Colorized Footage of San Francisco Taken Four Days Before 1906 Fire

Video restorer NASS, who has a passion for restoring and upscaling old videos using neural networks, has breathed new life into footage of a busy San Francisco street originally shot on April 14, 1906.

The scene was shot from a cable car that was traveling eastbound down Market Street in San Francisco from between 8th and 9th Streets until it reaches the car turnaround point at the Ferry Building. The footage was shot just four days before a massive and tragic earthquake hit the city, sparking a massive fire that nearly brought the city to its ruin.

The original footage is stored with the Prelinger Archives in San Francisco and was produced by “moving picture photographers” Harry, Herbert, Earle, and Joe Miles. The brothers hand-cranked the Bell & Howell camera that they had placed on the front of a streetcar during the trip to the Ferry Building. Just a few days later when the brothers were on the way to New York they learned about the 7.8 magnitude earthquake and its destructive force. They then sent the negatives to New York to be processed and returned to the Bay Area city to discover that their studios had been destroyed.

The technique NASS used to enhance the video follows his previous colorization techniques. The first step he takes involves boosting the frame rate to 60 frames per second, after which he upscales the image resolution to high definition, before working to improve the video’s sharpness and brightness. At this point, the footage is colorized and sounds are added to provide additional environmental tone and feel. Once these steps are done, the entire package is then stabilized, cleaned, denoised, and deblurred to complete the restoration process to be as close to today’s standards as he can obtain.

NASS, who says the goal of the colorization is to create an aesthetic rather than for accuracy, says as much to his viewers. The actual colors of many of the things captured in these old frames have been lost to history.

“Please, be aware that colorization colors are not real and [are] fake, colorization was made only for the ambiance and does not represent real historical data.”

Colorization is a contentious topic among historians. While some say it helps make important historical events more interesting for a modern audience, others argue that the practice does more harm than good and takes away from the original intent of the capture.