Amateur color film of San Francisco, 1955

Rick Prelinger sez, "Here's a little holiday gift from Prelinger Archives. It's the work of accomplished amateur filmmaker (and expert tinkerer) Tullio Pellegrini, who combined a 16mm Bell & Howell Cinemascope lens with the wonders of Kodachrome and made this homage to the city of San Francisco. You'll see Playland, our oceanside amusement park which was closed in 1972, very rare footage of the SkyTram (an extinct ride over Seal Rocks and Sutro Baths), and a brakescreeching ride down the Crookedest Street in the World. Happy Holidays!"

San Francisco 1955 in Cinemascope, captured by amateur filmmaker


  1. Well, that was nice.  Thank you, Prelinger Archives!  A happy little trip to back in the day…

    I guess I shouldn’t be surprised how much is still here: ‘ooh the Alioto fish!’  All the famousest stuff IS old, after all…

    Still, good luck spotting a seal on Seal Rock these days…and an actual view on Telegraph hill?  It is to laugh.

    Those big cat concrete structures were monstrosities, weren’t they?  (I do kinda miss monkey island…)

    Not all the latest changes suit me: I liked the old De Young, and Really liked the old Academy of Sciences.  Their modern replacements are big and new and…new.

    I guess the biggest difference, apart from the skyline…is how Clean everything looks.  So tidy…so seemingly orderly.  It sure as all hell dosn’t present like that today.

    I almost imagine what it would be like to be able to go back: I’m White, I look good in a hat…maybe I could afford a house!

    But no: that milktoast conformity would stifle me right quick.  And the cars…how very meh.  In a few years Detroit would shine, but these here do not impress.

    But I wish our man with the cam had chosen the roads less traveled: Fillmore, Skid Row (ahem: South of Market)…those were some of the places that went through big changes.  Maybe I coulda hooked up with some Beatniks or Jazz musicians to keep from going nuts, bought as many rental buildings as possible and sat back and waited (decades) for the coming boom…

    Oh well, too late now!  Merry Christmas from the City That Knew How!  (and still does on occasion)

    1. From a 75-year-old millionaire friend, Bangkok Bob, Skyping me from Thailand (where he has lived for five years): “And that’s just what I did.”

  2. Wonder if someone could reproduce this today, either live or using a Streetview animation.  Interesting…. 

      1. I’m just day-dreaming here, looking at Cliff House, old pictures..Google maps…  I want to have breakfast at Louis’ Restaurant, Frisco looks to be a very lovely city.

        Honestly don’t know if I want that or a week in the Dominican next month…  choices, choices.

  3. I will never forget my very first morning in San Francisco. Walking down a street looking for a place to eat breakfast I saw an old man putting a sign out in front of his bookstore, opening up shop for the day. I stopped and asked him where the locals eat. He suggested someplace, and it was only as I was walking away I realized it was Lawrence Ferlenghetti.

  4. any idea how to make the player show in fullscreen (oddly there is no control for this in the wrapper)?

  5. Loved the film. Now, someone needs to dub Soviet propaganda on top. “See poor Americans commute over pond in rowboat. Now, a trip to zoo, where animals kept in poor conditions until eaten. This bear, so much like Russian, soon on menu. These elephants, too.”

  6. For fullscreen, go to the Archive page (lower right button) and grab the full-quality quicktime.  Probably worth it. 

  7. Amazed how little has changed on the street level, though the skyline of the city is nearly unrecognizable.

    Shows how little thought modern buildings put into their street level appearance.

  8. I’ve done a lot of film to video transfer and I think there’s a little trouble with the gate in the projector on this Telecine – film to video – transfer.  There’s an annoying vertical jumping that seems to run the entire length of the film.  I’m just being a bit geekish here, but that’s my technical prerogative at work.  Otherwise, nice image quality. 

    1. kwolfbrooks: yes, lots of vertical jumping. It’s not a gate problem in this case, it’s film shrinkage. Typical of 16mm Kodachrome stock that wasn’t stored under optimal (cool and dry) conditions.

  9. That’s great! Having lived here for some time myself, I do have to correct one common misconception. Lombard street is in fact not the crookedest street in the world, or even the city. It’s Vermont street on Potrero Hill. It’s turns make Lombard look like a straight line.  So, if you ever have the chance, take a drive down that…

  10. “These jaunty little relics of bygone days … ” are still here! yay!

    (double click for full screen works for me)

  11. Note to self: zoom in when making a film going down Lombard St. So much more exciting.

    I laughed when he said “reminiscent of a Mediterranean scene, the Wharf captures a bit of sunny Italy”, and then I though about why that was funny. I think it’s because I think of it as a strip mall– lots of ugly, empty space, and packed with cars.

    In the beginning, you can see the overhead electric wires of the Key System streetcars coming off the bridge to the recently-demolished Transbay Terminal.

    At 5:27, watch the cars ignoring the stop signs– some things don’t change.

  12. As someone who lived there from 1981 until 2007, I was surprisingly struck by how bad the condition of the roads was back then.  I kept having my eye drawn by the potholes, which seemed in stark contrast to the otherwise pristine feeling of the scenery shown.  

    At least from this filmmaker’s perspective, there isn’t a whiff of beat or even pre-beat generation mentality.  Psychedellia, gay pride and government licensed marijuana dispensaries certainly don’t seem like they could possibily be over the horizon in this film.  I don’t think San Francisco was ever a goodie two-shoes place.  Of course, the fact that this is a travelogue doesn’t make this footage any less entertaining or charming to watch.

    1. and WHITE…  anyone else notice the startling absence of color in this video, save the section on Chinatown?  It’s not the San Francisco I grew up near.

  13. Whenever I see this sort of footage, I feel like a character from Jack Finney’s “Time and Again” — ready to travel through time through sheer force of will and continuous immersion in the past.  Once, from the summit of Sutro Park, I saw the structure of the original Sutro Baths — in 2005.  Don’t ask me how I did that.

    The saddest thing is that Fisherman’s Wharf used to be something.  Nowadays every visitor to the city must pay visit if only to poke the corpse with a stick.  A great place for locals to go if you don’t want to run into anyone you know.  A terrible place for a tourist, unless you are homesick for the mall you left at home.

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