Category Archives: San Francisco History Center

Rescuing Black History in the Fillmore

San Franciscans of Japanese descent during forced evacuation of the city in 1942. Photo by the Department of the Interior, War Relocation Authority.

African Americans have been a part of San Francisco since before the Gold Rush. The city’s Black population saw its greatest increase, however, during World War II. Hailing primarily from Louisiana and Texas, the newcomers  had been recruited to work in Bay Area shipyards.  Many settled into homes in the Western Addition recently vacated by San Franciscans of Japanese descent who had been forced, under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, to relocate to internment camps.

Over the following two decades, a visible African American presence established itself in the Western Addition neighborhood around Fillmore Street. This included a vibrant jazz and rhythm-and-blues nightclub scene that featured such artists such as Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Count Bassie, Thelonious Monk, and Ella Fitzgerald. When Justin Herman took control of the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency in 1959, however, he oversaw the razing of much of the Fillmore and the forcible removal of Black residents from the neighborhood, bringing an end to the Fillmore jazz era. James Baldwin’s 1963 documentary, “Take This Hammer,” addresses the fallout; it can be seen online for free.

Ella Fitzgerald and Fillmore celebrants in the 1950s. Courtesy the Red Powell/Reggie Pettus Collection.

Elizabeth Pepin and Lewis Watts have been working for many years to rescue the neighborhood’s Black music history – including Pepin’s work as associate producer on the 1999 KQED documentary, The Fillmore. In 2006, they published Harlem of the West: The San Francisco Fillmore Jazz Era. The book was released with a companion website and an exhibit that traveled to venues including the Museum of Performance and Design in San Francisco and the California African American Museum in Los Angeles.

Featured on the cover of the 2006 edition were, l-r: John Handy, Pony Poindexter, John Coltrane, Frank Fisher at Jimbo’s Bop City in the 1950s. Photo by Steven Jackson Jr.

Performing at the Herbst Theater in conjunction with the 2006 publication of Harlem of the West were John Handy (2nd from left) and Frank Fisher (3rd from left) who had appeared on the book’s cover. Photo courtesy Lewis Watts.

Currently, Pepin and Watts are preparing a revised edition of the book. It will feature a new design and Introduction, as well as additional material based on the oral histories they have recorded and photographs they have collected since the book was first published.

In part, it was photographs that first prompted the creation of the book – specifically, pictures that hung on the walls of Red’s Shine Parlor, a shoeshine business on Fillmore Street. Following owner Red Powell’s untimely death, his photographs were rescued by Reggie Pettus, owner of the New Chicago Barbershop across Fillmore street from Red’s Shine Parlor. Pettus, in turn, made them available to Lewis Watts.

Red Powell (far right) in front of his shoeshine parlor in the 1960s. Courtesy the Red Powell/Reggie Pettus Collection.

Many of the photos lacked information about the photographers and the people and places they portrayed. Elizabeth Pepin collaborated with Watts, who teaches photography at UC Santa Cruz, to identify the photographs. Pepin pursued her research at a time when little scholarship had done about African American history in San Francisco aside from a handful of works such as Douglas Henry Daniels’ Pioneer Urbanites and Albert Broussard’s Black San Francisco. Also at that time, Bay Area archival repositories such as the California Historical Society, the Bancroft Library, and the San Francisco History Center had little material about the city’s Black history.

Elizabeth Pepin and Lewis Watts. Photo courtesy Lewis Watts.

Since the initial publication of the book, Pepin and Watts have discussed their work with a wide range of audiences. In response, they have received ongoing offers of additional photographs and oral history recording sessions. It was this new content that prompted their decision to release an expanded version of their book – as well as audio files of some of those oral histories in future iterations of their website. As Pepin explained to me,

 The Fillmore was pretty much gone by the time I entered the world. I didn’t feel I had the right to put my voice into that. Obviously, I’m choosing out of all the interviews.  But really the book is written by the people who lived the history. I feel very strongly that this stuff needs to be available to the public. I think that there are many, many more stories to be told in the Fillmore. It’s important that this material be made available so that other people can put it toward their own projects.

