If you love San Francisco, don’t miss this ’50s video blast from the past

Take a trip back to San Francisco in 1955

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Welcome to the San Francisco of the fifties

Take a little 60-year leap back in time, and see how San Francisco looked back in 1955 in this video homage to the city by the bay.

Amateur filmmaker Tullio Pellegrini shot this footage of the city with a 16mm Bell & Howell Filmorama lens, and narrated the edited work himself.

The result — a 21-minute video — gives a fascinating and fantastic overview of San Francisco as it was in the mid-1950s, and highlights everything from the Cliff House (and the adjacent but long-defunct Sky Tram) to Fisherman’s Wharf — along with Telegraph Hill, City Hall, the Cable Car turnaround, a very squeaky ride down Lombard Street, the SF Zoo, Golden Gate Park… and everything in between the (once record-breaking) spans of the Golden Gate and the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.

Vintage San Francisco from the fifties (2)

VIDEO: Drive back to 1955

“Highlighting the [Filming for a Fun Fiesta show, sponsored by the Northern California Council of Amateur Movie Makers] show will be an original 16mm sound Kodakchrome by Tullio Pelligrini, ‘San Francisco in FilmoRama.’

“This film is a 16mm ‘Cinemascope type’ movie using the new Bell & Howell anamorphic lens. The special effects and human interest stories behind the making of this film will long be the talk of amateur movie makers.” San Francisco Examiner – October 16, 1955


Your guide to San Francisco, 1955

This is the script that accompanies the video above — written and narrated by Tullio Pellegrini.

San Francisco. Within its 45 square miles is contained one of the most colorful and romantic cities in the world.

Approaching from the south, the traveler views with sudden excitement the city thrusting its white towers into the blue California sky.

But it is from the east the city reveals its famous profile, framed by the silver towers of the Bay Bridge.

Seen from the north, the distance city pounds a tip of the peninsula that reaches into the broad waters of the surrounding Bay. The gigantic portals of the mighty bridge that spans the Golden Gate provide a dramatic entry.

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From the outskirts, let us now move directly into the very heart of the city: the well-planned Civic Center.

The City Hall dominates the square, which is flanked by the main public library, the State Building and the Civic Auditorium. Behind the City Hall lie the Veterans Building and the War Memorial Opera House, which was the birthplace of the United Nations.

Credited with having stopped the onslaught of the 1906 fire, Van Ness Avenue still remains one of San Francisco’s broadest thoroughfares.

San Francisco is a city of many hills, and Telegraph Hill is perhaps the most famous. Here was located the lookout station of early days. A semaphore from which the hill derived its name signaled to ships approaching some of the Golden Gate. A mecca for tourists, the hill provides a magnificent view of the Bay and its manmade wonders.

Vintage San Francisco from the fifties (4)

Eight and a half miles in length, the Bay Bridge is the longest bridge in the world. It is actually a two-unit span divided in the middle by our Yerba Buena Island. To the left of Yerba Buena lies man-made Treasure Island, site of the 1939 World’s Fair.

Ships from the four corners of the earth find their way to San Francisco’s Embarcadero.

Famous for its infamous residents, Alcatraz Prison — alias “The Rock.”

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Stretching across the gateway to the Orient is the longest single span in the world: The mighty Golden Gate Bridge.

At the foot of the hill lies colorful Fisherman’s Wharf. Reminiscent of a Mediterranean Sea, the wharf captures a bit of sunny Italy. Great seafood grottoes and fine restaurants invite the gourmet.

Typical of the wharf are the steaming kettles of a sidewalk crab stand. The supply of fresh fish and seafood is brought in daily by sturdy little craft that berth in the lagoon behind the restaurants.

Between Fisherman’s Wharf and the Golden Gate Bridge lies the fashionable Marina district with this handsome yacht harbor. This is the marina district of today, but perhaps this old photograph will remind old-timers that this was the site of the 1915 Panama Pacific international exposition, an architectural gem. The crumbling Palace of Fine Arts is the only exposition building remaining today.

