Fascinating Vintage Photos of San Francisco’s Street Scenes in the 1930s

San Francisco in the 1930s was a city of contrasts. The Great Depression had hit hard, leaving many people jobless and struggling. Despite the economic hardship, San Francisco saw significant development in the 1930s. Two iconic bridges, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge, were constructed during this period, transforming the city’s landscape and connecting it to neighboring areas. These massive projects provided much-needed jobs and became symbols of hope and progress. Let’s step back in time and explore what life was like in San Francisco during this fascinating decade.

Beyond the bridges, the city’s skyline saw the addition of several Art Deco masterpieces, like the Coit Tower and 450 Sutter Street. These buildings, with their sleek lines and geometric patterns, represented a modern and optimistic outlook for the future.

Life on the Streets

Walking down the streets of San Francisco in the 1930s, you might have encountered men selling apples on street corners, a common sight during the Depression. Newsboys hawked newspapers with bold headlines about the latest events. Cable cars, a San Francisco staple, continued to climb the city’s steep hills, offering a unique and thrilling way to get around.

People sought escape and entertainment in movie theaters, which were plentiful in San Francisco. Popular theaters like the Fox Theatre and the Paramount Theatre offered a glamorous escape with their opulent interiors and the latest Hollywood films.

San Francisco’s artistic scene flourished in the 1930s. The Federal Art Project, part of the Works Progress Administration, provided work for artists and funded the creation of murals and sculptures throughout the city. Coit Tower, for example, is adorned with murals depicting scenes of California life.

The city also became a haven for writers and poets. Literary figures like John Steinbeck and Dashiell Hammett found inspiration in San Francisco’s diverse communities and vibrant atmosphere.

Shopping and Daily Life

For everyday needs, San Franciscans could visit local markets like the Ferry Building Marketplace, which bustled with vendors selling fresh produce, seafood, and other goods. Department stores like The Emporium and I. Magnin offered a more upscale shopping experience, with the latest fashions and home goods.

Families often enjoyed picnics in Golden Gate Park, a sprawling green oasis in the heart of the city. The Japanese Tea Garden, another popular attraction within the park, provided a serene escape with its traditional architecture and tranquil ponds.

Food and Entertainment

San Francisco’s culinary scene was diverse and delicious. Italian restaurants in North Beach served up pasta and fresh seafood, while Chinatown offered a taste of the Orient with dim sum and other delicacies.

For nightlife, jazz clubs like the Blackhawk and the Famous Door drew crowds with live music and dancing. Swing music was all the rage, and people flocked to ballrooms to show off their moves.

#2 Southwest corner of Lombard and Octavia streets, 1939

#3 View of downtown San Francisco including Ferry Building, 1937

#5 Scene of car accident on Mission Street at Guttenberg, 1931

#6 Southwest corner of Lombard and Gough streets, 1939

#7 Junipero Serra Blvd South From Sloat Blvd Showing Intersection, 1930

#18 View of Broadway, looking from atop the hill between Leavenworth and Jones, 1938

#22 View of downtown San Francisco and Yerba Buena Island, not after 1934

#25 Scene of automobile accident at Third and Harrison streets, 1936

#28 Scene of automobile accident at Third and Harrison streets, 1936

#30 Southwest corner of Lombard and Divisadero streets, 1939

#31 View of the waterfront and the bay with Yerba Buena Island in the distance, 1937

#33 Piers 21 through 17 with the Bay Bridge under construction in the background in the 1930s

#35 Mission Street, looking north from 22nd Street, 1936

#39 Administration building at Angel Island immigration station, 1939

#40 Building on the corner of Mason and Chestnut streets, 1931

#41 Main Library, crowd gathered for Mooney pardon hearing, 1930

#42 Administration building at Angel Island immigration station, 1939

#43 View of San Francisco from Empire Hotel, looking east, 1935

#47 California Street looking towards Market in the 1930s

#48 K Ingleside streetcar in front of the Ferry Building in the 1930s

#51 Piers 44 and 42 with the Bay Bridge in the background, 1939

#53 View of Ferry Building with Bay Bridge under construction in the background, 1935

#56 Crowd of people watching workers repair a broken trolley cable on Kearny Street near Market, 1935