Pepin and Watts’s work is especially pertinent in light of the failure of other attempts to capture and communicate the Fillmore’s African American past.  In 1995, the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, which had previously decimated the Fillmore neighborhood, launched the mismanaged Fillmore Jazz Preservation District project. The mandate had been to commission permanent interpretive art installations, offer financial support for Black businesses, and establish jazz venues such as Yoshi’s as well as the Jazz Heritage Center (where material from Pepin and Watts’s work has been exhibited), but the results have been mixed. The neighborhood further suffered when a Community Benefit District, which was established in 2006 to promote Fillmore heritage and businesses, was shuttered in 2012 following infighting among the area’s businesses owners and residents.

malcolm x

As part of the Fillmore Jazz Preservation District project, this sidewalk marker outside the Fillmore Auditorium originally read, “Malcolm X Spoke At The Fillmore Auditorium, 1962.” The brick  that featured the name “Malcolm X” has been replaced, but his name has not. 2012 photo by Drew Bourn.

Such disappointments make Pepin and Watts’s efforts to document and share the Black history of the Fillmore all the more vital.  If you have photographs or can help identify persons and places in Pepin and Watts’s existing photograph collections, or if you might be willing to share your recollections of the period, please contact Pepin and Watts. Such contributions are welcome as they prepare their new and expanded edition of Harlem of the West.

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Filed under Bancroft Library, California Historical Society, San Francisco History Center

Geotagging: Using Maps to Organize Historic Images

Map of San Francisco Chinatown, ca. 1901. Bancroft Library, G4364.S5:2C45 1901.C4.

Map of San Francisco Chinatown, ca. 1901. Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley. G4364.S5:2C45 1901.C4.

In recent years, a handful of projects have used online map programs such as Google Maps to provide access to historic images of San Francisco. These programs allow website creators or users to “geotag” digital versions of historic images – in other words, to situate the digital images on an online map. Some of these projects are examples of Web 2.0, meaning that users are able to make contributions by uploading images of their own, or add tags or comments to others’ photos. By considering some of these projects together, it is possible to compare their features. I’ll discuss five projects here, and then raise three issues related to this kind of work.

One project is HistoGrafica. Users can upload images, as well as a free-text description of the image and its source. Users can also contribute to others’ photos by rating the image, adding it to a list of their favorites, recommending it to other users, or suggesting that the location assigned to the image may be incorrect. Images can be searched by location on the map or keywords that search the images’ descriptions, and search results can be limited to a range of years.

Another project is Sepia Town, by Jon Protas, Eric Warren and Eric Lehnartz. Like Histographica, users can upload photos, provide a free-text description, indicate the image’s location, and identify its source. Images can be searched by a location keyword, geographic coordinates, or using the map, but keyword searches do not search the descriptions of the images. Also, the search results cannot be limited by a range of years. Sepia Town does, however, offer a split-screen “Then and Now” feature allowing the user to see an historic photo on the left and a contemporary Google Street View image of the same location on the right. Of course, users can make mistakes in identifying the location of the images they’ve uploaded. Because the site doesn’t offer the option to tag or comment on others’ photos, users would have to contact the website owners to suggest that any mistakes had been made.

WhatWasThere is similar to Sepia Town in that users can search for images only by using the map or inputing keywords related to locations, and search results cannot be limited by a range of years. Whereas Sepia Town uses a split screen presentation to view both an historic image and a current shot of the same location on Google Street View, WhatWasThere allows users to superimpose the historic image directly over a shot from Google Street View and to adjust the historic image’s opacity using a slider bar. As with Sepia Town, in cases where an incorrect location is assigned to an image, there is not a means for other users to tag or comment on the image in order to suggest changes.

Sometimes a map-based set of San Francisco historic images is presented in a Web 1.0 format, instead of a Web 2.0 format. This means that only the creators of the site can make changes or new contributions to it. One example is Dan Vanderkam and Raven Keller‘s project, Old SF. Vanderkam and Keller have used images and their descriptions exclusively from one source – the San Francisco History Center‘s online collection of historic photographs. Users can search for images on the map and can limit the search results by a range of years. The Web 1.0 format means that if users have an interest in making their own contributions (such as providing additional images, or offering further information about images), they would contact the site creators rather than directly making the contributions on the site itself.  A Web 1.0 format is easier to design than a Web 2.0 site, and it allows creators to have creative control over the site and its contents.

