Are There Any Photographs Of It?

How to Research a San Francisco Building

Photo Desk Hours

How to Find Photographs of a San Francisco Building in the San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection

Step #1 - explore the digitized collections

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.
San Francisco Aerial Views, August 1938

A complete aerial survey of San Francisco digitized. The index indicates which sheet to locate for property or neighborhood. Explore the 164 black and white photographs. 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.

Step #2 - explore the Collection Guides below for non-digitized visual materials to discover address, block number, street, intersection, and/or district. Make a list of the discoveries with collections noted. Visit the Photo Desk during open hours to view the original 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)
The collections consists of over 58,000 color slides. 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. A few neighborhoods have been digitized: Western Addition, Mission District, and Bayview/Hunters Point. Oceanview/Merced/Ingleside and the Sunset 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
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).

Step #3 - explore these other resources and visit the repositories

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 80,000 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.
Max Kirkeberg Photograph Collection, San Francisco State University
Collection of over 6,000 digitized color slides of San Francisco neighborhoods,streets and architecture.
Over 14,000 images documenting San Francisco neighborhoods and street scenes. For building research, keyword search by street, address and/or neighborhood. Use the map feature to zoom in on neighborhoods and streets.

Take our survey