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Film, Video San Francisco earthquake and fire, April 18, 1906

digital viewing copy

About this Item


  • San Francisco earthquake and fire, April 18, 1906


  • Shows the aftermath of the San Francisco earthquake of April 18, 1906, and the devastation resulting from the subsequent three-day fire. The earthquake struck at 5:12 a.m. San Francisco, with thousands of unreinforced brick buildings, and closely-spaced wooden Victorian dwellings, was poorly prepared for a major fire. The scenes in the film are preceded by interior titles, many of which are sensationalized. One scene showing a family eating in the street may have been staged for the camera. The film was probably made in early May, as one scene can be precisely dated to May 9, and another to sometime after May 1.
  • Scene-by-scene: Title: "The first scenes that meet the eye on landing." A pile of smoldering debris above a roadway is shown. Title: "There were ruins on every hand." The camera pans left among ruins. The address on the wall (left) suggests a location near Gough and Grove streets, near the western edge of the burned area, north of Market Street. Title: "Every fireman worked to save the residential districts -- and here ruins burned unchecked." This scene is a continuation of the previous pan. If the address is correct, the camera is close to where the fire was contained. Much of San Francisco's residential area survived the fire. The camera pans slowly from left to right (southwest to north) through smoking ruins and piles of steel column supports. The distant Call Building, seen at the start of the sequence, suggests a location near Mission and Spear streets, where ruins smoldered for weeks. The site is two blocks south of the Ferry Building. Title: "Walls were ordered razed by the authorities." The dangerous demolition work involved pulling down teetering brick walls with cables winched by donkey engines. The camera pans past ruins to a wall about to be demolished. The slope behind the ruins may be Nob Hill, which would place this scene on a street to the south and west. The demolition of the wall and tall facade framing is seen. The camera is located on Mission Street between 4th and 3rd streets, a block south of Market Street. The pan starts at the northwest, facing the distant St. Francis Hotel on Union Street (with the pre-earthquake, unfinished frame of the north wing visible) and swings east (right) past the unfinished frame of the Butler Building, also adjacent to Union Square. Title: "St. Patrick's Church, Mission Street." The pan continues to the northeast showing the ruined facade of the church. Workers test cables before demolition of the church facade proceeds. (This same scene, along with the cameraman and camera making this film, appears in the film, Scenes in San Francisco, No. 1. The demolition took place on May 9, 1906.) The location changes to Natoma Street, an alley just north of and parallel to Mission Street, between 3rd and New Montgomery streets. The camera pans to the right from northwest to northeast. The large building with sets of triple windows is the Rialto Building, south of the Palace Hotel. The distant narrow white building to the right, beyond the nearby ruin, is the Union Trust Building on Market Street. To its right, the lower building with heavy roof cornice is the Wells Fargo Building at 2nd and Mission streets. A man is seen in the foreground as the pan continues to Natoma Street. Title: "At mealtimes, when there was food to be had, troubles were banished. The street served as both kitchen and dining room." While food was short in the first few days after the fire, citizens were ordered to cook (but not eat) in the street until chimney inspection could be carried out. The camera pans to the right (from northwest to north) from the north east corner of Powell and Market streets. The view swings past the steps of the ruined St. Ann's Building. The ruined facade of the Columbia Theater is seen next to the St. Ann's Building on Powell Street before pointing farther up Powell to the distant St. Francis Hotel on Union Square. Title: "Market and Powell Streets that memorable April of 1906." The pan continues across Powell Street to the southwest corner of the Flood Building. Title: "Soldiers guarded the banks. They shot to kill at looters." These are true statements but the uncompromising street justice of the first few days had eased into a more casual duty by the time this film was made. The pan continues to the northeast and the view down Market Street is obscured by dust. Men work in the foreground to lay temporary streetcar tracks up Powell Street. Title: "Man's faithful friend, the horse, worked tirelessly. There was no water, except what was brought to him by ferryboat." The camera view, from the northwest corner of Market and East streets (the Embarcadero), pans right (northeast to east) across the Ferry Building. As all ferry traffic to there passed through the Ferry Building, this was a busy spot. The severe shortage of public transportation led to the use of any conveyance, from buggies to drayage carts, to get to the Ferry Building. Title: "First refugees were in too much haste, even to take their effects." (This scene probably shows commuters weeks after the fire). Title: "Women wore their Easter bonnets, Chinamen wore their queus." Title: "Looking down Market Street. The first trolley." (The pan is probably a continuation of the earlier pan series at this site, the northeast corner of Powell and Market streets). After looking northeast down Market at the approaching streetcar, the camera pans right (south) as the streetcar passes the ruined Emporium department store. A heavily-laden streetcar approaches the Ferry Building, viewed from the northwest corner of Market and East streets. A streetcar then leaves the Ferry Building with an equally heavy load. The camera looks northeast from the Ferry Building as the Southern Pacific ferry "Oakland" approached the dock on a sunny afternoon. Goat Island (now called Yerba Buena Island) in the background. Title: "First ferry boats to land at Oakland were loaded to capacity with refugees." (This is a view of the ferry boat "Oakland" docking at the Ferry Building in San Francisco, not of Oakland, the city). Title: "Arrival of refugees in Oakland." (The segment, with a different title style, may have been added to the film at a later date). Morning commuters are seen leaving a ferry at the Oakland Mole to board trains for Oakland, Alameda, or Berkeley. The camera view is probably northwest. The Mole was a ferry dock halfway out Oakland's Long Wharf and was used by Southern Pacific ferries. Title: "San Franciscans have claimed that this is how Oakland got her start - but they are wrong."

