Photo of the (Past) Moment: Circus on Market!

As readers of our member newsletter, Inside Track, saw last month, we found a fabulous photo.

Circus on Market at Powell c1899 web.jpg

Our members got lots of detail on this photo. We’ll summarize here by saying this appears to be a parade by the Ringling Brothers Circus in September 1900. Note the elephants in the lower left (click on the image for a larger version). Regular cable car service is mixed right in with the pachyderms and circus wagons and crowds line the streets. We’re looking out a window of what would today be the San Francisco Shopping Centre, opposite the foot of Powell Street. The vacant lot would later become the Flood Building, still there today. And for you “Where’s Waldo?” fans, try to find someone – man or woman, boy or girl, in the picture who is not wearing a hat or cap.  (If you do, you have sharper eyes than us!)

You get great historic content like this, plus the inside scoop on Muni’s historic streetcar and cable car operations, by becoming a member of Market Street Railway and receiving Inside Track. New members get the last four issues included with their membership!

Feel free to post your thoughts and comments on the photo. We’ll preempt the most obvious one: yes, you could certainly say mid-Market is still a circus today.


Comments: 7

  1. I like the Scotch Oats/Begin the Brawn billboard (my older daughter is a certified Highland Dancing instructor, and we should remember Andrew Hallidie’s ancestry). I also noticed the open-wire pole line–can’t really tell if it’s for telegraph or telephone. The pole line also brings up the question: when did the city require all lines on Market St. to go underground?

  2. cool shot.
    Charles Alisky was a daguerreotype photographer and painter in San Francisco starting in 1898, so that must have been a fairly recent billboard in 1900 (top center).

  3. Or the question: when will American cities require all wires on all streets to go underground? Some poles remind me of the tangles I saw in Old Delhi.

  4. If you look at our “Trip Down Market Street, 1906” video (available at our store online and at our museum), you can see that the wires were gone by the time the earthquake came. Exactly when in that six year period they went, I don’t know. But it’s worth noting that there was strong opposition from the “City Beautiful” movement against the United Railroads’ proposal, made before the earthquake, to replace the cable cars with streetcars powered (like today’s) by an overhead wire. The logical supposition is that the group(s) that fought to get rid of the ugly utility wires in this picture would also oppose any streetcar wires going up on Market.

  5. How ironic that the only building surviving today is the one that would rise on the empty lot–the Flood Building. Yes, the clock tower of the Chronicle can be seen, but it was blown up by “terrorists” (lions and tigers and bears, oh my!) after this photo was taken.
    I don’t see why people get so upset by wires. San Francisco is burying most of its electric infrastructure and what remains on most streets in the Post Card city are trolley wires, a minimal interruption in sightlines to be sure. Yes, we could have a “perfect city” with no wires, but what next? Color codes? I hate to be the heretic (I don’t mind it at all, actually) but I find inappropriate trees far more offensive than wires. Ficus trees are so dense they not only darken the sidewalk, they make apartments nearly unrentable with their shadow. Other trees too big for their setting block the facades of grand old structures and practically erase the photographic identity of an entire street with their canopies.
    Wires are a part of urban life. The Stepfords showed us what a Perfect Setting could be, and I fear that a lot of people have found it to their liking.

  6. I have a photograph that I’m presuming was taken by this Charles Alisky. It’s a very old b/w photo and has the Alisky logo on the bottom right with 916 Market street San francisco pressed into it. I have no idea who the subjects are but can hazard a guess that they are father and daughter. I live in Newcastle in the UK and have no relatives that I know of in the US. My late Grandmother gave me the photo but couldn’t tell me anything about it other than it belonged to her uncle. Guess I’ll never find out. Shame as it would be nice to pass it on to the descendants if there are any.

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