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Images of Old San Francisco

The San Francisco, California Public Library has online a large historical photographic collection of the city by the bay. These images starting around 1850 come from cabinet cards, lantern slides, photo albums, postcards, panorama, glass negatives, stereograph and general scenes of San Francisco and California subjects. There are about 40,000 of these digital images online with the San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection. As new photos are located they are scanned and placed in the “What’s New Online’ tab.

The search box allows you to search using a keyword, a subject, a date, the name of a photographer. There is a section button for looking for photos of certain San Francisco neighborhoods such as Pacific Heights, Nob Hill, China Basin, etc. A map is provided to assist in locating the neighborhoods.

You can also go to the browse link listed on the left to see how the photos were placed in categories. There are banks, churches, scenes after earthquakes, hotels, police stations, schools, streets and many others. One of the big section is ‘Portraits’. Using the alphabetical letters you can search for certain surnames or those of individuals.

Once an image of interest is found, there is a thumbnail image of it. You can click on the ‘full record’ about the image for details. To enlarge the image click on ‘view image’. They are much larger once enlarged and they can be downloaded free of charge. If a better scan and large size is needed you can also order a bigger and different format.

Some of the photos are fantastic. There is the Grand Hotel, four stories in height and the photo was taken in 1874 from an elevated platform so the whole building can be seen. There are photos of the island of Alcatraz at different times. Homes of the wealthy social set are quite numerous. Yet, there are also the everyday street scenes of the people going to work or carrying on with business.

If you had any ancestors in the area during 1850 to the 1990s, it is worth looking over this great photo collection.

Photo: Building at the corner of Front Street and Clay, damaged in the earthquake of Oct. 21, 1868.

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