Data + Design Project

The San Francisco Earthquake: Merging Then and Now

Monday 09.10.2012 , Posted by
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In the early morning hours of April 18th, 1906, San Franciscans awoke to a quick jolt beneath them. Then, following a short pause, the hilly city shook with ferocious intensity for 42 seconds. Streets buckled like ribbon, buildings toppled killing horses and people below… and that was just the beginning. Following the initial impact of the earthquake, fires broke out around the city. Many were started by inexperienced firefighters who, in attempts to build firebreaks by dynamiting destroyed buildings, ignited ruptured gas mains. 30 fires burned for 4 days and 4 nights, ultimately destroying approximately 25,000 buildings on 490 city blocks. The once beautiful city was brought to its knees.

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Now modern San Franciscan Shawn Clover has put together an arresting comparison of the city as it appeared in the wake of destruction, and as it appears rebuilt today. By 1906, photography had become a popular hobby, so there are many photographs of the city in the days following the earthquake… many before any of the rubble had been cleaned off the street. Clover has taken this large catalog of images and meticulously recreated the scene with his own camera, merging the original images with the new to reveal the past and future side-by-side. See the exellent examples here, then check out his website for the entire two part series.

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

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

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

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

A women opens the door to her Mercedes on Sacramento Street while horses killed by falling rubble lie in the street.

Two girls stand before the partially destroyed Sharon Building in Golden Gate Park while students work on their art projects inside.

People cross Market Street in front of the destroyed Hearst Building.

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

A cable car heads towards the California St incline while shocked residents walk aimlessly through street amidst the devastation.

Passing cable cars offer a view of the destruction of California Street. Old St. Marys Cathedral has escaped destruction.

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Benjamin Starr

Written by Benjamin Starr



Known in some circles as the most amazing man in the universe, he once saved an entire family of muskrats from a sinking, fire engulfed steamboat while recovering from two broken arms relating to a botched no-chute wingsuit landing in North Korea. When not impressing people with his humbling humility, he can be found freelance writing, finding shiny objects on the internet, enjoying the company of much-appreciated friends and living out his nomadic nature. He is Managing Editor of Visual News. Follow his movements on Twitter:

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