San Francisco has long cast a lingering eye to its past, toward a halcyon age that was equal parts legend and reality, but remains embedded in the city’s DNA.
San Francisco’s glory days, which began with the California Gold Rush, lasted until after World War II, when the social upheaval of the 1960s brought tens of thousands of counter culturalists to the West Coast.
At the same time, manufacturing jobs left the city, housing prices began a steep rise that have continued almost unabated over the past few decades and, in connection partly to the latter, families began departing in droves for the suburbs.
In addition, thousands of social outcasts flooded in over the next couple decades as prisoners were released from overcrowded jails and the mentally ill were de-institutionalized.
Yet, the splendor of San Francisco’s earlier days can still be glimpsed in its architecture, particularly its early 20th century office buildings and even earlier Victorian homes, and along its waterfront.
Among individuals who have helped keep the memory of old San Francisco alive is photographer Fred Lyon, a fourth-generation San Franciscan who began shooting images of the cities after World War II.
Now in his 90s, Lyon apprenticed at as a photographer at age 14 before enrolling in a Los Angeles art school. He served as a Navy photography in the Second World War, based in Washington, DC, and moved to New York at the conflict’s conclusion.
He returned to California in 1946, and has since spent nearly 70 years documenting life in the Bay Area, with his work appearing in such notable publications as Vogue, Glamour and Mademoiselle. In addition, his work can be found in dozens of books.
Lyon most recently released “San Francisco, Portrait of a City: 1940-1960.”
San Francisco television station KTVU has compiled nearly four dozen of Lyon’s images from the city’s immediate post-war years, which can be seen here.
As someone who has spent a bit of time in “The City” over the years, but never saw it in its prime, I can say that it certainly appears to have been a different era.
In today’s society, where one sometimes sees individuals at funeral wakes in shorts and flip-flops, it seems difficult to believe there was a time when men regularly wore fedoras and women nice dresses.
(Photo credits: Fred Lyon, courtesy of KTVU-TV.)