extreme photo constructions
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   San Francisco Earthquake 1906

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1903  >   May 14  >   Source  >  Film Four  >   Union Square - Pre-Quake
1906  >   Late April  >   Film One  >   "Panorama of City Hall from Top of U.S. Mint."
    Late April  >       "Panorama of Mission Street."
    Late April  >       "Panorama [of] Market Street..."
    Late April  >       "Panorama from Grand Ave."
    Late April  >       "Refugees in Jefferson Square."
    May 9  >   Film Two  >   From Natoma Street 
    May 9  >       Presidio Refugee Camp
    May 9  >       Newspaper Row I
    May 9  >       Newspaper Row II
    Early May  >   Film Three  >   "Walls were ordered razed by the authorities."
    May 9  >       Mission Street between 4th and 3rd Streets
    Early May  >       "Natoma Street, an alley" (Russian Émigrés)
    Early May  >       Powell and Market

About the images

This gallery is a collaboration between myself and a cadre of pioneering motion picture artists. 


In the early years of film, panoramas were a favored way to present the entirety of a scene to an audience.  Panning is a logical and natural way to record a location.  In 1906, huge motion picture cameras pivoted to record paths of light and


shadow. Frame by frame, these image arcs immortalized the destruction of a major American city. 

These primal films have been preserved by the Library of Congress.  The images in this gallery are composites of frames exposed nearly a century ago.  The film below is the origin for some of the these panoramas.


David Neufer


Library of Congress Research Text about the Earthquake and Fire
(These films show) the aftermath of the San Francisco earthquake of April 18, 1906, and the devastation resulting from the subsequent three-day fire. The 8.3 magnitude earthquake struck at 5:12am and was centered along the San Andreas Fault, which slices through coastal California. Most of the cities of central California were badly damaged. San Francisco, with thousands of un-reinforced brick buildings - and thousands more closely-spaced wooden Victorian dwellings - was poorly prepared for a major fire. Collapsed buildings, broken chimneys, and a shortage of water due to broken mains led to several large fires that soon coalesced into a city-wide holocaust. The fire swept over nearly a quarter of the city, including the entire downtown area.

  Dynamite was used with varying success to prevent the fire from spreading westward. Over 3,000 people are now estimated to have died as a result of the disaster. For the surviving refugees, the first few weeks were hard; as aid poured in from around the country, thousands slept in tents in city parks, and all citizens were asked to do their cooking in the street. A severe shortage of public transportation made a taxicab out of anything on wheels. Numerous businesses relocated temporarily in Oakland and many refugees found lodgings outside the city. Reconstruction of the city proceeded at a furious pace and by 1908, San Francisco was well on the way to recovery.