Composite Photos of San Francisco’s 1906 Earthquake and the City Today


After reading Dennis Smith’s 2005 book San Francisco Is Burning, an exhaustive account of the terrible earthquake and subsequent fire that nearly destroyed the city back in 1906 (to put it into perspective, nearly 30 thousand buildings were leveled), photographer Shawn Clover was inspired to embark on a project of his own. “I’ve always been frustrated by typical ‘then and now’ photos because the photographer always seems to do a sloppy job aligning his ‘then’ photos with the ‘now’ photos,” he has explained. “Everything needs to be precise when layering two photos on top of each other. My original idea was to tear away a piece of the modern photo to expose the 1906 photo, but after playing around a bit, everything seemed more interesting when the two were softly blended together.” Keeping in mind everything from the camera’s height to the sun’s position in the sky in the originals, Clover has done a masterful job of marrying images of present-day San Francisco with vintage shots of devastation in a fascinating two-part series that we spotted thanks to The High Definite. Click through for a few of our favorite visual mash-ups, and head over to his website for even more photos!

Cable car #455 rests halfway in the partially-destroyed cable car barn. Photo credit: Shawn Clover

People cross Market Street in front of the destroyed Hearst Building. Photo credit: Shawn Clover

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

People walk up California Street amid charred scraps of lumber. Photo credit: Shawn Clover

People stroll by the original adobe Mission Dolores which survived, while the brick church next door was destroyed. Photo credit: Shawn Clover

Some business people and a young kid face the camera while fire consumes a building on the corner of Franklin Street and Hayes Street. Photo credit: Shawn Clover

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

Mothers rest on the low wall in Alamo Square while their children play on the grass. Photo credit: Shawn Clover

Residents take to the grass at Lafayette Park to get a view of the massive fires engulfing the city while a Muni bus stops below. Photo credit: Shawn Clover

Men pose in a tent city to house displaced residents while an armored car turns left. Ferry Building repairs have begun. Photo credit: Shawn Clover