Arnold Genthe has been called ‘The father of modern photography”. His pictures of pre 1906 Earthquake Chinatown opened up, what was then a world of mystery, to the public, and one of his pictures from the San Francisco Earthquake is considered among the best ever taken. All of his pre 1906 San Francisco pictures were destroyed in the earthquake except his Chinatown pictures that he stored in Carmel, and his earthquake and fire pictures. What a treasure the lost ones would have been!
A mother and child on Dupont (Now Grant Avenue) and Sacramento circa 1900, and a mother and child on the same corner today: I have a little bit of brag here; this picture is usually identified as being at Jackson and Dupont, three blocks north. I’ve seen photos of this picture categorizing this shot as Dupont and Jackson by printing that appears to be by Genthe himself, so that was where I did my first then and now. Then I noticed something interesting, the cable car coming down Jackson. To the best of my knowledge, cable car lines never ran down Jackson as far as Dupont (Grant). I checked all of the old cable line maps I could find. It had to be Sacramento or Clay! I sent an email to a fellow named Rick Laubscher from the Market Street Railway who wrote back that he wasn’t sure, but he would check. He kindly emailed me back, “Did some checking, it’s Sacramento and Dupont.” Arnold must have been tired the day he labeled this picture, and I can appreciate that.
Ross Alley then and now: Chinatown alleys aren’t as mysterious nowadays, yet this alley was once noted for Tong wars, opium dens, and frequent Shanghaiing. This is an interesting spot today, where the the Fortune Cookie Factory is. You cam write your own fortune, and they’ll bake it in a cookie for you. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily increase the odds your fortune will come true.
This photograph has sometimes been called one of the ten best news photos of all time. I suppose you could argue that, but I think it’s a masterpiece! Genthe centered this dramatic picture perfectly filling almost the whole frame with something important. It was taken down Sacramento Street from Powell as San Franciscans watched the approaching fires that would, eventually, destroy most of the city.
I got this picture from the January 03, 2014 posting of a fine website called History in Photos. They identify it as “probably by Arnold Genthe”. It certainly has his flair. It was taken toward San Francisco from the southeast corner of Lafayette Square.
Nothing changes in Chinatown except the cars! Genthe came back to Chinatown in the 1920’s to take this picture of Grant Ave. at Sacramento where his turn of the Century mother and child photo was taken, but looking north, instead.