1939 was a milestone year for San Francisco and the world; San Francisco staged the last World’s Fair it probably will ever have, World War Two broke out, and also 1939 saw the first member of my family ever to visit San Francisco. I haven’t counted, but I’ll bet the year of 1939 has the most vintage pictures I’ve posted on my blog. These are a collection of some of the pictures from 1939 that I’ve done comparisons on.
We’ll open up with a 1939 map of the 49 Mile Scenic Drive from the San Francisco Downtown Association, and a current map of the Scenic Drive that shows where the route varies from the original drive today. It also shows that map drawers today show less creativity.
Dorthea Lange was a photographer famous for her pictures taken during the Great Depression of the 1930’s. In 1939 she took a number of pictures in San Francisco, including this one from the ramp of the First Street exit off of the Bay Bridge, now called the Fremont Street exit. You can see Coit Tower, the Shell Building, the Standard Building, and the Russ Building among other landmarks in her picture, none of which are visible from here today.
In another Dorthea Lange photo taken on the same day in 1939 as the previous picture, you can see the Key System train tracks along with a train that ran from the East Bay across the Bay Bridge and into the Transbay Terminal. The Fremont off ramp, seen in my picture, follows the same path as it did in 1939. Dorthea would have taken her picture near where the Fremont and Folsom street signs are in my picture.
An artist’s rendition of what the Transbay Terminal that opened in 1939 would look like, and the Transbay Terminal on the last day before it closed forever in August of 2010. The Transbay Terminal lasted for over 70 years. The Transit Terminal, that replaced it and opened in 2018, lasted a little over 7 weeks before it closed indefinitely.
An auto navigates the portion of Lombard Street know as the “Crookedest Street in the World” in 1939.
Two 1939 cuties swimming at the Maritime Museum in Aquatic Park: The Maritime Museum opened in 1939. (Edwin Rosskam)
A family enjoying a day at Ocean Beach near Seal Rocks and the Cliff House in 1939: Boy does that vintage picture look posed! (Moulin Studios)
A couple more 1939 free-spirits riding their bicycles up to Sutro Heights above Playland-at-the-Beach:
The Three Stooges were at their peak in 1939 in their short film here, ‘Calling all Curs’. This scene was filmed at Fernwood Street and North St. Andrew’s Place in Los Angeles. (Columbia Pictures)
The Tenderloin, seen here at Larkin and O’Farrell Streets in 1939, may have been a little more “tender” back then than it is today. (HuffingtonPost.com)
A lady waiting for an auto, bus, streetcar or cab at on Market Street at Jones in 1939. I don’t know if that coat, whatever it was made from, would go over too well nowadays.
Groundbreaking for the Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure that opened in 1939: Notice the flags of Japan and Germany; fifteen months after the Fair closed in September of 1940, America would enter World War Two to fight these two countries.
The road that leads from Yerba Buena Island to Treasure Island showing the Treasure Island Fair that ran from February of 1939 through September of 1940: (FitzPatrick Traveltalks)
Hollywood visited the Treasure Island Fair in the 1939 film ‘Charlie Chan at Treasure Island’ with Sidney Toler playing Charlie Chan. The Cantilever Bridge that ran from Yerba Buena Island to Oakland is in the background across “Clipper cove’ in both pictures. Clipper Cove got its name from the Pan Am Clipper Seaplanes that took off and landed here during the Fair. The new Eastern Span, still being constructed in my picture, opened during the summer of 2013.
‘Charlie Chan at Treasure Island’ has a scene that features a fly over of Treasure Island showing the Fair from a Clipper plane and some landmarks like the Sun Tower and the Administration Building.
The Administration Building, an airplane hanger, and the Palace of Fine and Decorative Arts Building, seen here, are the only three surviving structures from the Fair.
I have a few mementos from the Treasure Island Fair that I picked up at a museum sale over 50 years after the Fair closed; a coaster and an official tour book.
However, most dear to me was that my mother, as a teenager, took a train from Grand Forks, North Dakota to spend the summer of 1939 in San Francisco. She stayed with her aunt at this house on the corner of Anza Street and 24th Avenue in the Richmond District. My mom, on the left, is sitting with her cousin Frances. I remember my mom telling me how close she and Frances were, but by the 1990’s they had lost touch with each other forever.
5 thoughts on “2019; 1939 plus 80”
Love your mom’s saddle shoes- so cute!
Aw, thank you!
That pollarded sycamore on Lombard Street it s hoot! I would not have guessed it is that old, but there it is. It must have been pollarded very well back then to have survived this long, but has not been pollarded correctly in quite a few years. Those ficus trees are not the same as those in the background of the three stooges. That cultivar had not been invented at that time, and they grow too fast to have lived there that long. As big as those trees are, they are probably from the late 1970s.
Good one, Tony! I noticed the tree on Lombard Street and assumed it was the same one but I didn’t know what kind of a tree it was. I did think that those trees in the Stooges picture were the same ones, but thank you for clearing that up.
The sycamore is more commonly known as a plane tree, or more specifically a London plane tree, Platanus X acerifolia. Many do not consider it to be a ‘real’ sycamore.
The other trees are Indian laurel, Ficus microcarpa ‘Nitida’. They grow very fast, and not even fifty years old in the picture. I do not even know if the cultivar was around fifty years ago. I do not know what the trees in the old picture are, but they are not Indian laurel. They seem to be English hawthorn, but I really do not know.
A few years back I toured the site of the nursery that grew the big Canary Island date palms for the Exposition Center. Back then, moving big boxed specimens was new technology. Some of the trees were put in place temporarily, and then recycled back to the nursery. Some of the trees that were never used are still there at the nursery. It is located in Niles.