Vintage San Francisco from the fifties (1)

Driving along the northern end of the peninsula, we reached the salient point that provides the closest view of the Golden Gate Bridge. The California Palace of the Legion of Honor, one of San Francisco’s finest museums is an exact replica of the Legion of Honor in Paris.

The once gay resort of the [18]90s is now a modern restaurant fronting the Pacific Ocean and overlooking Seal Rocks. A ride on the newly-installed sky trams should be included in the tourist itinerary. Just below the Cliff House is a year-round amusement park [Play Land].

Vintage San Francisco from the fifties (3)

Miles of picturesque motor roads lead us through the largest man-made park in the world. Created out of a wilderness of shifting sand dunes over 1000 acres of verdant meadows, shady lanes, colorful gardens and beautiful lakes make Golden Gate Park one of the wonders of the world.

In a centrally-located area of public buildings stands the de Young Museum, visited by more people than any museum in the country.

A fascinating collection of fish and reptiles from all over the world are displayed at the Steinhart Aquarium. Within this block-long conservatory is a veritable paradise of rare tropical plants. Surrounding gardens offer an ever-changing display of colorful seasonal blooms.

In the exquisite Japanese tea garden, exotic pagodas create the atmosphere of the Far East. Blooming cherry blossoms enhance the beauty of moon bridges, arching over quiet lagoons.

Scattered throughout the park are numerous lakes with their colorful waterfowl. This lake is a mecca for hobbyists to come to sail their miniature boats, while Stow Lake attracts those with a taste for rowing. Rising from the center of this lake is a rugged island with a plunging waterfall.

Vintage San Francisco from the fifties (6)

Emerging from the park not far from where we entered, we continue our travels on the great highway, paralleling the Pacific Ocean.

Of course, no tour of San Francisco is complete without a visit to the zoo.

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For children of all ages, a ride on the miniature train is a thrilling experience.

Leaving the recreational areas that border the ocean, we turn eastward towards the heart of the city.

In the center of the city rise San Francisco’s famous Twin Peaks. Reached by a spiraling road, the summit commands a spectacular view of the encircling city. Market Street, the main arterial through the downtown area, stretches like a broad ribbon from Twin Peaks to the Ferry Building.

Vintage San Francisco from the fifties (5)

On the busy intersection of Powell and Market Streets in downtown San Francisco is located one of the terminals of the power-speed cable car lines to reverse their direction, the cable cars are forced onto the unique turntable and swung around manually by the motor mount of the conductor, much to the delight of the riders and spectators.

These jaunty little relics of bygone days form a romantic link to San Francisco’s transportation system.

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Invented here in 1873 to travel over the steep hills, the cable cars have become a symbol of San Francisco. Atop Nob Hill, we cross the California cable car line. The cars can be distinguished by their difference in color.

On this route, we pass several of San Francisco’s most renowned hotels. Aboard one of these venerable little cars, one enjoys a bell ringing excursion up and down the San Francisco hills.

If you love San Francisco, don't miss this '50s video blast from the past

Where the west meets the Orient — Grant Avenue, the heart of Chinatown. Along this narrow, pagodaed street, hovers the exotic spirit of this Oriental colony. The largest settlement of Chinese in the world outside of Asia. Bazaars and curio shops invite you to examine choices of jade, silk and rare antiques.

There is no end to the interesting places one may visit in San Francisco: the Ferry building, churches and colleges. Or the tourists may prefer a leisurely drive along the many scenic boulevards.

For the true adventurer, there is that final thrill: a ride down the world’s most crooked street: 8 hairpin turns in a single block.

San Francisco, the cosmopolitan city, when you have the Pacific, the city by the Golden Gate — truly the city of many wonders.

1955 - San Francisco photographer Tullio Pelligrini operating the new anamorphic lens for his FilmoRama

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Comments on this story

2 Responses

    1. Thanks for the note, and I am so sorry for the confusion. The video is in the article, a little below the heading “VIDEO: Drive back to 1955” — and beneath the photo of the Golden Gate Bridge. I see now that it sort of looks just like the photo at the top of the page, so I plan to do a few things soon that will make it a little more obvious.

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