End of the Trail: A Closer Look

by Woody LaBounty

A closer look at an OpenSFHistory image.

The 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition (PPIE) was a typical worlds fair of its time. Commercial, political, and industrial powers filled palaces for horticulture, machinery, and “food products.” Establishment art, architecture, and culture were spotlighted, and the public got an over-the-top recreational experience of amusements, parades, and electric light displays. (View our OpenSFHistory photo gallery.)

Held in San Francisco, the PPIE was meant to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal, but was as much a celebration of San Francisco’s recovery from the 1906 earthquake and fire. Some 18 million people visited it over the course of 1915, with 459,022 coming just on closing night.

Two years after the fair, as this Department of Public Works photograph taken on April 15, 1917 shows, the revelry and wonderment of the PPIE had given way to a muddy hangover.

Statues from PPIE stored on future Marina Green.
Statuary from Panama-Pacific International Exposition stored on future Marina Green, April 15, 1917. (wnp36.01558, DPW Book 19, Image 4231 by Horace Chaffee. Copy negative courtesy of a private collector).

James Earle Fraser’s iconic “End of the Trail” statue—a slumped, oblivion-facing American Indian and horse—stands on the bay fill amid a field of classical detritus. The rider keeps company with more stalwart chargers and a divinity awkwardly reclined with dancing acolytes. Fraser’s sculpture would be moved to a park in Visalia, California, and eventually to a cowboy museum in Oklahoma.

Another view from the same day shows, on the left, the city jewel that is the Palace of Fine Arts, which was saved and restored—and has had to be saved and restored a couple of more times in the intervening century. On the right is the fair’s California Building, doomed to destruction after plans to make it a state teachers college fell through. In between the two is the base of the Column of Progress. Once situated among the broad boulevards and fantastical architecture of the PPIE, it survived at the foot of Scott Street while the plans began for the winding streets and Mediterranean flats of the Marina District. Progress accomplished, the city demolished the column as a traffic hazard in 1924.

Marina Blvd West near Scott Street.
Marina Blvd looking west near Scott Street, April 15, 1917. Palace of Fine Arts, Column of Progress, and California Building. (wnp36.01559, DPW Book 19, Image 4232 by Horace Chaffee. Copy negative courtesy of a private collector).

Two years ago, the City of San Francisco celebrated the centennial of the fair. A “1915” light was displayed on the Ferry Building. Commemorative talks, books, and publications were issued. Local historians, elected officials, and business dignitaries wined, dined, and danced at a glittery soiree inside the Palace of Fine Arts.

We love anniversaries with a round number, and attention has moved on this year to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love. Silk gowns and peacock feather tiaras have given way to tie-dye and love beads. San Francisco Travel, the city museums, and brands from Levis to a British marmite manufacturer are all getting into the spirit of hippies, rock photography, and psychedelic fashion.

There’s another round number anniversary this year, not talked about as much. The week before the mudflat Marina photos were taken, Congress declared war on Germany, voting to put the United States into the heart of World War I. No doubt the 100th anniversary of our country’s march into mustard gas attacks, muddy trenches, and the war-that-didn’t-end-all-wars is a harder sell than a Summer of Love.

Liberty Bell on way to PPIE, July 17, 1915
Liberty Bell delivered to Panama-Pacific International Exhibition, July 17, 1915. (wnp30.0095, Emiliano Echeverria/Randolph Brandt Collection).

Building a New San Francisco: A Closer Look

by Woody LaBounty

A closer look at an OpenSFHistory image.

In 2001, working from a tip, the City Attorney seized as city property nineteen photograph albums listed for sale at a public auction. Inside the albums were thousands of prints produced by employees of the city’s Department of Public Works (DPW) to document the rebuilding of San Francisco in the decades after the 1906 earthquake and fire.

In the course of rescuing the albums from disappearing once more into private hands, some research was done and most of the rest of the original DPW collection was found stored in a city warehouse on Treasure Island. Each photograph depicted some part of an infrastructure improvement or civic building project: from the making of the Hetch Hechy reservoir in the Sierras, to construction of City Hall, to the installation of sewer pipe in the trackless sand dunes of the Sunset District.

Lowering pipe at 13th Street and Market, 1910
Workmen lowering pipe at 13th and Market Streets, November 26, 1910. (wnp36.00019, DPW Book 1, Image 164 by Horace Chaffee. Copy negative courtesy of a private collector).

The San Francisco History Center at the Main Library received it all for cataloging and preservation. More than two hundred of the images have been scanned and displayed on the library site with a finding aid to the albums. Researchers and the just plain curious can visit the San Francisco History Center to see them.

Sculpter Henri Crenier with his frieze for City Hall' entry pediment, March 31, 1914
Sculptor Henri Crenier with his frieze for City Hall’s entry, March 31, 1914. (wnp36.00432, DPW Book 8, Image 1803. Copy negative courtesy of a private collector).

In the OpenSFHistory collection, we have thousands of 2.75″ copy negatives of DPW photographs. The donor of these images created the negatives by meticulously photographing the original albums at the Department of Public Works in 1979, and again in 1990, years before the DPW collection ended up in storage on Treasure Island. At the same time, the collector copied out by hand an index of the image descriptions in the albums. Many of the copied photographs aren’t present in the material discovered and preserved at the San Francisco History Center.

Upper Hetch Hetchy Valley, June 17, 1913
Upper Hetch Hetchy Valley, June 17, 1913. (wnp36.00314, DPW Book 6, Image 1494 by Horace Chaffee. Copy negative courtesy of a private collector).

We prioritized scanning these negatives and this week posted the first 1,745 we’ve done. Our hope is that by putting online these views of road work, sewer piping, school construction, and general street scenes we are aiding researchers, urban planners, and architectural historians, while educating and exciting the general public. (Your house may be shown in one of these shots.) Much more work has to be done to improve the online mapping and review the descriptions by crosschecking the original albums the library holds. Plus, there’s likely more than a few typos in the transcribing (drop us a line if you see one).

Geary and Jones Streets, April 26, 1912
Cable cars, horse and wagon at Geary and Jones Streets, April 26, 1912. (wnp36.00158, DPW Book 3, Image 535 by Horace Chaffee. Copy negative courtesy of a private collector).

The Department of Public Works photographs were taken as documentation of the agency’s work. At first, just numbers were inscribed on the negatives that matched up to an index describing location and the project. Later, fuller descriptions with dates of the photographs were written on black borders. Over the past four decades, the private collector shared prints of his copy negatives with authors, community groups, streetcar fans, and historians. Many people are familiar with (and thankful for) those DPW inscriptions telling the where and the when.

There’s a thrill in seeing a well-known intersection dressed in the togs of yesteryear— period advertisements, long-vanished streetcars, mules harnessed to wagons, and working men wearing fedora/overall combinations—but there’s a special frisson in some of these stunning landscapes now vanished.

Enjoy, let us know what you think, and get ready for thousands more on the way.

46th & Vicente, August 12, 1912
46th Avenue and Vicente Street, August 12, 1912. (wnp36.00212, DPW Book 4, Image 612. Copy negative courtesy of a private collector).