Vanderkam and Keller have done a tremendous amount of work in identifying the locations of images approximately 13,000 images from the collections of the San Francisco History Center. Building on that work, the San Francisco History Center has plans to further develop its own contributions to another Web 2.0 map project, Historypin. Historypin is perhaps the most ambitious of the current Web 2.0 mapping projects.  In addition to features seen in the other projects discussed above, it also provides further options for user contributions – including upload of video and audio content.

A few issues arise with the emergence of map-based collections of historic images. One issue derives from the very fact that there is more than one project: researchers have to keep track of multiple sites in order to search for images they need. A similar challenge had been faced by researchers searching for digital versions of rare books, which archives had previously uploaded to a bewildering variety of locations. These locations included their own websites as well as third-party hosts such as Google Books, the Hathi Trust, and the Internet Archive. Recently, archives have been increasingly collaborating to aggregate their content into consolidated sites (such as the Medical Heritage Library project) both to reduce duplication of effort as well as to improve ease of research.

A second issue is copyright violations. Although the copyright of some historical images has expired, many site designers and contributors remain confused or uninformed about copyright law. Resources are available to clarify the copyright status of various works – one example is the excellent Copyright Chart by Peter Hirtle of Cornell University. Nevertheless, site users’ compliance with copyright law continues to be a challenge.

Finally, there are risks associated with the content of user contributions. Site creators cannot easily control or monitor contributions, and those contributions can include everything from innaccuate information (such as incorrectly identifying the locations of images on a map) to libelous statements or other inappropriate content. This year, the OCLC Social Metadata Working Group is publishing a report for archives, libraries and museums to address the challenges associated with hosting user-generated content on their websites. The first of the three parts of the report is already available for free online.

The projects considered here represent an ongoing attempt to improve access to historical images by making them available online, and by using crowdsourcing to geographically locate and describe those images. For more information about the projects, and to see how they continue to develop in both their features and content, please visit their websites:  HistoGrafica, Sepia Town, WhatWasThereOld SF, and Historypin.

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Patent Stamps: History Beneath Your Feet

Sewer Drain at 20th and Valencia. 2011 photo by Christopher Radcool Reynolds

Chrisopher Radcool Reynolds is co-founder of Reynolds-Sebastiani Design Services – a San Francisco-based landscape and construction company. He also has an interest in the history of San Francisco as a built environment.

In early 2010, Reynolds began to digitally photograph patent stamps on pavement, sewer drains, and manhole covers that he found on the city’s streets. It wasn’t long before he began uploading those images into a dedicated folder on his Facebook page – a curated collection of images he entitled “On the Walk.” He describes his online exhibit as a collection of “cool contractor patents stamps, interesting foundry marks, obsolete utilities, and other random finds.”

The project affords Reynolds the opportunity to engage in two of his favorite pursuits – collecting and research. In addition to capturing images of patent stamps and posting them online, he also investigates the companies or contractors whose stamps he finds. For his research, he reviews public utility commission reports, directory listings, and trade journals. The hard copy originals of these documents can be found in many archival repositories (such as the San Francisco History Center). Because Reynolds prefers doing his research online, he uses the digitized versions of these documents that can be found on Google Books.

One of the discoveries that Reynolds has made is the distinction between the marks he finds on manhole covers, which relate to the history of large utility companies in San Francisco, and the marks he finds on the small sewer vents. The latter can bear the stamps of independent plumbing or concrete contractors. As a craftsperson himself, Reynolds has been thrilled to find information about specific individuals and small business owners who have also left their mark on San Francisco’s streets. Whether his research has been about big business or identifiable individuals, he has included the results of his investigations as captions to his online collection of images.

Reynold’s has described his work to me as “a whimsical project.” When I asked him what his feelings were about historic preservation in San Francisco, though, his comments became more serious. As he put it,

“I believe firmly that cities need to reflect the needs and aesthetics of the people who live in them now, not 100 years ago. Part of the beauty and intrigue of history is its transitive quality. It is fleeting. I marvel at what has fallen away and what has risen in its place.”

To see Reynolds’ images and commentary, or to leave your own comments and reflections on his work, please visit “On the Walk.”

