The YouTube channel History Owl uploaded about three decades worth of San Francisco history in a one-hour format on Monday. If you’ve ever wondered what Market Street crowds would look like if hats were declared mandatory, this is your big chance.
Titled simply "San Francisco in the 1930s-1960s," it’s a hodgepodge of newsreel footage, documentary reels, and a few political and PSA ads, in no particular order but in remarkably good quality considering how old the material is.
History Owl is a small channel just one month old, compiling public domain footage of yesteryear, some of it quite weird. The San Francisco material comes from the Prelinger Archives.
Some milestones to help you navigate the whole affair:
2:00: Aerial footage of the waterfront (note the wing of the tiny passenger plane in the corner of the frame).
3:20: A really smashing long shot of a roadster threading its way down a busy, bustling Market Street, skirting past the streetcars all the while.
7:15: In case you’re wondering who’s shooting this, here’s a daredevil photographer on the roof of a moving car, appearing so briefly you could miss him in a blink.
9:40: Old school Chinatown.
15:23: The Bay Bridge under construction.
17:00: San Francisco’s industrial building stock in its original application.
17:35: Wartime political ad about (wait for it) trying to deal with San Francisco’s mass transit problems. Yes, "war plant workers" and "shoppers for rationed meat" had the same trouble catching a bus down Geary as you do. "Unless relief is found, this will seriously hamper the city’s progress," narrator Carloz Lopez tells us. You don‘t say?
23:25: BART public service newsreel updating the city about the construction of the original system, promising "carpeted, air conditioned trains" and "extra wide foam rubber seats." You may well still be riding the very car we see here.
31:40: Although the title card "Golden Gate Bridge Fiesta" is a big ambiguous, this looks an awful lot like the famous opening day of the bridge, with scores of San Franciscans trouping across on foot.
34:40: Aircraft carrier crowded with bombers (looking like giant dragonflies from this perspective) passes under.
36:45: Cruising by Alcatraz and its giant "WARNING: ONLY GOVERNMENT BOATS PERMITTED WITHIN 200 YARDS" sign. It’s almost like they don’t want strange craft coming ashore at a federal prison. Odd, that.
37:43: A shipwreck, dashed to pieces along Ocean Beach.
40:00: Cranes on the San Francisco waterfront, back before Oakland edged us completely out of that action.
52:00: A very familiar view. Because some things never change.