The Best Version of the Market Street Film Profiled on 60 Minutes

Did you see the story that was just on 60 Minutes about the now-famous “Trip Down Market Street” film? Although the film is more than a century old, a version of it with just an instrumental sound track suddenly starting spreading like wildfire
on YouTube in 2008. That version has 1.8 million views right now, even though the film itself is so grainy and dirty you can’t see much detail.


But thanks to archivist Rick Prelinger, who digitally restored the old film, there’s a much sharper version now, turning that grimy windshield into a picture window view of our main street’s past.

And thanks to film historian David Kiehn, this film takes on extra poignancy, with his revelation that the original film was shot
on or around April 14, 1906 — just four days before the infamous
earthquake — so apart from its obvious historic appeal, the film also serves
as a detailed record of what Market Street looked like before it was devastated. 

But that visual record, clear or fuzzy, with music or silent (like the original) lacks context. You see a lot, but what does it mean?  Where exactly are we at a given moment on Market Street?  None of the versions of the film on YouTube, or elsewhere, provide this context. Until now.

Market Street Railway President Rick Laubscher is a fourth-generation San Franciscan who grew up working on Market Street and has spent decades studying its history. He applied that knowledge to create a narrated version of “A Trip Down Market Street” four years ago to show on the video screens of our San Francisco Railway Museum. Rick’s expertise on the subject led to his being interviewed as part of the 60 Minutes story.

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Now, the work of the two Ricks – Prelinger and Laubscher – comes together on the first fully narrated version of the restored film: a 12-minute journey on board a cable car traveling from Eighth Street to the Ferry Building, and even turning around on a turntable. All the while, a long vanished San Francisco passes by, with detailed commentary on the social, political, and transportation environment that shaped what the camera is showing, with great clarity of both picture and word.

You can own this “Trip Down Market Street” on DVD (designed for North American playback only) for $12.95 plus tax at our museum, or here at our online store.  Here’s an excerpt from our exclusive video.


Comments: 5

  1. Wondeful presentation on 60 Minutes! I especially enjoyed seeing 578 on Market St.–considering that it’s older than the currently operating cable cars. The story of the original film’s narrow escape conjures up a movie sequence with the negative being loaded into an express car after a ferry trip across the bay, then a dramatic “steam train racing through the night” shot. Then we show the next morning, as the train stops at some small town and the express messenger reads the headline on a local newspaper: SAN FRANCISCO IN FLAMES! But the movie survived, and it’s the nearest thing we have to a Time Machine.

  2. Yes, I did, thanks to your newsletter tip last week. It was much better than the version I had seen previously online. I’m so glad that I started getting your newsletter last month!

  3. Enjoyed the “60 Minutes” show. Rick L., you done good!! Glad the “mystery” has been solved and we now all know the film was made just before the 1906 Earthquake. Also enjoyed seening how #578 is operated. Good show!!

  4. At the start of the segment, 60 MINUTES announced that the film was a recent discovery. In fact its existence has been well-known to SF history fans for years. I saw it in a class in 1982. Later in the segment, the announcer said that it was previously believed to have been filmed in 1905.

  5. Actually, what Morley Safer said was, “the film has been well known to historians for years.” The recent discovery allusion was to the accurate dating of the film, which indeed was long thought to have been made in 1905. It was David Kiehn’s research, first included on video at our museum four years ago, and now available on narrated DVD for purchase, that correctly dated the film as being made just days before the 1906 earthquake and fire.

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