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San Francisco History Expo 2011

SF Mint ca. 1900, courtesy the US National Archives

The San Francisco Museum and Historical Society (SFMHS) will be hosting the first San Francisco History Expo on Saturday, February 12 and Sunday, February 13 from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00p.m. at the Old Mint on the northwest corner of 5th and Mission Streets. Admission is free; and over 20 local history organizations will have exhibits, including:

In addition to the exhibits, the Expo will also feature a variety of programs, including: live performances, screenings of historic films, a forum at which authors will read from their recently published histories of San Francisco, displays of art by Frank Alan Zimmerman and by the San Francisco Quilters Guild, and opportunities for visitors to record oral histories and digitize photographs to be posted on the FoundSF website. On Saturday at 2:00 p.m. there will be a Community History Panel featuring Woody LaBounty of the Western Neighborhoods Project, Peter Linenthal and Abby Johnston of the Potrero Hill Archives Project, and Vicky Walker of the Bernal Heights History Project. On Sunday at 2:00 p.m. there will be a presentation on the work of muralist Mona Caron; and at 3:00 p.m. Willy Lizárraga will give a presentation on the history of San Francisco Carnaval.

Kristin Morris, Associate Curator for the SFMHS, points to the SFMHS’s ongoing series of monthly programs in explaining the basis for this collaborative event. This series has provided an opportunity for the SFMHS to partner with variety of local historical organizations, inviting those partners to introduce their work to a larger audience. Now, the SFMHS has invited those same organizations to participate in the Expo in order to further extend their outreach. The SFMHS is providing free admission in the hopes of attracting as many visitors as possible – especially students. By including exhibits by local archival repositories such as the California Historical Society and the San Francisco History Center, the SFMHS also hopes to introduce visitors to venues where they can conduct their own historical research.

The SFMHS plans to continue ongoing renovations to the Old Mint building and to eventually convert that space into museum of  San Francisco history. Because the SFMHS has a limited collection of materials for exhibition, the new museum would involve a collaboration with some of the organizations who will be participating at the Expo. The permanent exhibition would include artifacts on loan from many of those organizations; and some of the organizations will also be invited to curate temporary exhibits.

For more information about the Expo, please call the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society at: (415) 537-1105, extension 100.

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Filed under Bernal History Project, California Historical Society, San Francisco City Guides, San Francisco History Association, San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, San Francisco Museum & Historical Society

SFGenealogy: Providing Free Online Content

In 2002, the husband-and-wife team of Ron Filion and Pamela Storm launched their website SFGenealogy – a labor of love that showcases their passion for genealogical research and San Francisco Bay Area history. 

Filion describes the primary purpose of the site as providing free online access to content relevant to genealogists (such as information from birth certificates, marriage announcements, telephone directories, and obituaries) that might otherwise only exist in hard-copy in multiple locations.  He is quick to add, though, that the content they have sought to feature is “not your normal resources; it’s a hodgepodge of interesting things,” including a wide range of full-text materials related to San Francisco history. They receive support for the project in the form of a sponsorship by the California Genealogical Society and Library,  Google ads on their site, and single-dollar donations. Many volunteers from around the world also assist by doing transcription.

Storm and Filion seek out new sources of content such as school yearbooks, club membership rosters, maps, and other emphera at estate sales. They have also been known to use less orthodox materials, such as a pot holder they once discovered that featured a political advertisement. After digitizing or transcribing the content, they offer the originals as a donation to archival repositories such as the California Historical Society or the San Francisco History Center.

Their site features Web 2.0 functionality in the form of bulletin boards. This enable users to post comments, questions, or upload content that they themselves have transcribed. One volunteer, Cathy Gowdy, has posted transcriptions of over 12,000 Marin County obituaries. These contributions point to areas of users’ interest that have sometimes surprised Filion and Storm – such as spirited discussions about San Francisco’s defunct Mannings Cafeteria.

SFGenealogy also features a variety of databases that Storm and Filion have built – including the California Birth Index (1905-1995), the California Death Index (1940-1997), and San Francisco Mortuary Records. These databases offer examples of content that in some cases is only otherwise available online through subscription databases. 

In addition to providing content from other sources, Storm and Filion also develop original articles and maps on topics of interest to them –  such as ships buried beneath San Francisco’s streets, or the story of their investigation of a nineteenth-century photograph they had once discovered in the Argonaut Book Shop, or locations around San Francisco’s Civic Center to conduct genealogical and historical research. One of their more ambitious projects was the 1906 Earthquake Marriage Project, in which they investigated the suprising record number of marriages that took place immediately following San Francisco’s greatest natural disaster. The project, which involved conducting oral history work as well as archival research, culminated in an exhibition at City Hall in 2006.

