1906 + Today: The Earthquake Blend (Part II)

Home / San Francisco / 1906 + Today: The Earthquake Blend (Part II)

At 5:12 AM on April 18, 1906, San Franciscans woke up to a quick jolt. For the next 25 seconds, all was silent. And then it hit hard–42 seconds of intense shaking. Buildings fell, sinkholes in the streets opened up, railroad tracks bent, and collapsing bricks crushed cable cars sheltered for the night in the cable car barn. But the real damage had not even begun. It was the out-of-control fires that did 90% of the destruction to San Francisco. Over 30 fires, caused by ruptured gas mains, destroyed approximately 25,000 buildings on 490 city blocks. Worst of all, many were started when the military, untrained in the use of dynamite, attempted to demolish buildings to create firebreaks, which resulted in the destruction of more than 50% of the buildings that would have otherwise survived. The dynamited buildings themselves often caught fire. In all, the fires burned for four days and nights.

Mayor Eugene Schmitz put out an authorization for the federal troops and police to shoot and kill looters. Thousands of tents and temporary relief houses went up to house 20,000 displaced people. The city was in disarray. But photography was a common hobby by 1906 and thousands of photos have survived to this day. One photographer even flew his 46 pound camera on a kite to get aerial shots of the aftermath. Some color photographs have even been found.

It’s been two years since I posted the first installment of this series, 1906 + 2010: The Earthquake Blend (Part I). I kept running into delays. In the case of the Valencia St. Hotel, I had to return to the scene on Valencia between 18th and 19th four times before I managed to get it right. There’s quite a bit of conflicting information of exactly where this building once stood. And just when I was about to wrap things up, my dad announced that he had unearthed a local magazine published in late 1906 loaded with earthquake-aftermath photos that I had never seen in any library or online collection. On the plus side, I’ve got plenty more material for a part three now.

To put these photos together, I first create a catalog of historical photos that look like they have potential to be blended. Unfortunately most of these photos end up on the digital cutting room floor because there’s simply no way to get the same photo today because either a building or a tree is in the way. Once I get a good location, I get everything lined up just right. My goal is to stand in the exact spot where the original photographer stood. Doing this needs to take into account equivalent focal length, how the lens was shifted, light conditions, etc. I take plenty of shots, each nudged around a bit at each location. Just moving one foot to the left changes everything.

UPDATE: Many new prints now available and Fade to 1906 (the book) is coming soon.

Here is part two of the series (part one is here):


People walk beneath Old Saint Mary's Cathedral, which survived the quake but was gutted by the fire


Cars park in front of the brand new US Courthouse which fared well in the quake.


People walk up California St amid charred scraps of lumber


People walk through rubble on Geary St


People cross Market Street in front of the destroyed Hearst Building


People stroll by the original adobe Mission Dolores which survived, while the brick church next door was destroyed


A bicyclist rides towards the fallen Valencia St. Hotel and a huge sinkhole that has opened up in the street


The Conservatory of Flowers stands undamaged as now-homeless citizens camp in a tent shelter


People mill around Lotta's Fountain, which served as a meeting place after the quake


Cable car #455 rests halfway in the partially-detroyed cable car barn


Cars travel down S. Van Ness, which has buckled after the quake.


Horse carriages and cars park in front of Lafayette Park while a destroyed city looms in the background

Swipe left or right to view photos:

Historical Notes

  • The Cable Car Barn & Powerhouse was completely dismantled and rebuilt from 1982-1984. The Washington Street facade depicted is different in design than that of 1906, but the garage opening and tracks are in the exact same place to the best of my knowledge.
  • Lotta’s Fountain has moved around over the years. It was raised eight feet in 1916, smashed by a drunk driver in 1954, moved 10 feet in 1975, and completely stripped down and rebuilt in 1998. I lined it up the best I could, but it was obvious when I was overlaying the photos that things weren’t perfect. The Palace Hotel in the background was demolished after the quake and rebuilt to the “new” Palace Hotel that I’ve blended with the old one.
Showing 182 comments
  • merope

    these and your earlier ones are amazing!  can’t wait to see your next set.

