When the Great Depression hit the US, life in many cities took a sharp turn for the worse — employment rates plummeted, soup kitchens became a necessity and ramshackle makeshift towns were soon the norm. As a previously booming city, San Francisco was hit particularly hard.

Scroll on to explore photos nearly 90 years old that tell a tale of strife, hardship and — in some cases — hope.

Ritch Street and Clara Street soup kitchen, 1932

SF depression ritch clara

Photo: OpenSFHistory/wnp26.145.jpg

Soup kitchens became popular after 1929, when the effects of the Great Depression were truly being felt. By 1932, 12 million Americans were out of work.

Bread line on Ritch Street, 1932

SF depression ritch street

Photo: OpenSFHistory/wnp26.144.jpg

A large crowd of men gather outside Ritch Street for a chance at a free hot meal.

Market Street, 1930

SF depression market street

Photo: OpenSFHistory/wnp26.015.jpg

In 1930, only two high-rises had been built in San Francisco: 140 New Montgomery and the Russ Building, both located near Market Street. Today there are 453 high-rises in the city and the skyline is very different.

Sunset Boulevard, 1930

SF depression sunset boulevard

Photo: OpenSFHistory/wnp26.008.jpg

Though it’s difficult to imagine now, San Francisco’s Sunset neighborhood used to be just rolling sand dunes with no residents or 5am surfers in sight.

Palace of Fine Arts, 1930

SF depression fine arts

Photo: OpenSFHistory/wnp30.0049.jpg

Not all parts of the Great Depression were doom and gloom. The above photo shows a couple strolling around the Palace of Fine Arts, likely enjoying some leisure time.

Tipsy Town, ca. 1930

SF depression tipsy town

Photo: OpenSFHistory/wnp4/wnp4.1016.jpg

Tipsy Town was a whimsical attraction at well-known amusement park Playland-at-the-Beach. For a dime visitors could traverse its off-kilter pathways and see optical illusions.

Unemployment parade, 1930

SF depression unemployment parade

Photo: OpenSFHistory/wnp30.0099.jpg

This protest against the Great Depression was part of an international effort that occurred on March 6th, 1930. Riots erupted in New York City and Detroit when policemen with batons attacked protesters.

Communist demonstration, 1930

SF depression communist

Photo: OpenSFHistory/wnp30.0080.jpg

During the Great Depression, San Francisco showed strong political activism in the face of strife. Above, the American Communist Party stages a demonstration in front of the Main Library.

Civic Center from Fulton Street and Market Street, ca. 1931

SF depression fulton market

Photo: OpenSFHistory/wnp14.2611.jpg

While the streets surrounding Civic Center are now a common stomping ground for the homeless and infamous for street drug use, this 1930 view of the area looks clean and idyllic.

Van Ness Avenue Extension, 1931

SF depression van ness

Photo: OpenSFHistory/wnp26.140.jpg

Despite the economic plunge during the Great Depression, Van Ness Avenue became a little roomier during the 30s thanks to the construction crew pictured above.

Market Street and 1st Street, ca. 1931

SF depression market 1st

Photo: OpenSFHistory/wnp32.0175.jpg

Similarly, both the Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge were built in the 1930s — in fact, they were completed only six months apart.

Snowball fight, ca. 1932

SF depression snowball fight

Photo: OpenSFHistory/wnp4/wnp4.0979.jpg

In a rare occurrence for the California coast, the people above are enjoying a snowball fight.

Developments featured in this article

More Like This

Facebook Chatter