Summer Road Trip 2019: San Francisco and Yosemite National Park

This post was co-written by Audrey Amidon and Ashley Behringer.

On the Streets of San Francisco

Next on our summer tour of the National Archives’ non-textual holdings, we move on from Los Angeles to San Francisco. The city has featured prominently in 20th Century American culture and history, from the devastating 1906 earthquake, to the Haight-Ashbury district’s role as the epicenter of 1967’s Summer of Love.

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Souvenir hunters sorting through rubble after the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco. Record Group 46: Records of the U.S. Senate, 1789 – 2015, Series: Committee Papers, 1842 – 1946 (NAID 2127316)

We’ll start our visit by checking out the Presidio of San Francisco. The area began as a military garrison built by the Spanish in 1776 and, after nearly 150 years as a U.S. Army fort, was transferred to the National Park Service in 1994.

The Palace of Fine Arts occupies one corner of the Presidio. The structure was built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Expostion. This hand-colored glass lantern slide is one of a series found in the records of the United States Department of Agriculture. Learn more about the images in a blog post we published for the centennial of the Exposition.

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Photograph of the Palace of Fine Arts Building at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, 1915 (Local Identifier: 16-SFX-39)

The Presidio grounds saw a lot of activity during World War I, when the fort was used to train and deploy new recruits. The Presidio also had a chapter of the National Service School, which trained women to assist in the war effort. In Patriotic Activities (Local Identifier: 111-H-1215), we see how the military installation was used to train women in basic formations, flag signalling, and first aid. View the complete film here.

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This GIF from Patriotic Activities shows women in the National Service School training in basic formations. The Palace of Fine Arts is in the upper left hand corner of the frame.

After we look at the Palace of Fine Arts, we’ll head to the Golden Gate Bridge Pavilion and observe the city’s most famous landmark. The construction of the bridge was captured in this gorgeous airscape, photographed May 19, 1936.

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Aerial Photograph of the Golden Gate Bridge being Constructed in San Francisco, California, 5/19/1936. (Local Identifier: 18-AA-24-18)

Next, we’ll go to Sydney Walton Square, a small park in the middle of the mid-century Golden Gateway development. The entrance to the park has a curious brick archway on which you can faintly read the words “Colombo Market.” There is no historical marker to tell you why the arch is there, but it is all that remains of San Francisco’s wholesale produce market. The original Colombo Market was established in 1874 by the city’s Italian immigrant community. The produce market flourished through the middle of the 20th Century, when it was razed to make way for re-development.

The produce market is beautifully depicted in the 1953 film As the City Sleeps (Local Identifier: 306.8104), which we featured as one of our favorite films of 2016. The film, produced by the United States Information Agency for distribution overseas, shows how workers unloaded trucks and stocked the market in an overnight shift.

By the time our next featured film was shot, San Francisco had seen a major cultural shift. The wholesale produce market was gone by 1965, and perhaps as many as 100,000 hippies had descended on the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood in 1967’s Summer of Love.

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Still from 90-S-5253.

In April of 1968, the neighborhood was still a bustling scene of youth counterculture. When the Public Health Service decided to make a drug abuse awareness film, contracted cameramen headed to Haight-Ashbury to shoot. The following clips are from Drug Abuse Awareness #54 (Local Identifier: 90-S-5253). (As a happy coincidence, we digitized this film yesterday for an access request. The full reel is available to view in the Archives II research room.)

The footage for our first clip was shot with the camera held low, perhaps to avoid being noticed. 

This next clip was shot from a moving car and more of the subjects appear to spot the camera and react.

Throughout the clips, we see posters advertising a mass memorial service for Martin Luther King, Jr., who was assassinated in Memphis just days prior, on April 4th. It was too difficult to read the details on the poster in footage shot from a moving car, but there’s a copy in the collections of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. The memorial was held at the Federal Building at noon on Monday, April 8th. 

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Still from 90-S-5253. The right hand side of the frame shows the poster advertising the mass memorial for Martin Luther King, Jr.

Next, we’ll head to Yosemite National Park and learn a bit about its history as a tourist destination.

Back to Nature: Yosemite National Park in the 1930s

Tourism came early to the Yosemite Valley, where natural wonders are easily accessible. The valley floor runs fairly flat and straight amidst towering, perilous granite monoliths and staggeringly high waterfalls. The first hotel appeared in 1879, the first drive-through sequoia two years later. But it was the age of the automobile which really drove Yosemite’s boom. The National Park Service made it easy to access the marvels of the park – too easy, some conservationists later argued. With the completion of the Wawona Tunnel in 1933 and Glacier Point Road in 1935, the park became the ideal location for a road trip.

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Drive-through tree in Wawona Grove, Yosemite National Park (95-GP-244-800025)

In some ways, Yosemite was more a more astonishing place in the 1930s than it is today. Contemporary promotional films for the park make two claims which are no longer true. Upper Yosemite Falls was considered the highest waterfall in the world until the surveying of Angel Falls in Venezuela in 1949. The sequoia trees of Mariposa Grove likewise were considered the oldest in the world until a 4,789 year old bristlecone pine was discovered in 1957.

The Department of the Interior and Guy D. Haselton Productions created Let’s See Yosemite (NARA local identifier 48.27) in 1933. That date comes from the title card; the film is erroneously dated 1938 below. This short, silent “travelette” could play before feature films in theaters. 

The film includes two locations which no longer exist. The Wawona tree tunnel collapsed in 1969 and Glacier Point Hotel burned down the same year. Among the many things which remain the same are the popular steel cables which make it relatively easy to hike Half Dome.

A Visit to Yosemite (NARA local identifier 48.70) emphasizes the vehicular aspects of a trip to the park as we join “an auto caravan tour.” It praises the “dustless roads” which lead out of the valley to other locations within the park, such as the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne. This is not necessarily a Department of the Interior film, and it is unclear who made it or what was on the Reel 2 that supposedly follows – NARA only possesses one reel.

Many shots from this film have a hazy aspect which unfortunately reflects how the air in the park often looks in the summer months. The National Park Service closely monitors the air today and attributes this to vehicular ozone and smoke from fires. They have started purchasing electric buses for in-park shuttle service.

The 1930s also saw extensive aerial surveying of the park. If you thought the views from the road were spectacular, why not try the air? There are many images of Yosemite collected by the Army Air Forces in the series “Airscapes” of American and Foreign Areas, 1917 – 1964.

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Nevada Falls, Yosemite National Park (Local Identifier: 18-AA-26-18)

Thank you for traveling with us through California! Join us next week as we head north to Olympic National Park and Seattle. To visit the rest of our stops, follow along here: Summer Road Trip 2019.

3 thoughts on “Summer Road Trip 2019: San Francisco and Yosemite National Park

  1. I left California in 2001 after having lived there for more than 30 years; I have not returned since. While I was living in Southern California, I made many road trips and saw many of those sites, but learning the history behind them is priceless.

  2. My great grandmother, grandmother, grandfather, aunt (died 2 months later at 13mo. Meningitis from the water) & 2great aunts lived in San Francisco during the 1906 earthquake. My great aunts did actually roll their sewing machines up the street. They were their livelihood. My mom was born in SF a year later. I lived in California Bay Area 72 years and moved to Oregon 10 years ago.

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