Downtown San Francisco before the earthquake

This film was originally thought to be from 1905 until David Kiehn, with the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, figured out exactly when it was shot. He got his clues from New York trade papers announcing the film showing, the wet streets from recent heavy rainfall and shadows indicating time of year, and the actual weather and conditions on historical record. He even determined when the cars were registered, who owned them, and when the plates were issued. It was filmed only four days before the quake and shipped by train to NY for processing.

The film from 1906 in downtown San Francisco was made 4 days before the great earthquake destroyed the city at 5:12 AM on April 18th, 1906. It is filmed from the front of a cable car, heading east toward the ferry terminal building, which is the tower in the background (which survived the quake and still stands today). Look at the enormous old cars–this was and is a center of great wealth, and notice that they had a couple of idiot drivers back then, just as we have today.

Towards the end of the film one reckless driver nearly gets run over by the cable car. You will see streetcars, cable cars, horse-drawn wagons, and some huge, expensive, early motorcars. You will see jay-walkers, U-turns, few women and lots of convertibles. Most of the buildings in the film would be destroyed or burned four days later. Knowing what we know about history, it is an eerie sight. So here it is–just a mere 104 years ago.

The streets of San Francisco look to be in better condition than the current roads.  Hmmm…