San Francisco’s Past on Tap in Two Unique Ways

Here in the world’s tech center, we expect to be amazed by new things. But it’s a special treat to be amazed by something old. Or in this case, two things that are old today but were once new.
Exhibit A, brought to our attention by Todd Lappin, Market Street Railway board member and curator of one of the city’s best neighborhood blogs, Bernalwood. Todd reported on this incredible collection of super-high-resolution aerial photographs that covered the entire city…in 1938.


Market-VN Aug38 David Rumsey Historical Map Collection.jpg

Click to enlarge. Market and Van Ness, August 1938, zoomed-in aerlal photo from David Rumsey Historical Map Collection.

For San Francisco history buffs, it’s a dream come true. For streetcar buffs, even more so. Here’s just one example: a screen shot, zoomed in on Van Ness and Market. You can see how Muni’s H-line cut across Market at a ridiculously oblique angle to connect from Van Ness to 11th Street. There’s a streetcar navigating the gauntlet now. You can also see the switches that connected Van Ness to the eastern side of Market. These were used to detour Muni J, K, L, M, and N streetcars up to Geary when downtown Market Street was closed for parades, and for cars assigned to Geary Carhouse to get in and out of service on the N-Judah, during the years it was based there.
Zooming in on other photos will give you a great closeup of the old Elkton Shops, where our namesake built and maintained streetcars, Fort Mason, showing how the H-line ran right through the Fort, and many other disappeared pieces of streetcar history. Or check out the freight yards at Mission Bay, the State Belt Railroad along the waterfront, and many other lost pieces of the past. It’s an incredibly engaging time-waster, for those so inclined.
More current and colorful is this film clip shared with the world by our good friend Rick Prelinger, who has done so much to preserve what would otherwise be lost footage of America’s past. This one is a real doozie: what amounts to a home movie, shot in Cinemascope! Note: we’re having intermittent problems with embedding this video. If you don’t see it immediately below, click here.

The 21-minute film was mostly shot from an automobile by Tullio Pelligrini, an amateur who, true to the literal definition of that word, apparently did it purely out of love for San Francisco. (The point of view concept is reminiscent in some ways of the famous Miles Brothers’ Trip Down Market Street film, shot from the front of a cable car on Market Street just before the 1906 Earthquake.) In fact, there’s an echo of that earlier film just after the 16 minute mark: “Iron Monsters” (the original Muni streetcars) sharing Market with the almost-new “Baby Ten” PCCs. Some great cable car footage follows.
If you like this film, you’ve GOT to sign up for Rick’s next showing of “Lost Landscapes 6,” his compilation of wonderful film scenes from San Francisco’s past. This will be included along with a wonderful WWII drive up Market and other scenes. It sold out the Castro Theater last month. The repeat show is Tuesday, January 24, at 7:30 p.m. at 300 Funston Avenue, corner of Clement. It’s a $5 suggested donation — a real bargain — and requires an email RSVP.

Comments: 1

  1. Much as I’d like to come up to The City to see “Lost Landscapes 6”, being about 400 miles away makes it a bit of a haul. Will this film be available in DVD for the “geographically challenged”? And are there five previous “Lost Landscapes” presentations?

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