronounced port-o-LA) became the first European to see San Francisco Bay. The real reason, which no one hid, was to announce that San Francisco had recovered from the earthquake and fire and was again open for business and tourism. We think that object with the shield on it next to the outbound streetcar on the left is a parade float. Our unofficial historian, Emiliano Echeverria, says that United Railroads actually created several streetcar floats for the festival by tearing off the bodies of obsolete cars down to the floor level, later rebuilding them.

The US Pacific Fleet was anchored in the Bay along with warships of other nations. Parades drew huge crowds. It reinforced the city leadership’s desire to stage an even bigger celebration, the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, in 1915. But first, they held another Portola Festival, in 1913, and had smaller repeats now and then in the decades that followed.

In any event, all these flags make this photo look like a good one to post for the Fourth of July weekend. Enjoy!