“A Trip Down Market Street Before the Fire”

Yesterday, October 17 2010, on CBS News “60 minutes” there was an investigation about the famous and mysterious 100-year-old film “A Trip Down Market Street Before the Fire” which shows Market Street, in San Francisco, shot from the front windows of a cable car. It was historically dated from 1905.
The investigation proved that this old film was shot not in 1905 but in 1906, just 4 days before the earthquake which occurred on April 18, 1906.
Here is the link to the CBS News “60 minutes” investigation.

“La descente de Market Street avant l’incendie”

Hier, 17 Octobre 2010, sur CBS Nouvelles “60 minutes” il y avait une enquête sur le célèbre et mystérieux film vieux de 100 ans “La descente de Market Street avant l’incendie» (“A Trip Down Market Street Before the Fire”), qui montre Market Street, à San Francisco, depuis la fenêtre avant d’un cable car. Il a été historiquement daté de 1905.
L’enquête a prouvé que ce vieux film a été tourné, non pas en 1905, mais en 1906, et seulement 4 jours avant le grand tremblement de terre survenu le 18 avril 1906.
Voici le lien sur l’enquête de CBS News “60 minutes”.

Here is the original “A Trip Down Market Street Before the Fire” film without any repair (The film is damaged at the beginning and at the end when the cable car arrives at the ferry terminal building) / Voici le film original “La descente de Market Street avant l’incendie” avant réparations (Le film est endommagé au début et à la fin quand le cable car arrive au terminal des ferries:

Here is the same movie after repair / Voici la version restaurée du même film:

On the repaired version you can see the arrival at the ferry terminal building which is the end of Market Street Cable Car line. You can see the turntable at the end of the line and the camera is still shooting while the carriage is turning of the turntable until it is facing Market Street in the other direction and on the second parallel track.
What an amazing document about life in the main street of San Francisco four days before 3000 persons killed !
Sur la version réparée, vous pouvez voir l’arrivée au terminal des ferries qui est la fin de Market Street et de la ligne du cable car. Vous pouvez voir la plaque tournante à la fin de la ligne et la caméra fonctionne toujours tandis que la voiture tourne avec la plaque tournant jusqu’à ce qu’elle à nouveau dans l’axe de Market Street mais dans le sens inverse  et sur la voie parallèle.
C’est vraiment un document extraordinaire sur la vie dans la rue principale de San Francisco quatre jours avant que 3000 personnes soient tuées!

And here… another amazing film of San Francisco just after the big earthquake / Ci-dessous un autre film tout aussi étonnant de San Francisco après le tremblment de terre et l’incendie:

At the end of the last film…. there is the same tracking shot on Market Street…. but with the destroyed buildings.
A la fin de ce film vous retrouvez le même traveling dans Market Street… mais avec les ruines des immeubles.

Thanks to Joe Thompson for the information about the CBS News investigation.

6 thoughts on ““A Trip Down Market Street Before the Fire””

  1. About the pre earthquake film…
    This film is really fascinating! I can spend hours to look at every details.
    The most strange thing for me is the behavior of people with the cable car and its camera. Some do not see the camera. Some see the camera and are not surprised. Some are very excited with the camera. They run in front of it. Some automobiles seem to have a strange behavior when they passed the cable car. Too fast, too sinuous trajectory. Two men run behind an automobile with four people in it just in front of the camera. The same automobile do a U-turn to pass another time in front the camera…
    The question is why ?
    If the camera was behind the front windows of the cable car I am quite sure that the camera and the cameraman would have been not really visible from the people on Market Street. So… why the people are so excited when they see the cable car?
    I read comments saying that the ride of the cable car and the camera was planed and announced and it was asked to people to have some kind of token role in front the camera in Market Street. I read it was to show more automobiles than the reality. It is a fact that we can see some automobiles more than one time during the film.
    Another hypothesis to explain why the people are excited seeing the camera… may be the camera and the cameraman are not behind the window of the cable car and may be they are on some kind of open truck so they are very visible from the street… the cameraman standing up with its big camera on a big tripod. When people saw the cameraman they could became excited and played by themselves all along the ride to be on the movie!
    Do you have other explanations?