  • jerold

    These are freakin’ awesome!!

  • Colleen Close

    Will you be selling print of the Earthquake series?

  • Ken Neville

    Congrats on both the fantastic idea and the outstanding execution.

  • Rose

    Awesome work!  

  • Elizabeth

    This is brilliant.  I have a picture of my great uncle, Edward Creely, standing on top of his re-built veterinary at Larkin and Golden Gate. All around him, the city is in ruins…today, of course it is sort of featureless- I think the Federal building is there now- and so it’s hard to believe any disaster ever struck.
    I love that you put the Valencia Street Hotel in context that way…I often tell people about this picture but never quite get the location right.

  • Colleen

    This is amazing work. Any chance you’d do the same thing with London after the Blitz?

  • Shawn Clover

    I may be able to get a book out next year sometime.

  • Shawn Clover

    I’d love to. Would give me a great excuse to get out to London again.

  • Shawn Clover

    I may be able to get a book out next year sometime.

  • Shawn Clover

    Cool…yeah that’s sort of why I did this–to show what things were like not so long ago in the exact spots where people walk pass by every day without giving it a second thought.

  • Shadarko

    These are amazing, I had been wanting to do the same thing for some time.  I’m glad someone with so much eye for detail actually did it.  Weldone!

  • Nicolachipps

    There’s nothing good or ‘as if ‘ about posting horrendous shots on dead horses. Why not have just photoshopped in a few human corpses, too? Nasty little exercise in recreating the devastation.

    Perhaps the next segment to this will be a 9/11 / SF style, to drive home the point!?

  • Paul K.

    These are excellent, very ghostly creations. I’ve often looked at those old 1906 quake photos and tried to visualize them in my surroundings (in SF); sort of a mental version of what you’ve done with your photos.

  • Christine

     Wow! These are wonderful!!

  • Rklew

    Make a Book…Make a Book…Make a Book

  • maryb

    These are some of the best, most exciting images I’ve seen. The juxtaposition of the new and the old is breathtaking. Thanks so much!

  • Barry

    Someone like you always have to piss on what is a remarkable time consuming achievement. Nothing like providing useless snippy demeaning remarks to reveal how shallow you are. As such, your concerns, perhaps valid, are being totally ignored. You just as easily could have shared your concerns without showing the world those totally useless remarks.

  • siskita

    These are gorgeous.  Any opportunities to buy prints?

  • Venkat Raman

     Amazingly painstaking work. I am a Bay Area resident, but know so little about SF! Makes me want to visit these spots and visualize what it would have been back then.

  • ClickAmericana

    An old friend pointed me to your Daily Mail article, and I am beyond impressed with your work! I grew up across the bay, so really appreciate both your technique and the subject matter. You rocked it. (PS: I’d totally buy the book.)

  • sharksac

    Fascinating! Thanks for creating this series. I look forward to seeing more from you. 

  • Matt Egen

    Very impressive!  I’ve been collecting items (newspapers, photographs, stereographs, etc.) from the 1906 quake for quite a long time.  Wish I’d thought to do something as cool as this!

  • Grizzly

    Amazing and Stunning! All worth to be on hard copy :)

  • Sharon

    Would love to see the Shreve Building on Post & Grant. First steel structure to survive in Union Sq after quake (finished in 1905)

  • Shawn Clover

    That would be a good one–thanks for the suggestion. Looks like there are some good post-quake photos of it around.

  • Shawn Clover

    Thank you all for all the comments, tweets, and emails–the response has been overwhelming and I’m still way behind but I will do my best to reply to everyone.

    I never thought this story would take off and hit the front page of sites like Buzzfeed, Digg, the Daily Mail, Huffington Post, SFGate, KQED, Popular Science, and a few dozen others. The whole thing sparked from a story on SF’s local Burrito Justice. And also thanks for clicking all the way through to my site from wherever you read the story since I realize most of the traffic and comments about this are on those other sites.

    And for everyone requesting to purchase prints, I’ll get something for you when I reopen my store by October, so please check back.

  • Jillanncooke

    I will be the first in line to buy your prints.  Awesome work! 

