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What San Francisco looked like in the 1920s through these Fascinating Historical Photos

The 1920s were a big deal for San Francisco, echoing the nationwide vibe of the Roaring Twenties with its booming economy, cultural breakthroughs, and social shifts. This decade helped San Francisco shine as a key American city, bouncing back from the 1906 earthquake and World War I with a lot of energy and hope for the future.

Economic Growth and Making the City Bigger

San Francisco’s economy was on fire in the 1920s, thanks to the peace after World War I and its prime spot for trade with Asia. The shipping industry was booming, making the Port of San Francisco super important for international business. This economic upturn led to the city growing bigger, with new areas being built to fit all the new people. The financial world in San Francisco also got a big boost, with Montgomery Street becoming the “Wall Street of the West.”..

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A New Look for the City

This time also saw a burst of new building in San Francisco. The city’s skyline changed with new skyscrapers like the Pacific Telephone Building, which showed off the modern side of San Francisco. There were also lots of new homes being built in places like Sea Cliff and St. Francis Wood, showing off styles from Beaux-Arts to Art Deco.

A Booming Cultural Scene

The 1920s were great for San Francisco’s arts scene. The city attracted all kinds of creative people, from artists and writers to musicians, because it was such an open and beautiful place. Jazz music, especially, became huge, with clubs and speakeasies popping up all over, especially in the Fillmore District. Writers in the city were busy too, laying the groundwork for movements like the Bohemian and Beat scenes in places like North Beach.

Changing Society and New Ideas

San Francisco in the 1920s also saw a lot of social change and progress. Women were getting more involved in society and politics after winning the right to vote. But it wasn’t all smooth sailing; laws like the Chinese Exclusion Act showed that the city still had big challenges to face.

The 1920s was the era of Prohibition across the U.S., and San Francisco had its own take on the ban on alcohol. Speakeasies and illegal booze operations sprang up, showing that the city wasn’t too keen on following the rules. This time also saw the rise of organized crime, adding a gritty edge to the city’s history during an otherwise bright and bustling decade.

#5 Commuters converging on the Ferry Building in the late afternoon in the 1920s.

#9 Men working on Harding Blvd. at Lands End in the 1920s.

#10 Men working on Harding Blvd. at Lands End, 1920s.

#12 Siberia Maru leaving the port of San Francisco in 1927.

#13 Panoramic view of Market Street during a parade in the 1920s.

#14 Lotta’s Fountain at the corner of Market east of Kearny Street in 1921.

#16 Pacific Telephone & Telegraph Company building on Bush Street in 1928.

#19 Market at Powell Street looking east in the 1920s.

#21 Great Highway – Ocean Beach Esplanade, Winter Scene in 1920.

#22 Heart of the Mission district, looking downtown in 1927.

#23 California Street between Kearny and Mason, looking west in the 1920s.

#25 Immigration station at Angel Island in the 1920s.

#27 Detention building at Angel Island immigration station in 1928.

#28 View of San Francisco, looking south from the Hall of Justice in 1921.

#31 Dining area in Pacific Telephone & Telegraph Company building in 1929.

#34 The Last General Inspection Before Embarkation in the 1890s.

#36 Looking east from Mission and 22nd Street in 1927.

#37 Crowd of people on the Embarcadero, near the Ferry Building in 1924.

#43 Group of people gathering around a cable car on Montgomery and California Street in 1926.

#45 View of waterfront and Yerba Buena Island in the 1920s.

#47 Advertising billboards along Geary Street at 33rd Avenue in 1927.

#53 View of the Presidio, army barracks and tents, and San Francisco Bay in the background in 1898.

#62 Powell Street between Filbert and Greenwich in 1926.

#64 Crowd of people on a dock at Angel Island in 1920.

#66 Aerial view of Ferry Building and surrounding area in 1925.

#68 Captain P. B. Lamb, Charles S. Tripler, and Mark Fontana at the Marina Yacht Harbor, 1920s

#70 Aerial view of downtown San Francisco and its waterfront in the 1920s.

#71 Van Ness Avenue at Market Street with a superimposed photo of a police officer directing traffic in 1927.

#76 Shriners Convention Parade at Civic Center Plaza in the 1920s.

#92 Aerial view of downtown San Francisco and its waterfront in 1925.

#96 View of the United States Military Reservation, The Presidio, around 1912.

#98 View from the Hall of Justice looking south over San Francisco in 1921.

#103 Market near Drumm Street looking toward the Ferry Building in 1927.

#107 California Street between Sansome and Montgomery around 1920.

#108 Insurance Center Building at Sansome and Pine Streets in 1928.

#113 Bayshore Boulevard Section B south from Fitzgerald Avenue, 1928

#115 View of San Francisco northwest from the Hall of Justice, 1921

#116 View of downtown San Francisco from Stockton and California Streets, mid-1920s

#117 Immigration Headquarters on Angel Island, San Francisco Bay, 1928

#118 St. Francis Hotel across from Union Square, 1928

#121 Looking south on Van Ness Avenue from Hayes Street, 1920

#122 Pacific Telephone & Telegraph Company business office, 1928

#126 Aerial view of Van Ness Avenue at McAllister Street in the 1920s

#130 Aerial view of the city onto Sacramento Street, 1924

#136 Northwest corner of Grant Avenue and Clay Street, 1929

#141 Advertising billboards along Geary Street at 33rd Avenue, 1927

#142 Mills Field before becoming San Francisco Municipal Airport, 1927

#143 Ship docked at San Francisco waterfront pier in the 1920s

#144 Cafeteria in Pacific Telephone & Telegraph Company building, 1929

#146 Marina district incident location of J. Derrig’s car in the bay, 1929

#147 View of San Francisco southeast from the Hall of Justice, 1921

#149 Construction around Civic Center Plaza in the 1920s

#155 Pacific Telephone & Telegraph Company building at 450 5th Avenue in the 1920s

#158 William Taylor Hotel in the Civic Center in the 1920s

#159 Pacific Telephone & Telegraph Company building on 19th Avenue, 1928

#164 View of San Francisco west from the Hall of Justice, 1921

#165 Montgomery and Union Streets, Telegraph Hill, 1920

#167 Aerial view of the Civic Center during Diamond Jubilee, 1925

#169 Mission Street at Onondaga and Russia looking north, 1925

#173 Man crossing train tracks on Geary Street at 4th Avenue, 1926

#178 East side of Montgomery north of California Street, 1922

#179 Aerial view of San Francisco up Market Street from near Ferry Building, 1927

#181 Aerial view of the Western Addition district, 1927

#182 North Beach from the Fairmont Hotel in the mid-1920s

#186 Ferry Building with Yerba Buena Island, circa 1926

#190 Crowds in Civic Center Plaza across from San Francisco Public Library in the 1920s

#193 Waterfront view of Alcatraz and Angel Island in the 1920s

#200 View of San Francisco down Market Street from Twin Peaks in the 1920s

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Written by Kevin Clark

Kevin Clark is a historian and writer who is passionate about sharing the stories and significance behind historical photos. He loves to explore hidden histories and cultural contexts behind the images, providing a unique insight into the past.

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