#57 Southwest corner of Lombard and Steiner streets, 1939

#58 Crooked section of Lombard Street between Leavenworth and Hyde streets, 1933

#59 View of San Francisco, including bay and hills, around 1931

#63 View of Telegraph Hill and the Embarcadero from the Ferry Building, 1939

#64 T. F. Ormond Co. on the corner of Geary Street, 1937

#66 Spectators in front of a freight transfer shed fire on 3rd Street, 1938

#67 Benches filled up with people in Union Square Park, 1938

#68 View of downtown skyline, looking east, in the 1930s

#69 Scene of the slaying of Luigi Malvese on Columbus Avenue, 1932

#73 View of San Francisco and Bay Bridge towers under construction, 1934

#76 View along the Embarcadero looking northwest in the 1930s

#77 Three men carrying a tree with a planter, “Join With Us Fix Up Shine For ’39’,” 1938

#78 View of Bay Bridge towers under construction and Yerba Buena Island, 1934

#79 Identification Bureau in Old Hall of Justice, 1939

#82 2000 block of Lombard Street between Fillmore and Webster, 1939

#83 San Francisco’s oldest street – Grant Avenue in Chinatown, 1935

#86 View of San Francisco skyline, looking southeast, in the 1930s

#88 Closeup of a 1937 Oldsmobile parked on Kearny Street near Jackson, 1937

#90 Crowd of people gathering in front of City Hall for Constitution Day Exercises, 1935

#91 1900 block of Lombard Street between Buchanan and Webster streets, 1939

#97 View across the Bay towards the east with piers 18 and 20 in the foreground, 1930

#99 Sailors hanging out in the Marina’s Yacht Harbor, 1935

#101 View of Market Street facing west from the Ferry Building in the 1930s

#103 View of the waterfront looking out towards the Bay, 1934

#104 Southeast corner of Fillmore and Lombard streets, 1939

#105 View of downtown San Francisco with Telegraph Hill and bay in the background in the 1930s

#106 Aerial view of the waterfront and the Bay Bridge under construction, 1935

#108 Closeup of car parked on Kearny Street between Washington and Jackson streets, 1934

#111 Cathedral monument in Union Square for the Knight Templar Conclave, July 1934

#112 View of piers with Yerba Buena and Treasure Islands in the background, 1939

#119 Exterior of City Hall located in the Civic Center, 1935

#131 View of the Bay Bridge from Harrison Street, 1930s

#135 Men standing outside the State Terminal at China Basin, 1939

#138 Great Highway from Sutro Heights, Playland at the Beach on left, 1930s

#141 Free lunch served at Civic Center for cannery workers, 1938

#142 Piers 25, 23, and 21 with Yerba Buena in the background, 1930s

#144 Aerial view from the Bay, looking southwest, of ferry boats, piers, and the Ferry Building, 1930

#145 Southwest corner of Lombard and Broderick streets, 1939

#148 Administration building at Angel Island immigration station, 1939

#150 The Embarcadero and the Bay Bridge viewed from Coit Tower, 1936

#151 Third Street at Townsend Street, across from Southern Pacific Depot, 1937

#152 View of the waterfront looking north from the Bay Bridge, 1939

#153 Intersection of Bayshore Boulevard and Paul Avenue, 1936

#156 Crowd of people around a wrecked plane on Twin Peaks, 1938

#157 State Belt Railroad of California at Embarcadero, 1938

#161 Unidentified child on the 500 block of Clay Street, 1930s

#163 Southwest corner of Lombard and Buchanan streets, 1939

#164 Demonstration against shipment of scrap iron believed destined for Japan, 1930s

#165 Market Street, facing east from Mason Street, 1930s

#170 Aerial view of the waterfront during construction on the Bay Bridge, 1930s

#172 Fence covered with posters at Fisherman’s Wharf, 1937

#173 The Embarcadero is deserted during a strike by truck drivers, 1937

#175 View of Ferry Building with Yerba Buena Island and nearly completed Bay Bridge in the background, 1937

#176 San Francisco Labor rally down Market Street, 1930s

#177 Nobu’s grandfather watering bonsai in his backyard on Laguna Street, 1930s

#178 Fuji Transfer Company on 1640 Post Street, 1930s

#179 Beagle puppies in a tub that uncle Ludwig raised, 1930s

#180 Ahi and Jesse on bicycles and Sally on Scott Street, 1939

#181 Castro and 18th street, showing Market St. rail car 951 at terminus of 8 line, 1932

#183 Group of immigrants playing baseball on Angel Island, 1933

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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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