  • Billy Pilgrim

    Your work is an absolute feast for the eyes!   Especially for San Francisco residents!  Thanks so much for the hard work, cleverness and creativity you put into it!!!!

  • Billy Pilgrim

    You really should!!!

  • Jeff Steiner

    Excellent idea, and great execution!

  • davravidumn

    Bravo! Very clever.

  • TheArtistique Branding Company

    Well done! it’s awesomely made. 

  • Adao-guedes

     esse terremo de 1906 foi mais devastador da historia

  • Danieltriboni

    Congratulations from Brazil. Amazing photos.

  • Buenospy

    Very, very good job!! very nice!! 
    Outstanding execution!!

  • Elizabeth Conley

    My great-grandparents met as their families evacuated to the hills to escape the fires after the earthquake. Often as i walk the streets there i wonder what they saw as children and what their mind’s eye saw as they walked the streets as adults. Your mashups play to this history/present so well. Thank you.

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  • Shawn Clover

    Thanks Elizabeth. Sounds like a great story for a book!

  • Hmsethi

    Fantastic. Like the blending.

  • Dawnie14

    these are amazing, I love history and to think and see pictures of people standing in the same spots over 100 year apart is just incredible. Kudos!

  • Shawn Clover

    Prints are now available in the online store.

  • paulboydphotography

    Very creative and makes you stop and think. Its makes yesteryear part of today rather than just black and white images. Love them all

  • cocktailsfor2

    Astounding! Kudos to you!

  • KDW

    Very cool

  • Roberto Jose Murguey Luna

    interesante el concepto ENCANTADOR

  • Roberto Jose Murguey Luna

    interesante el concepto acertado en unos en otros no tanto pero es HERMOSO

  • Historysmith

    FYI – the Palace was not demolished but was gutted and rebuilt with smaller rooms and windows per the modern (1906) style.

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  • Rafael Mayrink

    Muito bom! trabalho sensacional

  • NevesBR

    Um trabalho incrível

  • l Pfisher2

    Chicago Fire next?

  • D Asencio Jr

    These were eerie and beautiful. You can’t help but put yourself in the shoes of the photographer – both then and now.

  • Lost Time

    I love San Francisco

  • Myresa Hurst

    brilliant :)

  • Lauri

    Wow, these are incredible photos.  Are they available to purchase–as individual photos?  I would be interested in several of them.

  • Alexandra Marrero

    Great work!

  • Mysterypizzaman2011

    Great stuff

  • Randy

    Fascinating work; well done.  I’m curious:  how did you obtain the original photos?  Were they in a book(s)?  Did you have to obtain the rights to them?

    Again, nice work.

  • Shawn Clover

    Thanks. The photos I used are all in public domain. Copyright laws dictate that all photos published before January 1923 are in the public domain and photos that have never been published before 1923 fall under the “life + 70 years” rule.

  • Jaynespace

    I am crazy, crazy in love with these. Thanks for bringing it.

  • Jceg

    Shawn your talent is outrageous. I think it’s time to quit your day job and open a gallery!

  • Marcvs Antonivs

    Stunning! I’ve seen some of these photos on Skyscrapercity.com ( with the links and credits, by the way) and I’m gonna tell you here, what I told there: One the most interesting photo work I’ve seen in my live! Like our friend below said, they really deserve a book! Go ahead and try it!!! Congratulations for the job!

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  • sdwardhenry

    These are amazing, I had been wanting to do the same thing for some time. I’m glad someone with so much eye for detail actually did it.

  • air kangen

    This is amazing work. Any chance you’d do the same thing with London after the Blitz?

  • air kangen

    Excellent idea, and great execution!

  • Jasa Toko Online

    Would love to see the Shreve Building on Post & Grant. First steel
    structure to survive in Union Sq after quake (finished in 1905)

  • Hidayat Mundana

    these are amazing, I love history and to think and see pictures of
    people standing in the same spots over
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  • Hidayat Mundana

    Wow, these are incredible photos. Are they available to purchase–as
    individual photos? I would be interested in several of them.

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