A wide range of cultural heritage institutions have been digitizing content from their historical collections for online presentation for many years. Standards and best practices for how to scan materials (such as the California Digital Library’s Guidelines) and to provide “metadata” or descriptions of those materials (such as the Library of Congress’ Thesaurus for Graphic Materials) have been long established. In more recent years, some institutions have been moving from presenting their online content only on their own website to also presenting it on third-party hosts, such as Flickr, the Internet Archive, and the Hathi Trust – in part to be able to aggregate their content with content from other repositories (one example of a project to aggregate digital content from multiple repositories is the Biodiversity Heritage Library). Whether the work of making historical content available online is done by major institutions like the Smithsonian or by private individuals like Storm and Filion, questions about the best design formats, venues, and search functionality will persist as we all continue to explore how to make historical content as accessible as possible.     

  

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San Francisco Palimpsest: Seals Stadium

Second Base, in Starbucks; 2010 photo by Todd Lappin

For scribes in medieval Europe, parchment on which writing appeared was sometimes scraped clean to create a new writing surface. Not infrequently, however, the old writing continued to show through, resulting in a palimpsest – i.e., layers of overlapping writing that suggested a parchment’s  history of uses.

Urban environments can be like palimpsests, in which the viewer can sometimes discern visual cues for successive uses of the same location over time.  And sometimes, a bit of historical investigation can help make the palimpsest of the San Francisco cityscape emerge.

Todd Lappin of Telstar Logistics recently collaborated with the blogger of Burrito Justice (who uses the moniker “johnny0”) to identify sites on Potrero Hill related to the location of the former Seals Stadium – San Francisco’s minor league baseball stadium from 1931 until 1959.

Lappin and johnny0 initially consulted Google Earth in an attempt to identify the exact location of the former baseball stadium.  Specifically, they used the historical map overlay – a feature introduced by Google in 2006 in which selected historical maps can be displayed, palimpsest-like, over contemporary maps. Currently, historical maps available for San Francisco on Google Earth include maps from 1946 – when Seals Stadium was still standing. Lappin and johnny0 discovered, however, that the historical overlay feature did not provide them with the degree of precision they wanted in superimposing 1946 map features over contemporary San Francisco.

This prompted them to turn to the fire insurance maps originally produced by the Sanborn Map Company of Pelham, New York. johnny0 had first encountered Sanborn maps of San Francisco on the SFGenealogy website.

Because Google Earth has a feature that allows users to overlay their own content on top of Google Earth maps, johnny0 and Lappin managed to superimpose a Sanborn map of Seals Stadium on top of a Google Earth map of Potrero Hill.

Satisfied with the precision of their palimpsest, Lappin went to Potrero Hill to mark the former locations of the four bases of Seals Stadium. Using blue tape, he marked the sites as they exist in the current shopping center on 16th Street: home base and first base inside an Office Depot store, and second and third base inside a Safeway grocery store.

Lappin and johnny0 posted reports of their investigation on the Burrito Justice and Laughing Squid blogs. As part of their posts, they included pictures they had taken of the current Potrero Hill site (including pictures of the sites identified as the former locations of the bases), as well as images taken from the online Historical Photograph Collection of the San Francisco History Center.

When I’d asked johnny0 and Lappin what had motivated their project, both of them spoke to the question of how changing urban landscapes impact the organization of community life. As Lapin put it,

“It’s fascinating to me to think that a place like that [Seals Stadium] can exist, but then disappear, leaving no trace.  It’s as if we didn’t have any ruins of Roman amphitheaters. That would be a tragedy, because it means we would never know about a telling aspect of their community life. The fact that so many people have no idea that there used to be a ballpark on the Safeway site feels much the same way to me. Only, it’s a sense of community life in the Mission that’s been lost.”

johnny0 pointed to future uses of this kind of work when he said,

“I think it’s extraordinarily valuable to have the historical perspective on how a neighborhood came to be… to enable the community to continue to grow.”

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Ghost Tours as a Way to Engage the Past

"Nob Hill Hotel at Night" 2008 photo by Marla Showfer

In honor of Halloween, I’d like to consider three ghost tours as examples of ways that San Francisco neighborhood history can be presented.