Created / Published

  • [United States : s.n., 1906?].


  • -  San Francisco Earthquake and Fire, Calif., 1906
  • -  Earthquakes--California--San Francisco
  • -  Fires--California--San Francisco
  • -  Buildings--Earthquake effects--California--San Francisco
  • -  Earthquake relief--California--San Francisco
  • -  Central Tower (San Francisco, Calif.)
  • -  Ferry Building (San Francisco, Calif.)
  • -  Yerba Buena Island (Calif.)
  • -  Oakland (Ferry)


  • Actualities (Motion pictures)
  • Silent films
  • Short films
  • Nonfiction films


  • -  Duration: 12 minutes at about 15 fps.
  • -  Photographed in San Francisco, California and Oakland, California in early May, 1906
  • -  Available also through the Library of Congress Web site as digital files.
  • -  This film was selected for the National Film Registry.
  • -  Source used: Eagan, D. America's film legacy, 2010, p. 14-15.


  • viewing print 1 film reel of 1 (731 ft) : si., b&w ; 35 mm.
  • dupe neg pic 1 film reel of 1 (731 ft) : si., b&w ; 35 mm.

Call Number/Physical Location

  • FEA 8316 (viewing print)
  • FPA 5086 (dupe neg pic)

Source Collection

  • AFI/Adams (L. F.) Collection (Library of Congress)


  • Library of Congress Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA dcu

Digital Id

Library of Congress Control Number

  • 00694425

Online Format

  • image
  • video

Additional Metadata Formats

Rights & Access

The contents of the Library of Congress Before and After the Great Earthquake and Fire: Early Films of San Francisco, 1897 to 1916 Collection are in the public domain and are free to use and reuse.

Credit Line: Library of Congress, Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division, Before and After the Great Earthquake and Fire: Early Films of San Francisco, 1897 to 1916 Collection.

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Citations are generated automatically from bibliographic data as a convenience, and may not be complete or accurate.

Chicago citation style:

San Francisco earthquake and fire. [United States: s.n., ?, 1906] Video.

APA citation style:

(1906) San Francisco earthquake and fire. [United States: s.n., ?] [Video] Retrieved from the Library of Congress,

MLA citation style:

San Francisco earthquake and fire. [United States: s.n., ?, 1906] Video. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <>.