The Archives recently received a reference question that required some of my favorite kind of investigative work. A researcher had viewed a 60 Minutes’ segment on a 1906 film shot in San Francisco. The film was digitally restored by the Prelinger Archives and California Archivist, David Kiehn was able to identify the date of the film as being just days before the devastating April 18, 1906 earthquake and fire. Our researcher wanted to know if the California Academy of Sciences building was visible in the video.
The Academy has had many homes in its 157 year history. James Lick donated the Market Street property to the Academy in 1873 and after several legal battles, the Academy moved into the new building in 1891. So according to the timeline, the Academy should be visible in the film. The building was built on the south side of Market and as the film is shot going east on Market, the Academy should be on the right hand side, near 4th Street.
The film begins on Market and 8th Street so I initially tried to count the blocks down to 4th Street. This proved difficult as the film cuts in and out at times. So I decided to try a different, more deductive approach. The Call Building (sometimes referred to the Spreckles Building) stands out in the film. If I could simply find out where the Academy was in relation to the Call Building, it would be easier to pinpoint. The Call Building was located on Market and 3rd St. So the Academy was certainly nearby. I pulled up the Academy Library Image Gallery and found a photo of the Academy Building next to the Emporium Building.
I then went to Calisphere’s 1906 collection and did a search on the Emporium Building hoping to find a photograph looking east down Market. I found the perfect image. I found the Academy next to the Emporium building with the Call building pictured down the street. Now I could view the film again and recognize major landmarks to identify the Academy.
The Call building is in view from the beginning of the film but by using the Bancroft photograph, I could better gage where to find the large Emporium building and subsequently, the smaller Academy building. The Emporium building comes into full view at the three minute mark. You can make out its roman column entrance on the right hand side of the screen. The Academy is directly east of the Emporium. If you pause the video at the 3:34 minute mark, you can see the Academy’s triangular entrance on the immediate right. And just as quickly as it comes into view, it is gone. A search on Calisphere will yield numerous pictures during the fire, some showing the Academy and some after the building had collapsed.
It is interesting to note that in 1884, J.C. Flood offered the Academy $200,000 cash for the Market Street property but this offer was declined in committee. The Flood building was completed in 1904 and was very close to the Academy building. It survived the 1906 earthquake and fire.
Christina V. Fidler – Digital Projects Manager
Leviton, A. E., & Aldrch, M. L. (1997). Theodore Henry Hittell’s The California Academy of Sciences. A Narrative History: 1853-1906. Memoirs of the California Academy of Sciences.