SF Chinatown Ghost Tours have been led since 1994 by Cynthia Yee, a community organizer and nationally-recognized dancer. Yee’s maternal great-grandfather, Fong Louie, immigrated from China in 1885. His Chinatown stories were passed d0wn to Yee’s mother, Mildred Fong, one of the pillars of the 光明佛道研究會 (Quong Ming Buddhist and Taoist Association) in Chinatown. Yee has told me that her idea for the tour came after going on tours in New Orleans. To develop her performance, she has drawn primarily on two sources: stories she learned from her mother; and coverage in local English-language newspapers (such as the San Francisco Chronicle) about Chinatown events such as the 1977 Golden Dragon Massacre. Yee tells me that she keeps track of  current news coverage rather than research older newspaper accounts or use archival repositories such as the Chinese Historical Society of America. At the same time, she has told me that Chinatown residents bring her news accounts, providing material to further develop her ghost tour presentation.

Similar to Cynthia Yee’s experience, Jim Fassbinder’s participation in a tour outside San Francisco prompted him to create the San Francisco Ghost Hunt, which he has led since 1998.  To develop his presentation, he did research at the San Francisco History Center, reviewed online content from the California Historical Society, enlisted college undergraduates to provide research assistance in academic libraries, and conducted oral history interviews. In his comments to me, he singled out the staff of the San Francisco History Center as being especially helpful in directing him to primary sources such as historic maps. Fassbinder chose Pacific Heights as the site of his tour partly for logistical reasons – the relative quiet, safety, and ease of walking – in addition to the stories he had learned about the neighborhood. Fassbinder has commented to me about his tour, “my main goal is this: I want everyone on a Ghost Hunt to have a real supernatural experience in a safe way.”

Playwright Kitty Burns has lead the Vampire Tour of San Francisco since 2001. Like Cynthia Yee, she was inspired to create the tour after participating in a tour in New Orleans.  To develop her presentation, Burns reviewed published histories – particularly Fire & Gold: the San Francisco Story by Charles Fracchia, founder and president emeritus of the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society. Burns also reviewed published articles and online content. She told me that her most valued resource, however, came in the form of oral history interviews she conducted with persons affiliated with commercial establishments and other institutions along her tour. Burns also indicated that the ongoing input she receives both from participants on her tours as well as persons affiliated with her tour stops continue to provide material for the further development of her presentation. Like Jim Fassbinder, Burns related to me that she selected the site of her tour – Nob Hill – partly out of logistical considerations such as safety. She added, “Nob Hill was a perfect area because all the stops on the tour are well known and very classy.  I thought that would add to the humor of a vampire tour.”

Part of what is striking to me about these three neighborhood-specific tours is that despite the differences in how the three guides conducted research for their presentations, all three of them turned to oral history interviews with neighborhood stakeholders as a significant source of content. What is also striking is that whereas many other contexts for engaging San Francisco history involve encounters with artifacts, or architectural features, or primary source materials such as historic documents and photographs, these tours intimate the possibility (with varying degrees of seriousness) of encounters with persons from the past  in the form of the ghosts or vampires of today.

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Sutro Baths: Creating an Historical Map 2.0

"Sutro Baths" 2009 photo by Maggie Morrow

The Sutro Baths, whose ruins on the western headlands of San Francisco now form part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, were originally created by millionaire Adolph Sutro as an opulent 3-acre public baths featuring seven pools of varying temperatures, water slides, trapezes, springboards, and other attractions. It opened in 1896 and was able to accommodate approximately 10,000 bathers at a time. The Baths subsequently underwent many changes and eventually burned in 1966; the Golden Gate National Recreation Area acquired the site of the ruins in 1973.

