Photo Desk Hours
How to Find Photographs of a San Francisco Building in the San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection
- Photo database
Begin with an online search for a building by using either the building name, street name, and/or district.
- Use keyword searching for street intersections.
- Do not enter the street address as street numbers do not appear on most photographs that were cataloged online.
- San Francisco History Subject Collection
- The majority of the street, district and building photographs have been digitized from the San Francisco History Subject Collection. Apartment buildings have not been digitized. Businesses are arranged by business name and churches are organized by denomination. In addition, all of the transportation lines have been digitized – the building may be in the background of a transportation photograph.
More Digitized Collections
- San Francisco Aerial Views, August 1938.
The original aerial photographs may be viewed during the Photo Desk open hours.
- Worden Glass Plate Negatives
- Includes residences of Ingleside Terraces, Jordan Park, Visitacion Valley, and Richmond district.
Explore these Collection Guides for non-digitized visual materials
- San Francisco History Center Oversize Photographs
- Check the guide by building name, street name, business name, and/or district. The collection may be viewed during the Photo Desk open hours.
- Assessor’s Office Negative Collection (late 1940s to early 1960s)
- The collection covers properties photographed by the San Francisco Assessor’s Office. Search by street address, block number or business name. Locate block and lot numbers through the San Francisco Property Information Map. To be thorough, check both the street address and block number lists. Sometimes a negative of one address will include the neighboring property. The collection may be viewed during the Photo Desk open hours.
- Department of Public Works (DPW) Albums(1907 – early 1930s)
- The collection consists of 95 photograph albums depicting the DPW’s projects including street repair, civic buildings and infrastructure construction. The collection includes a card index to facilitate searching by topic, street or building; photographs in the albums themselves are arranged chronologically. The majority of the prints in the albums were made from glass plate negatives. The collection may be viewed during the Photo Desk open hours.
- Robert Durden Color Slide Collection (early 1950s – early 1990s)
- Check the guide by street name, building name, business name, and districts. A small sampling of the color slides has been added to the online database. The collection may be viewed during the Photo Desk open hours.
- San Francisco Police Department Records (1931 - 1969)
- The San Francisco Police Department Records (SFH 61) includes over 12,000 acetate negatives photographed by the Bureau of Photography. The bulk of the collection documents automobile accidents photographed for the Bureau of Accident Prevention. The majority of the shots include businesses and residences in the background with the focus on the automobile accident site. To find a building, search the collection guide by street name. For each “hit,” note the box number at the top of the “contents” text block, listed on the left. The negatives are arranged in envelopes chronologically by date of accident. Each envelope may contain several negatives. A small sampling of the negatives has been added to the online database. The collection may be viewed during the Photo Desk open hours.
- San Francisco Panoramas
- Panoramas can be helpful in finding 19th century buildings in early views of San Francisco. There are a number of downtown views from the 1990s by Al Greening. The collection may be viewed during the Photo Desk open hours.
- San Francisco Postcard Collection (early 1900s – 2000s)
- This collection is helpful for significant San Francisco buildings, hotels and restaurants (both interiors and exteriors). The collection may be viewed during the Photo Desk open hours.
- San Francisco Stereographs (1890s – 1910s)
- This collection is helpful for significant San Francisco buildings. The guide is arranged by photographer/studio. The online guide can be searched by building name. The collection may be viewed during the Photo Desk open hours.
- Shades of San Francisco
- This is a community history photography project of the San Francisco History Center. The photographs collected include residences and buildings from Western Addition, Mission District, Oceanview/Merced/Ingleside, the Sunset and Bayview/Hunters Point. The collection may be viewed during the San Francisco History Center open hours.
Other collections to explore
- San Francisco Junior League files
- The survey files include snapshots of the buildings surveyed in the early 1960s.
- Baldwin and Howell Records (SFH 17)
- This collection documents the following San Francisco residential areas – Presidio Terrace, Westwood Highlands, Westwood Park and also include photographs of the following buildings – MacDonough Building, Cluett Buidling, Davis-Schonwasser Building, and Sloane Building.
- Cataloged photograph albums of significant buildings
- Phelan Building Construction Photograph Album 1907 Oct 7-1908 Sept 19 (SFP 1)
- Leland Stanford’s Residence Photograph Album, 1878 (SFP 5)
- Welch Building Construction Photograph Album, Feb. 15, 1907-Mar. 27, 1908 (SFP 6)
- Alaska Packers Association Photograph Album 1922 (SFP 7)
- St. Boniface Church Photograph Album [1900-1907] (SFP 8)
- Estate of Adolph Sutro, 1910 (SFP 3) for West of Twin Peaks neighborhoods
- Lakeside District of San Francisco Scrapbook, 1940 – 1986 (SFH 39)
- Architect & Engineer (1906 – 1959)
- The articles contain photographs of the buildings mentioned in the articles (many include interior shots as well).
- SFMTA Photo Archive
- There are over 5,000 images documenting San Francisco Municipal Railway. For building research, keyword search by street, neighborhood and/or landmark name.
- California Historical Society
- The photograph collection focuses on the 19th century. A subject guide is available on the website; selected digitized photographs, including buildings.
- There are over 30,000 images under the subject of San Francisco including buildings and residences.
- Bancroft Library, U.C. Berkeley
- Many of Bancroft’s photographs have been digitized and are hosted on Calisphere. Visit for an in-depth research.
- Environmental Design Archives, U.C. Berkeley
- Collections are organized by architect. Within collections are photographs of the architect’s works.