Keeping history alive in San Francisco

I was inspired by some of the tourism ventures I have seen here in San Francisco, which are doing heritage story telling well or have the potential to do so, while being engaging and fun at the same time.

San Fran is the world headquarters of Levi Strauss. They made their first pair of blue jeans in 1873.   Their world-class archives have set up a vault in the lobby of the Levi’s Plaza with an historic display including  genuine pieces from the past.  These pieces inspire the clothes made today and in some cases, exact replicas are being sold.  Did you ever think that you may be wearing exactly the same style of pants which an ancestor may have worn, even 100 years ago?

The Muni historical archive have implemented an interesting initiave showcasing photographic treasures from their collection, blowing them up as big as traditional bus shelter signage,  for people to enjoy while waiting for their heritage street car or cable car tram.  There is also a website encouraging people to contribute their own content. Muni Time Capsule is a visual history of the San Francisco public transit system, a digital archive of Muni ephemera and memories from days gone by,

The self-described “Storytelling car” caught my eye.  The GoCar offers a GPS guided tour – what a fun way for young people to learn about the fascinating local history of the area.


In the same vein, I loved the Segway tours.  “Explore views and hidden locations in this fully narrated tour”.  What potential these kind of experiences have for telling stories and promoting local history.

Segway Tour

Segway Tour

The Golden Gate Park had a really nifty outdoor visual display showing stages of construction of the bridge from 1933  to the opening in May 1937 in the form of a mosaic of glass tiles.  The view changes according to the perspective of the person viewing it.   I suspect that the display was relatively recent and may have been erected as part of the 75th anniversary celebrations last year.


With some time to fill in I visited the free cable car museum and was interested to learn not so much the technical side of this iconic local transportation,  but of the community campaign in the 1940s, which recognized their significance to the City when under threat of closure by the then Mayor of the City. The resultant campaign ensured the cable cars continuing relationship with the hilly city.

The story of the 1906 earthquake and subsequent fire, which nearly wiped out the city has always interested me.  The museum surprisingly had a whole wall display devoted to this time in the city’s history.  The cable cars took the opportunity to improve on the service it was offering at the time with new infrastructure.  A display of  historical photographs of the era illustrate the destruction of the city at that time.

Photographs and their stories are true windows to our past.


About infolass

Local and Family History Librarian, Yarra Plenty Regional Library, Melbourne, Australia
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