Monday, August 18th, 2008

Vintage snapshots of San Francisco pt. 2: Google-mapped

A couple days after I passed on this alert to the amazing Charles Cushman photo collection, another reader immediately saw possibilities for this carefully filed and annotated archive of our city in the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s.

He’s created a Google map, digitally mapping over 200 of the enormous collection’s slides to their places of origin.

This looks like it must have been a TON of work, but as Dan wrote, “Richard — this wasn’t so much effort as it looks. Google maps has a geocoder which takes street intersections and turns them into GPS coordinates. I wrote a script to download the Cushman archive pages, look up the street addresses in the geocoder, and add them to the map.”

Right — it’s easy if you know how! And I suspect that slightly more energy went into this project than Dan is letting on.

Though just a bit over 10% of the 1791 images in the San Francisco portion of the archive were readily identifiable, it’s more than enough to pull you back into a visceral, three-dimensional experience of our city in the era of Kodachrome.

6 Comments » - Posted in From the community,Just plain cool,San Francisco history blog by

Wednesday, August 13th, 2008

Faded time capsule — vintage snapshots of San Francisco

A reader alerted me to an amazing post that just popped up over at Laughing Squid.

See the two photos below? The first comes from an online collection of vintage color snapshots of San Francisco, courtesy of an online gallery at Indiana University — it’s the intersection of South Van Ness and Army, snapped by who-knows-who back in 1953.

The second one was snapped by Todd Lappin just yesterday — and at first glance, not much has changed in the last fifty years but the trees on the Bernal Hill and the price of gas!

San Francisco, South Van Ness and Army 1953
check out the rest of the post …

7 Comments » - Posted in Just plain cool,San Francisco history blog by

Friday, August 8th, 2008

Kitchen Sisters on NPR: “Birth of Rice-A-Roni”

Rice-A-Roni - the San Francisco Treat

1940s San Francisco. A young Canadian immigrant and her Italian pasta family husband move into the spare room of an old Armenian woman.

The result of this temporary arrangement? The boxed rice and pasta side dish which — for good or ill — would come to be as strongly associated with San Francisco as the Golden Gate Bridge:

“Rice-A-Roni – the San Francisco Treat”

check out rest of the post

No Comments » - Posted in Just plain cool,San Francisco angle,San Francisco history blog by

Friday, August 1st, 2008

Grandpa’s archives: San Francisco Chronicle aerial photo ca. 1949

My mother called a few days ago, opening the conversation with a breathless “I think I’ve found something that might interest you!”

She was right.

Her sister had recently gone through some papers belonging to my late grandfather Elmer Plett, a sober, hard-working dairy farmer who spent the majority of his adult life in the central valley town of Turlock.

Among piles of receipts and newspaper clippings my aunt discovered a mysterious item bearing the handwritten label “San Francisco picture, 1949″. Sure enough, nestled between protective cardboard sheets was a large, glossy, black and white aerial photograph of San Francisco.

The shot is spectacular, taken on an unusually clear winter day. The angle is unusual too, looking almost precisely north towards Mount Shasta — and according to the story of how the photo came to be taken (see below), that view of the distant volcano is what prompted the photographer to take to the air.

What we’re interested in, though, is the city in the foreground — captured in all its hat-wearing, freeway-building, pre-jet-age post-war glory. Take a look:


San Francisco Chronicle aerial photo 1949

click image to view at full size

check out the rest of the post here, including photo details

12 Comments » - Posted in Just plain cool,San Francisco history blog by

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2008

SFWeekly: “Nonconformity Still Reigns”

SFWeekly logo Nonconformity Still Reigns

Apparently yours truly is the go-to source on non-conformity in historical San Francisco. That’s the way the SFWeekly is leaning, in any case. An hour of phone-schmoozing with intrepid reporter Lauren Smiley resulted in the following introduction to story about modern-day San Francisco kooks and characters:

In the beginning of our city’s love affair with odd ducks, there was Emperor Norton. A businessman in Gold Rush San Francisco who lost his pants on an investment in Peruvian rice, he re-emerged as a grand character of his own invention: “Emperor of These United States” and “Protector of Mexico.” He waltzed about town in a secondhand military uniform while newspapers printed his official edicts without caveat and establishments honored his fake currency.

If Los Angeles lionizes its celebrities, San Francisco has always embraced, or at least tolerated, its homegrown eccentrics. “I can’t imagine any other city in the world where [Emperor Norton] could have become what he became with the acceptance of the city,” says Richard Miller, an armchair historian who creates podcasts on San Francisco legends for his Web site, Sparkletack. “Some say all the loose nuts rolled west … people who hadn’t made it elsewhere, or just different from the average bears.”

