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A Trip Down Market Street Before the Fire

This film is a rare record of San Francisco's downtown area before its destruction in the 1906 earthquake and fire.

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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. 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. According to an April 30, 2010 article in the San Francisco chronicle and in a 60 minutes television segment broadcast on October 17, 2010, silent film historian David Kiehn determined from the depiction in the film of the puddles in the cavities by the rails on the street--and especially autos driving through puddles splashing water--that the film could not have been shot in September 1905 as that month was "bone dry." After searching weather reports in a number of San Francisco newspapers, Kiehn learned that no heavy rain was reported until late March and into early April of 1906. Further research uncovered an April 28, 1906 advertisement for the film in the theatrical magazine, the New York Clipper, suggesting that the film was shot on or around April 12, 1906 due to the long lead time for print ads for magazines of the day and the amount of time required to ship the film to New York by train. Kiehn also confirmed that one of cars in the film with license plate number 4867 had been registered in early 1906. 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.