October 18, 2010

Something Wonderful: A Trip Down Market Street in SF in 1905

A trip down Market Street before the fire / [production company unknown].

"This film, shot from the front window of a moving Market Street cable car, is a rare record of San Francisco's principal thoroughfare and downtown area before their destruction in the 1906 earthquake and fire. The filmed ride covers 1.55 miles at an average speed of nearly 10 miles per hour. While there is no production or copyright information on the film, the state of completion of the Flood Building and the Monadnock Building indicate that the year is 1905.

"Also, the apparent position of the sun in relation to the time visible on the Ferry Building clock point to early September as the month.

"Market Street, graded through sand dunes in the 1850's, is 120 feet wide, and nearly 3.5 miles long. The street runs northeast from the foot of Twin Peaks to the Ferry Building. Different street grids, diagonal on the northwest side and parallel on the southeast side, create several awkward diagonal intersections along Market Street, contributing to the chaotic traffic situation that is evident in the film.

San Francisco's cable cars, which first began operations in 1873, have no power of their own, and operate by "gripping" a moving cable beneath a slot in the street. This is the origin of the name "south of the slot" for the South-of-Market Street district. The Market Street lines, dating from 1883, merged in 1902 to form the United Railroads of San Francisco.

"Dark cars served westerly neighborhood lines extending along McAllister, Hayes and Haight streets, light cars served southwesterly neighborhoods, with the lines extending along Valencia and Castro streets. The Market Street section of the lines ended at the Ferry Building, where passengers boarded ferries for Oakland, Alameda, or Berkeley, across San Francisco Bay. East of Sutter Street, horse cars ran along Market Street. Independently owned, they ran on side tracks to the Ferry Building.

"A few electric streetcars, dating from 1892, are seen in the film crossing Market Street. Market Street itself reverted to electric streetcars in 1906, following the earthquake and fire. In all, the film shows some thirty cable cars, four horse cars and four streetcars.

"An interesting feature of the film is the apparent abundance of automobiles. However, a careful tracking of automobile traffic shows that almost all of the autos seen circle around the camera/cable car many times (one ten times). This traffic was apparently staged by the producer to give Market Street the appearance of a prosperous modern boulevard with many automobiles. In fact, in 1905 the automobile was still something of a novelty in San Francisco, with horse-drawn buggies, carts, vans, and wagons being the common private and business vehicles.

"The near total lack of traffic control along Market Street emphasizes the newness of the automobile. Granite paving stripes in the street marking ignored pedestrian crosswalks, making the crossing of Market Street on foot a risky venture. The pedestrian "islands" for homeward-bound downtown cable car commuters are among the few signs of order visible in the film."

Posted by Vanderleun at October 18, 2010 1:27 PM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

I work in SF. I have seen this video elsewhere and it always amazes me in that I see pretty much the same view and buildings now.

What I love about this is the guys, horses, cars, and what seems to be everything else wandering about Market St at the same time. All we're missing is the "homeless"!!

It's a great piece of film.

Posted by: Scott at October 18, 2010 5:49 PM

One more piece of info: actually this is NOT 1905. Several people here in SF have analyzed the film using car license plates at high resolution. It appears that this film was recorded just a matter of days before the April 1905 quake which would kill at least 4000 people.

Posted by: Scott at October 18, 2010 5:54 PM

60 Minutes actually ran a story on this film last evening.

Historic 1906 Film Captures S.F.'s Market Street

There is documentary evidence that the film was shot by the Miles Brothers the week before the earthquake.

Posted by: ELC at October 18, 2010 6:32 PM

Very cool, thanks for sharing.

It’s a total pedestrian/car/horse drawn carriage free-for-all. Just wonder how many people per year were killed, injured or maimed in cities back then.

Posted by: tim at October 19, 2010 5:59 AM

Just wonder how many people per year were killed, injured or maimed in cities back then.

Probably a lot. Pierre Curie, the husband of Marie of radium fame, was struck and killed by a horse-drawn carriage in Paris in this same year, 1906. If you want to see road chaos, check out the video below from Manchester, England in 1901.


Posted by: waltj at October 19, 2010 7:33 AM

This blog is now a time machine. Only a matter of time before we see footage of the future.

Posted by: Frank P at October 19, 2010 5:00 PM

What I loved was the carefree stride of the men, a reminder of a once common but now vanishing species. And where were the women?

Posted by: chuck at October 19, 2010 6:24 PM

They were home, cleaning, making the daily bread. Cooking up a storm and canning everything they grew with their hands in the garden. Washing was done by hand, wrung out and hung to dry. Dresses were long, streets were dirty, muddy after a rain, and horse shit everywhere. Women were proper. They dressed well as the men did and after spending the day at hearth and home, no self-respecting woman would drag the long skirt that she probably sewed herself through that muck and mire.

Posted by: Jewel at October 20, 2010 7:56 AM

I lived in the city from 1966 to 1974 and the last time I visited was in the early 90's but I must say that Market St. as I knew it and the Market St. in the film aren't all that much different in terms of crowding, jammed up traffic and the controlled chaos. There isn't any horse manure these days but there is human excrement found on sidewalks.

Posted by: scory at October 20, 2010 8:31 AM

And the men don't wear their dresses nearly as long, either.

Posted by: Jewel at October 20, 2010 8:40 AM

Something for everyone in this slice of history. I imagine the car enthusiasts were shouting out loud, and I guess the costumers and hat-makers were wishing for close ups. Those who rebuild horse-drawn wagons surely watched in rapt awe, and as for me, I was trying to identify the two flags I saw flying.

I did see one woman, wearing a rather large and feathered hat, getting onto a street car, toward the end of the film.

My grandfather was a superintendent for a SF street car company during the 1930s---I wish I knew which one. He'd been a U.S. Army cavalry blacksmith, so I guess he had good metal-working skills regarding the upkeep of the street cars. They must have taken quite a beating.

Posted by: Deborah at October 21, 2010 7:31 AM

I also noticed the long, jaunty strides of the men.

The other thing that struck me about this early film and others (including the aforementioned one in Britain) is that they lack the herky-jerky motion we usually associate with silents, even those done more than a decade later. The frame rate must be higher than what became industry standard for economical reasons.

Posted by: Don Rodrigo at October 21, 2010 1:35 PM

Very therapeutic... To think that all those people are gone, but we still see their image... Amazing!

Posted by: Captain Dave at October 21, 2010 7:30 PM