This year, London resident and Brunel University student Adam Smith developed an online interactive map of the Sutro Baths after a visit to San Francisco. Smith researched historical photographs and blueprints of the Sutro Baths using the online resources available at the San Francisco History Center’s Historical Photograph Collection, Gary Stark’s Cliff House Project, and the Western Neighborhoods Project. Smith also drew from material in Marilyn Blaisdell’s 1987 publication, San Francisciana: Photographs of the Sutro Baths, a copy of which he discovered in Green Apple Books. Smith consolidated this material and used Google Maps to create an online interactive map. He concedes that his map is only an approximation of the layout of the original Sutro Baths, superimposed over the current location of the ruins. Nevertheless, Smith has succeeded in providing the user with a fairly detailed sense of the layout, complete with photographic views that can be clicked on from various vantage points. Furthermore, his map is interactive in that it allows users to rate the map, report problems, and leave comments.  In this way, Smith’s map provides an example of Web 2.0 – that is to say, a website in which users, as well as the creator, can provide original content and participate in the development of the site. Other examples of San Francisco history projects that involve Web 2.0 features are blogs such as Sparkletack and wikis such as FoundSF.

Given Smith’s facility for transforming historical content into a Web 2.0 format, it’s not surprising that his inital love for San Francisco was itself cultivated through participation in a Web 2.0 game called San Francisco Zero, in which participants challenge one another online to use public spaces around San Francisco in new and unexpected ways. Smith, who can be reached via his Google profile, hopes to re-locate to San Franciso upon completing his studies. For any of us who use San Francisco history, Smith’s map suggests new possibilities for how the Web can continue to be used to present historical content in a way that is not only interactive, but that also allows users the opportunity to contribute.

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Displaying the 1939-1940 World’s Fair

Building One, Treasure Island, 2009 photo by Don Barrett

San Francisco has hosted three World’s Fairs. The first was the the 1894 Midwinter Fair in Golden Gate Park; the second was the 1915 Pan-Pacific International Exposition in the Marina. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Golden Gate International Exposition, San Francisco’s third World’s Fair, which took place in 1939 and 1940 on the newly-created Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay. As anyone who curates exhibits using historical materials knows, there’s nothing like an anniversary to give you a theme.

There are at least three exhibits this year that focus on the Golden Gate International Exposition. Opening this month outside the San Francisco History Center on the sixth floor of the San Francisco Main Library, the Skylight Gallery is currently featuring “A Trip to the Fair, 1939: The Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco”, which includes paper-based materials and some artifacts. Also opening this month at the Officer’s Club in the Presidio is their photo exhibit “Treasure Island 1939: San Francisco’s Pagent of the Pacific”. Finally, the San Francisco Airport Museums is hosting an exhibit that closes this month in Terminal 1 (South) Entrance Lobby A of the San Francisco International Airport entitled “Flying to the Fair: Aviation and the 1939-1940 Golden Gate International Exposition”, which is more artifact-based than the other two exhibits.

As one might explect, all three exhibits are publicized on websites. It is interesting to note differences in design among those three sites – especially in terms of taking advantage of web functionality such as linking. The website for the Skylight Gallery includes a link to the San Francisco History Center’s online historic photo collection – specifically, a page highlighting that collection’s holdings as they relate to the 1939 World’s Fair. The website for the Presidio Officer’s Club exhibit includes a link to the website of the Treasure Island Development Authority, which includes a history page that includes links both to the San Francisco History Center’s online 1939 World’s Fair photographs, as well as Treasure Island-related podcasts from Richard Miller’s Sparkletack website. The San Francisco Airport Museums does not include any links on the website about their exhibit, and is the most Web 1.0 in its presentation.

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Historic Photos, and the Shih Yu-Lang Central YMCA

2007 photo by Thomas Hawk

This evening, the Shih Yu-Lang Central YMCA, located at 220 Golden Gate Ave. in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district, will close its doors forever. That the administration for that branch of the YMCA felt that their history was relevant to their institution is evidenced by the fact that the “Who We Are” page on their website opens by recounting its past. Mention is made that U.S. President Howard Taft participated in its dedication in 1909; and that the Shih Yu-Lang Central YMCA has been in operation every day since its opening in 1910.

A celebration is being held this evening in recognition of the Shih Yu-Lang Central YMCA’s nearly 100 years of service to San Francisco. Announcements for the celebration mention an “historical photo gallery” as part of the event. As a professional archivist, when I see announcements of exhibitions of local San Francisco historical photographs, I often wonder how those images were culled, and who had cared for them. More to the point, I wonder what becomes of those photos after the event is over. It’s always a shame when carefully gathered historic images end up being disposed of when they may have had a value to future researchers. Anyone who is considering getting rid of historic images related to San Francisco may wish to consider contacting the San Francisco History Center and inquire about the possibility of donating their materials

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