San Francisco on Film: Days Before the 1906 Quake

Take a trip back in time. This 11-minute reel of film, shot from a cable car on Market Street, captures a city full of life and promise, which was destroyed only days later in the great earthquake of 1906.

San Francisco on film: Days before the 1906 quake

A blog post by David Browning, the producer of this week's "60 Minutes" story about a mysterious reel of film, known as "A Trip Down Market Street:"

My wife, I confess, comes up with some of the best stories I do. Last spring she sent me a link from a friend to a Web site showing a badly scratched version of "A Trip Down Market Street," the remarkable movie made a century ago on San Francisco's main drag. It's a film guaranteed to mesmerize anybody who sees it, even with the scratches: a bygone time brought to life.

Sacramento Street, April 1906.
People on Sacramento Street watch smoke rise from fires after a severe earthquake in San Francisco, on April 18, 1906. AP Photo/Arnold Genthe

I began poking around to find out more about the film and why it was made. San Francisco film archivist Rick Prelinger showed me a digitally restored version he'd commissioned that clears away the cobwebs and the scratches, making the film's impact even more vivid.

And that led to another California archivist, David Kiehn, who took it upon himself to figure out the film's origins. Kiehn's dogged, meticulous detective work established beyond doubt it was filmed just days before the great earthquake and fire in 1906 that nearly destroyed San Francisco.

Photos: The Aftermath of the 1906 Earthquake

Photos: Favorite Images from the Market Street Film

Watch Morley Safer's full report.

So as you watch the full 11-minute reel on this week's web show "60 Minutes Overtime," credit Kiehn and Prelinger for rescuing from oblivion its images and the dramatic, unexpected story of its making. As for the story of how it all wound up on "60 Minutes," credit Mrs. Browning.

-David Browning, "60 Minutes" Producer