Best Version Yet of Iconic 1906 Movie

In 1906, it didn’t get more high tech than this iconic 12-minute movie, filmed from the front of a cable car headed down Market Street. If you’re a San Francisco history buff (or transit buff), you’ve probably seen it before, but not like this. A new digital transfer by the noted film archivist Rick Prelinger breathes more life into it, sharper and wider-screen. (Back then, the image was captured to the edges of the film, even between the sprocket holes; this version includes that.)

Surprisingly to us, the film had never appeared in a narrated version, explaining exactly where you are and providing the social and economic context of what you’re seeing. Market Street President Rick Laubscher, a San Francisco historian and former journalist, did that several years ago, and has now updated that narration with new information that has come to light. Additionally, we have added sound effects by Mike Upchurch to provide some atmosphere.

Thanks to film historian David Kiehn, we now know that this iconic film, by the Miles Brothers, was shot on or about April 14, 1906, just four days before the great Earthquake and Fire. (It was previously believed to have been filmed in August 1905.)

To commemorate the 113th anniversary of the April 18 catastrophe, which ended an era in San Francisco, we have posted this new version of the film on YouTube. We will be providing it through our online store and in our San Francisco Railway Museum in coming weeks.

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See ‘Lost Landscapes’ Dec. 4 and 5


Our friend Rick Prelinger, creator of the Internet Archive, has been making special programs of vintage films of San Francisco for over a decade now. Rick has collected a wonderful mix of home movies, commercial film outtakes, travelogues, and other celluloid representations of our city, and invites the audience to shout out their reactions. It’s the ultimate interactive show!

This year’s event is extra special, because Rick has made the best restoration yet of the famed “Trip Down Market Street” film made by the Miles Brothers just before the 1906 Earthquake and Fire changed San Francisco forever. This is the film featured in a Morley Safer “60 Minutes” story a few years back, including interviews with Rick Prelinger, film historian David Kiehn of the Essenay Film Museum in Niles, and MSR President Rick Laubscher, who created a narrated version of the film, available to view or purchase at our San Francisco Railway Museum.

Rick Prelinger will debut the original (silent) version of this beautifully restored film at the Lost Landscapes events on December 4 and 5 at the Castro Theater, along with many other great clips of San Francisco’s history. This is always a wonderful event and at this writing, tickets are still available here.

Proceeds benefit the Internet Archive, a great project. You’ll thank yourself for seeing this.

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Stunning Composite Photographs


This isn’t new, but if you haven’t seen these wonderful composite photographs by San Francisco photographer Sean Clover, you’re in for a treat.

These are just a couple of them, comparing the damage caused by the 1906 earthquake and fire with the exact same location today.

Above, the gate of the cable car barn on Washington Street just east of Mason, showing how Car 155 was crushed by falling bricks. Within a few hours of the original photograph, it and all its mates from the Powell Street cable lines would be incinerated. (They were replaced by cable cars used on the Sacramento-Clay lines, stored out of the fire zone. Some of these cars, much rebuilt, are still on the Powell lines today.)

Below, two of the California Street cable cars of the type built in 1907 to replace the ones destroyed in the earthquake pass between Grant Avenue and Stockton Street, with 1906 rubble from Nob Hill to the right.


We’re lucky to live in a city with artists as talented as Sean Clover.

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110 Years Ago: Earthquake Ends the Cable Era

April 18 1906 Hayes cable transfer

This photograph is of a cable car transfer that is part of our Market Street Railway Archives. It’s for the Hayes line (now the 21-Hayes bus), inbound (going toward the Ferry). The date of the transfer, overprinted with ink as was the custom) was April 18, 1906. The time punched on the transfer was 5:00 a.m.

We believe this is a genuine transfer, though it can’t easily be inspected more closely because it was donated to us already encased in plastic. It symbolizes the final minutes of one of the most extensive cable car systems ever built in the world.

CC 155 3rd Mkt 1905As this 1905 shot shows, cable cars ran along Market right up until the Earthquake and Fire of April 18, 1906. Five cable lines headed west on our main street from the Ferry, branching off at McAllister (now the 5-line), Hayes (the 21), Haight (the 7), Valencia, and Castro (now pretty much the F-line).  The earthquake wrecked the cable machinery and in some places twisted the tracks.

Market and Spear cMay 1906

The system’s corporate owner, United Railroads (a Chicago-based conglomerate) took the opportunity to “temporarily” string overhead wire on Market and had electric streetcars operating there within a few weeks, as seen above. (They had wanted to convert to faster, cheaper streetcars on Market for years, but “City Beautiful” advocates, who hated the overhead wires, had stopped them. They greased the wheels of government in the quake’s immediate aftermath with bribes, and we’ve had overhead wires on Market ever since.)

You can ride along during the last days of Market Street cable service and learn much more about the City that was by viewing our “Trip Down Market Street” video. Thanks to archivist Rick Prelinger and film historian David Kiehn, we obtained a great copy of the film made on or about April 14, 1906, just days before the quake, by pioneering professional filmmakers the Miles Brothers, who bolted a hand-cranked camera onto the front of a cable car and rode down Market Street from Eighth Street to the Ferry Building. Click below for a preview.

In the full 11 minute video, Market Street Railway President Rick Laubscher, author of ON TRACK and a noted San Francisco historian, tells you what you’re seeing on every block along the way in this memorable film, including social, economic, and political history to go with the transit history. It’s all woven together seamlessly, bringing this wonderful film, “A Trip Down Market Street,” to life.

You can see the full 11 minute video free at our San Francisco Railway Museum, open daily except Monday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. You can view the earthquake day transfer shown above at the museum too.  For just $12.95, you can also buy your own copy of the film at the Museum, or right here at our online store (scroll down the store page until you reach the video). Remember, Market Street Railway Members get 10% off.

Finally, please take a moment to reflect on the enormous power of nature, as reflected in Ecuador and Japan during the last few days. Our condolences to all those who have lost loved ones to these terrible tremors.

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