    About the post earthquake film… I guess it was filmed from the front of a street car and not from an automobile. It was not a cable car for sure because the cable line was damaged after the earthquake. You can see the catenary which was installed on Market Street after the earthquake… there was no electric wire on Market Street before the earthquake. The camera is quite always at the same position from the rails. If you look at the automobile which is always preceding the street car, the automobile many times is going to the left or to the right of the track to avoid other vehicles. The automobile seems to open the road for the street car and the camera. May be it is an official automobile or may be a police automobile. Look near 7:20, the automobile driver with his arm is ordering other vehicles to clear the track for the street car.

  2. That was a good idea to put the unrestored and restored versions of the movie. I think the Miles Brothers did encourage people with automobiles to drive around and around. We also need to consider that traffic laws were not as developed as they are now. Notice the pedestrians and wagons moving all over the place, and cars going the wrong way on the outbound tracks.

    I have often wondered where the cameraman stood. The Market Street cable cars were like larger versions of the present-day Powell Street cars. The center front window and the panel underneath opened like a Dutch door, upper and lower parts. Perhaps the window part was open and the cameraman stood in front of the gripman. I doesn’t sound safe, but people didn’t worry as much about that.

    You are right about the post-1906 film. It was shot from an electric streetcar. The auto in front definitely seems to be working with the film makers.

  3. Yes there are several cars turning around the cable car, but not only cars, there are also a cyclist and teens running in front the cable car. Do you really think Miles Brother did encourage the cyclist and the running teens too ?

  4. Very interesting movies! We also can see that the frequency on the cable car line is very high! (I saw it could reach one car every 15s!!!) compared to the 15min now!

  5. Wonderful movies! They’re really interesting!

    The ‘traffic anarchy’ is very impressive. We can see people nearly hit by cars, for example at 3’45 or at 4’46 on the left side of the track (repaired movie), or cars going in the opposite direction, or people walking just in front of the cable car! And a carriage is almost caught up between two cable cars at 6’30.

    I noticed several details (in the repaired movie) which surprised me (expept this ‘anarchy’ which can be easily understood). First of all, there are ‘platforms’ only on the other side of the tracks (1’40,…). Passengers waiting for an eastbound car simply stay in the traffic! (2’55, 4’00). I also noticed that even if people drive (generally!) on the right, drivers usually stay on the right side of their car!
    After 3’45, a ‘Sightseeing’ streetcar crosses the track. It is a proof that tourism is already well-developped in San Fransisco at this time!

    Moreover, we can see at 7’10 the left side of the large painted advertisement (Gen. Arthur…) that we can see at 7’00 in the movie after the earthquake. The building which hided this before doesn’t exist anymore…

    It is undeniable that the first movie has been set from a cablecar which is running only for this: The car never stops. I think the camera could be installed on a service flat car pushed by the cablecar. But I don’t know if this solution could be easily used, because of the turntables which can only turn one car… Maybe they uncoupled the flat car to turn it first? Indeed I saw that this option has been used in the same time (1905) to film the New York Subway.

    You can see these movies here:
    Part 1:

    Part 2:

    They are also really interesting, especially at stations. Technical aspects can be noticed after 2’25 in the 2nd Part.

  6. This anarchy seems to be very ‘organized’… I mean most of the people and cars turning around the camera do not seem to be ‘natural’…
    I agree with you Jean-Philippe… I don’t thing the cameraman and its camera are inside a normal cable car because quite every body in the street seem to see the camera… if the camera was inside the cable car it would not be so visible.
    Thank you for the links to the videos of the New York Subway. Very interesting to see the three trains…. one is filmed by a second which follows it and a third train, on a parallel track, is lightning the first train with big spotlights on a platform!

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