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Apr 06

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View the Portola from the skies in 1938

Inspired by photos of the Portola from the San Francisco Public Library (SFPL), which had been indexed and combined with a Google Map, I started to look for more visual evidence of Portola history. It didn’t take many searches to stumble onto a set of images akin to Google Maps 1938 style. In 1938, somebody was mad and brave enough to get in an airplane and fly over San Francisco, time and time again, taking photos of the city below. They were then printed out in large form (50cm x 60cm) and remained hidden from the internet in the SFPL until map aficionado, David Rumsey, took on the task of scanning all 164 of them. David doesn’t just throw them into his HP OfficeJet, he has a custom-built camera designed to capture large maps. This resulted in some astonishingly high-resolution images which can easily compete with today’s more modern satellite images.

So strap in, and let’s take a look at our own Portola ’hood as it was back in 1938… First stop, Alemany Blvd before and after i280. Just hover your mouse over the icons below to see the map from 1938 and also the current Google map today.


You can clearly see how the freeway fills the huge void between the Portola and Bernal Heights then separated by Alemany Blvd. A closer look at Palega Park shows many more tennis courts in those days and you can even see doubles games in progress. The blue areas show where in 1938 the land was undeveloped and probably just huge extensions of yard space.


While we are looking at undeveloped land, lets direct the plane South of Woolsey St. Wow! Where did all that go? In 1938 you can just see the start of some settlers building properties in the middle of San Francisco no-mans land. Dominating the area now is the Phillip Burton and Sala High School.

Flying East we can see the old San Bruno ave corridor pre freeway. The white lines running down both San Bruno Ave and Bayshore Blvd highlight the trams that used to run all this way out. Unfortunately the freeway cut us off from this awesome public transport. Again the development of the area has been significant since 1938, East of Bayshore you can see what was a lot of fields is now a big sports park and residential areas.

Below is a photo from the San Francisco Public Library of a streetcar going down San Bruno ten years later in 1947.

Streetcar running from Fifth and Market to Wilde Street on San Bruno Ave in 1947 (photo courtesy of Rayna Garibaldi and Arcadia Publishing, see note at bottom of post)

Streetcar running from Fifth and Market to Wilde Street on San Bruno Ave in 1947 (photo courtesy of Rayna Garibaldi and Arcadia Publishing, see note at bottom of post)

Our last stop on this ariel tour is to the West over University Mound. Clearly visible from up here is the uncovered North Basin of the reservoir. I’ve heard a few people mention they used to swim here before it was covered over. To the left you can see the vast space occupied by the University Mound Ladies Home and what was a convent but is now a campus of the Cornerstone Academy.


NOTE: Photo of the street car on San Bruno Ave was taken from, “Images of America, San Francisco’s Portola“. You can buy your own copy of the book at Amazon or direct from the publisher.

Permanent link to this article: http://portolaplanet.com/2012/04/view-the-portola-from-the-skies-in-1938/

1 comment

  1. Rudha-an

    This was very interesting. I had read a book about the neighborhood a few years ago, but this was great. I’m a map lover , so photos like these are fun.

    Have a happy Easter,

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