Amateur Film Offers a Glimpse of San Francisco Streets in 1955

This piece by noted amateur filmmaker Tullio Pellgrini features a windshield-bound tour of some of the city’s most famous sights in 1955, but it also offers a peek into the changes some of our major streets have undergone since the earlier days of the motor age.

Some differences are striking, like the additional vehicle lanes on streets like Market and the Great Highway and the lack of parked cars on others. One eye-catcher for me was seeing cars driven through the Powell Street cable car turnaround on what is now Hallidie Plaza. A friend also pointed out the since-removed mid-block crosswalk on Van Ness between City Hall and the War Memorial Opera House.

A reminder of the flexible nature of our streets, for better or worse, is always refreshing. San Francisco streets have changed before and they can change again.

H/T BoingBoing.

  • Boycruz

    wow  roads seem in worse condition than our current roads!

  • Davistrain

    I’m old enough to look at a film like this, see some of the then-nearly-new cars, and say “Gee, I used to drive one of those.”  Other observations: Old streetcars as well as PCC’s on Market St.; the “Iron Monsters” would be gone in another three years.  Two-way traffic on the upper deck of the Bay Bridge–the lower deck was for trucks, buses and the Key
     System railway tracks, which would be abandoned in 1958.  And for a different kind of “cable car” the Sky Tram–when did it disappear?

  • Thanks for the movie!  In some ways it’s amazing how much of San Francisco looks the same. Even the train in the zoo has hardly changed. Fewer cars back then; quieter streets. Kind of shocking to see a much less built upon Twin Peaks. Fun to see Playland at the Beach in full action. My mother remembers going there but it was gone by my childhood in SF in the sixties. Interesting that SF population is about the same now as it was then, but I bet they had a third of the cars.  And the Palace of Fine Arts was crumbling even then.

  • Turin

    Never even heard of the Skytram before. It was apparently new at the time of the film. Must not have lasted very long. I noticed the rail line along the Marina Green. Did streetcars ever run along there or was it freight only? Also noticed the big SP signage on top of the former Southern Pacific building at the foot of California. I remember visiting that building as a kid with my grandfather when he worked for SP. Finally, I think I saw the light stands from the Polo Fields near the beginning as he was coming off the Bay Bridge. Fascinating film all the way through!

  • Davistrain

    The track along Marina Green is the former State Belt Railway.  It was freight only, and I think the track in the photo went to Fort Mason.  There are plans to extend the Muni “F” streetcar line along this general route to a terminal in the now-demilitarized Fort.  For more information check the Market St. Ry.

  • Anonymous

    At 7:00, re the Cliff House: “The once-gay resort of the nineties is now a modern restaurant”.

    I wonder if you could reuse that quote about some other place, referring to an entirely different era and an entirely different meaning of ‘gay’.

  • Rick Laubscher

    The army maintained that track to take military cargo to the Presidio. It is still there, now paved over for the running track. Contrary to another comment, the proposed F-line streetcar extension will go to Fort Mason only. The Presidio Trust has no interest in a further extension and some neighbors on Marina Boulevard oppose it.

  • Anonymous

    Yes. Fife’s Resort in Guerneville is a once gay resort of the (nineteen) nineties that is now a modern restaurant that caters to a mixed clientele.

  • Anonymous

    No it wasn’t. Playland didn’t close until.1972. I remember going there in 1968 when I was 10.

  • pchazz, Wikipedia agrees with you!  I guess my parents were just cruel never to take me.  (They did take me to the zoo which wasn’t all that far away.)

  • Turin

    Thanks to you both for the info. I wondered if it was for the military, given Fort Mason at one end and Crissy/Presidio at the other. It’s comforting to know that bit of history is still there, just below the surface.

  • Lack of trees along residential (and even commercial) streets is what strikes me. Apparently, trees just weren’t an urban thing till recently in SF.

  • Anonymous

    Karen, your parents were sparing you from seeing all the broken down games, rides and shady characters that haunted Playland in its last days.  When I was there in 1968, I remember thinking this must have been a great place once upon a time. 

  • Joseph Bleckman

    I am not sure how long it lasted, but my father says that the Skytram by the Cliff House was rather scary to ride in.

  • Zamaco

    How do you get permission to use  or buy the footage?

  • Zimbla

    I was born in sf in 1957…what a great film. I did not know their was a tram by the cliffhouse! <3

  • Zimbla

    I was born in sf in 1957. I did not know there was a tram by the cliffhouse! Great film…made me homesick!

  • Carol AnnDettman

    This is the San Francisco I know.

  • Lauren

    I’m assuming you would contact the Prelinger Archives.

  • Loganz

    It looks like modern day North Korea lol.

  • Paul. B

    Wonderful film to watch, have seen lots of this great city in the 4 visits from the UK in the last 5 years.

  • Cafryer

     From Carol Ann Fryer
    This is also the San Francisco I knew. This is the first time I’ve cried watching a travelogue.

  • Robin

    Yeah, like the view from Telegraph Hill. When I first moved here in the early 80s, you had a view! Now those awful bushes have grown so much, you can’t see a thing. They should remove the bushes.


Planners Turn to World’s Best Streets for Inspiration on Market

A new set of reports released yesterday by the Better Market Street Project, a coordinated effort between San Francisco city agencies and urban designers, presents ideas for optimizing the mobility, safety and overall experience on lower Market Street when it is rebuilt in 2015. While the authors didn’t explicitly recommend the growingly popular idea of a car-free […]

Are Outdated Regulations Holding Back Safety Changes on Market?

Today, advocates for livable streets attended the memorial service for Thu Phan, a woman killed in a crosswalk on Market Street on February 5. Yesterday Streetsblog urged SFMTA to stop compromising on safety improvements, a theme echoed at the event. “In the first two months of 2016, five people have already died in traffic crashes […]