Take a look at the rest of the SFWeekly’s article, and not just because of that little quote — Lauren hits the high spots from the Brown Twins (who refused to be interviews by the Weekly without cash on the barrelhead) to Frank Chu (who could not be contained). The premise of the story is that there’s still hope for San Francisco … and I hope she’s right.

No Comments » - Posted in Media,San Francisco history blog by

Tuesday, July 1st, 2008

Bullitt: the greatest car chase ever (from space!)

This video takes Bullitt about ten steps further. It’s a side-by-side display that — through the techno-wizardry of geocoding — shows the chase scene’s logic-defying route from space. Now you can track Steve’s ’68 Mustang GT turn by screeching turn through every neighborhood in the city — just like a James Bond super-villain:

Click to view at full size

check out the whole post here

9 Comments » - Posted in Just plain cool,San Francisco history blog by

Friday, June 20th, 2008

book review: Oakley Hall’s “Ambrose Bierce Mystery Novels”

An inordinate number of my youthful hours were spent in the company of the mystery novel; Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammett, Dorothy L. Sayers … I couldn’t get enough. Somewhere along the line, though, the fixation faded …

But it’s back.

I’ve discovered a series of detective novels that — in a “you got chocolate on my peanut butter!” kind of way — seem to have been written with me in mind:

The setting is 1890′s San Francisco, the lively heart of the Gilded Age. And the detective? None other than our own famously cynical wit-about-town, that brilliant literary misanthrope Mr. Ambrose “Bitter” Bierce.

See what I mean?

Just a minute: Ambrose who?

5 Comments » - Posted in Historical book reviews,San Francisco history blog by

Wednesday, June 11th, 2008

And I quote: “Buried Treasure in San Francisco?”

I love this blog, if for no other reason than the jawdropping diversity of the email that slips over the digital transom. This note from a few weeks ago just about takes the biscuit. In breathless terms it tells the story of a decades-long treasure hunt, a project just brimming with danger, doggedness and derring-do! […]

5 Comments » - Posted in From the community,San Francisco angle,San Francisco history blog by

Friday, February 15th, 2008

book review — “The Bottle Imp”

I read a lot of books on San Francisco and California history. And though these posts are labeled “book reviews”, the only books you’ll ever see here are those that I’ve really enjoyed. In short, if you see it here, it’s a great book — I’ve no urge to write about the stinkers! And if […]

No Comments » - Posted in From the community,Historical book reviews by

Tuesday, September 25th, 2007

#65: Memories of an Argonaut

To many of the thousands of gold-seekers pouring through the Golden Gate back in 1849, the word “Argonaut” was already a familiar one, drawn from the ancient myth of “Jason and the Golden Fleece”. “Argonaut” was the name applied to Jason’s band of heroic companions, combining the name of his ship — the “Argos” — […]

3 Comments » - Posted in San Francisco history podcasts by

Saturday, September 22nd, 2007

book review — “Treasure Island; San Francisco’s Exhibition Years”

I read a lot of books on San Francisco and California history. And though these posts are labeled “book reviews”, the only books you’ll ever see here are those that I’ve really enjoyed. In short, if you see it here, it’s a great book — I’ve no urge to write about the stinkers! And if […]

2 Comments » - Posted in Historical book reviews by

Monday, July 2nd, 2007

book review — “San Francisco Almanac”

I read a lot of books on San Francisco and California history. And though these posts are labeled “book reviews”, the only books you’ll ever see here are those that I’ve really enjoyed. In short, if you see it here, it’s a great book — I’ve no urge to write about the stinkers! And if […]

3 Comments » - Posted in Historical book reviews by

Wednesday, March 14th, 2007

book review — “River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West”

I read a lot of books on San Francisco and California history. And though these posts are labeled “book reviews”, the only books you’ll ever see here are those that I’ve really enjoyed. In short, if you see it here, it’s a great book — I’ve no urge to write about the stinkers! And if […]

7 Comments » - Posted in Historical book reviews by

Wednesday, January 10th, 2007

book review — Mark Twain’s “Roughing It”

I read a lot of books on San Francisco and California history. And though these posts are labeled “book reviews”, the only books you’ll ever see here are those that I’ve really enjoyed. In short, if you see it here, it’s a great book — I’ve no urge to write about the stinkers! And if […]

7 Comments » - Posted in Historical book reviews by

Friday, November 11th, 2005

#34: The San Francisco Twins

Ask anyone, the twins are just “The Twins”. They walk alike. They talk alike. But most of all, they look and dress exactly alike, and would not have it any other way. Vivian and Marian Brown are always ready to stop and chat, always ready with a pair of matching smiles and wrist-up hand-waves worthy […]

41 Comments » - Posted in San Francisco history podcasts by