Agent's Perspective - OpenSFHistory: an online overview of nostalgic photos of San Francisco from the 1850’s thru th

Ever wonder what your street or district in San Francisco looked like over 100 years ago? Check out an online site many are unaware of called OpenSFHistory where you can instantly search through the most extensive compilation of historical photographs available, taken by commercial and amateur photographers, by title, description, neighborhood, dates, key words or WNP catalogue numbers. The site also includes a Galleries section of related vintage images based upon subject, photographer, location, or other selected criteria. 

From the map feature you can zoom to an address or location to view nearby photos. Red markers indicate a single image at a specific site; yellow markers indicate that multiple images are available for viewing at that location. 

OpenSFHistory, a non-profit subgroup of the Western Neighborhoods Project, has compiled thousands of historical images accumulated over 40 years by an anonymous collector. All the public knows about “The Private Collector” is that he or she possesses a passion for San Francisco history and the images that depict it. The collection may be the greatest in private hands, amounting to over 100,000 negatives and prints. 

This collection has expanded through the purchase of original negatives and photographs, as well as copies of negatives and prints from other collectors. It therefore includes images that intersect with virtually every other San Francisco historical image collection according to the OpenSFHistory site. 

Content includes residential and commercial architecture (existing and demolished), including amusement parks like Playland at the Beach and pivotal events in San Francisco history such as the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire and the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition. Prominent San Franciscans such as Adolph Sutro and John McLaren are featured - as well as informal street scenes and snapshots of daily life long past. 

This huge archive is expensive to maintain. The costs of archivally rehousing and storing this historic material is great; from acid free enclosures and boxes to cold storage facilities to computer equipment and cloud backup services. Donations can be made to the Western Neighborhoods Project, 1617 Balboa Street, San Francisco, CA 94121 (415) 661-1000. OpenSFHistory is also seeking volunteers and has many needs, including computer and photography-savvy individuals.