San Francisco, Before and After the 1906 Fire

Prelinger Archives
Prelinger Archives / Prelinger Archives

In this 11-minute film, we see what San Francisco looked like in 1906 just weeks before the great earthquake struck. Shot from a cable car on April 4, 1906, it's a leisurely roll down a bustling city street. But the bustle is very different than what we see today, and says a lot about the speed of pedestrian life on Market Street more than a century ago. People wander back and forth across the cable car's path, horse-drawn (and horseless) carriages pass in front of it at odd angles, and kids gawk at the camera mounted on the front. The pace of the car itself is so glacial that it's outrun by all sorts of slow-moving vehicles around it.

Take a minute and enjoy a look at San Francisco street life long ago:

Now compare that to footage taken after the fire that broke out on April 18 as a result of the earthquake. The fire was truly devastating, and you can actually see the damage to the area shown in the film above. There's a Market Street shot in this film starting around the 3-minute mark: