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businessinsider - 14 days ago

Vintage postcards of San Francisco reveal the city s early cable cars, amusement parks, and the Painted Ladies

Vintage postcards of San Francisco from the last 150 years reveal the city s history from a unique perspective. The images show how San Francisco s population skyrocketed during the Gold Rush in 1848 then evolved to become a financial center and tourist destination. Postcards from the past also depict attractions and businesses that were once popular but have been lost to time. Visit for more stories. San Francisco is one of the most populous cities in the US, but it wasn t always that way. About 170 years ago, the city was relatively empty. Then the California Gold Rush led its population to balloon by a factor of 25 in a single year. For the most part, the city has continued to grow ever since. Vintage postcards from the last century and a half showcase this evolution. While some of the city s celebrated attractions, like the Golden Gate Bridge and Fisherman s Wharf, are still around, others depicted in postcards have been lost to time. Take a look at the popular San Francisco sites printed on postcards during each decade.SEE ALSO: Vintage photos of San Francisco reveal what the city looked like before the catastrophic 1906 earthquake — and how it compares to today San Francisco was relatively uninhabited before the Gold Rush. In 1846, the city only had around 200 residents. After gold was discovered in California in 1848, people from all over the world flocked to San Francisco. By 1852, the city s population had reached around 36,000. That led to a boom in the construction of new houses, buildings, and roads throughout the city.

Starting in the 1850s, many Chinese citizens immigrated to the neighborhood now known as Chinatown. The earliest Chinese immigrants to San Francisco were mostly men. Many of them opened shops and restaurants on Grant Avenue, which is still the center of the city s Chinatown.

By the turn of the 20th century, San Francisco was the largest city on the West Coast. It was also quickly becoming a hub for maritime trade. The Golden Gate strait got its name in 1848 because it was considered a gateway to trade with Asia.

In 1904, the US began constructing the Panama Canal, which created a faster route for ships between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. It also more easily connected San Francisco to East Coast cities like New York.

An amusement ride known as The Chutes was popular among San Francisco residents in the early 1900s. Passengers rode down an incline in a flat-bottomed boat at 60 miles per hour. When they hit the water, the boat would skip across the surface a few times. The ride was moved to an amusement park, Playland-at-the-Beach, in 1921. It was eventually torn down in 1950.

A 7.9-magnitude earthquake struck San Francisco in 1906. The disaster ignited a series of fires that destroyed 80% of the city. The fire killed more than 3,000 people, making it the deadliest disaster in California history.

As the city rebuilt, many of the new buildings were designed to mimic the old ones. The Palace Hotel, for instance, re-opened as the New Palace Hotel in 1909. The original Palace Hotel was an overwhelming presence at the time of its construction, spanning almost an entire block and looming above the rest of San Francisco s buildings at 120 feet tall. The rebuilt hotel was erected in the same spot, across the street from the San Francisco Chronicle building. The newspaper was established in 1865. It shared an intersection with two other daily papers, the San Francisco Call and the San Francisco Examiner. The area was known as Newspaper Row.

San Francisco hosted the 1915 world s fair. The event celebrated the opening of the Panama Canal, but it was also an opportunity to show off the newly rebuilt city. The fair lasted for nine months, from February to December. It featured cooking contests, auto races, and exhibits showcasing artifacts like the Liberty Bell and the first steam locomotive. The buildings erected for the fair were designed to be temporary, so they were made of plaster and burlap and torn down after the event was over. One exception was the Palace of Fine Arts, which still sits on the fairground site.

After the earthquake, San Francisco lost some of its population and trade activity to Los Angeles, so local officials toyed with the idea of expanding the city. Starting in 1912, city officials began to discuss whether San Francisco should follow in New York City s footsteps and turn its outer neighborhoods into boroughs. The idea continued to gain traction in the 1920s, but it never came to fruition.

During Prohibition from 1920 to 1933, many San Franciscans took their drinking underground. Many soda shops around the city established speakeasies in back rooms. Two years after the nation went dry, San Francisco already had around 1,500 speakeasies.

Until the late 1930s, most East Bay residents traveled to San Francisco by ferry. They d arrive at the Ferry Building, then could take streetcars to other destinations. The Ferry Building opened in 1898 and survived the 1906 earthquake. Its clock tower was designed after the Giralda, a 12th-century bell tower in Seville, Spain.

After bridges like the Golden Gate and Bay Bridge opened in the 1930s, the number of ferry passengers sharply declined. The Golden Gate Bridge opened in 1937 and was quickly featured on the city s postcards. At the time of its opening, it was the longest and tallest suspension bridge in the world, so its architect, Irving Morrow, thought it deserved a bold hue to match. The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the greatest monuments of all time, he wrote in 1935. What has been thus played up in form should not be let down in color.

In 1935, Sicilian immigrant Mike Geraldi built the first restaurant at Fisherman s Wharf. The wharf had held fresh seafood stands since the early 1900s, but Geraldi s restaurant called No. 9 Fishermen s Grotto allowed patrons to sit down and enjoy some Dungeness crab. By the 1950s, the pier was packed with restaurants. Tourist shops and attractions followed about a decade later.

Bowling alleys became popular throughout the city in the 1940s and 1950s. Some alleys, like Downtown Bowl, came with 40 lanes and theater-style seats for spectators. They also featured cocktail lounges, soda fountains, and radio recording rooms. Today, there are only a handful of bowling alleys left in San Francisco.

The Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary operated as a high-security prison from 1934 to 1963. It appeared on postcards well before it became a tourist destination. A cartoon on a 1952 postcard jokingly advertised Alcatraz s free room and board and no parking or traffic problems.

By 1945, ridership on the city s cable cars had declined, and there were only five lines in operation. San Francisco unveiled its first cable-car line in 1873. The cars were eventually replaced by buses, which could travel up steeper inclines. The city renovated its cable-car system in the 1980s. It was declared a national landmark in 1964.

One of the city s oldest surviving nightclubs, Bimbo s 365, opened in 1951. The club featured jugglers, dancers, jazz musicians, and stand-up comics. By the 1960s, it was hosting legendary musicians like Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, and Neil Diamond.

From 1955 until 1961, San Francisco residents could take a sky tram from the Point Lobos nature reserve to an oceanfront restaurant called the Cliff House. The tram was shut down after people reportedly got bored of the attraction. But the Cliff House has been restored and is still in operation.

In the 1960s and 1970s, San Francisco became a hub for the counterculture movement. The city was home to hippies, rock groups, and anti-war protesters. It also became an epicenter for the Gay Liberation movement. San Francisco s Castro District was one of the first gay neighborhoods in the US. Politician Harvey Milk the first openly gay elected official in California ran his campaign headquarters out of a camera shop in the neighborhood. Milk was assassinated at City Hall in 1978. Immediately after his death, a group of mourners marched with candles from City Hall to the Castro District.

In the 1980s and 90s, the TV sitcom Full House popularized a row of Victorian homes called the Painted Ladies. San Francisco artist Butch Kardum came up with the idea to paint the homes in various pastel shades. Today, the homes on Steiner Street are known as Postcard Row.

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