San Francisco in 1951 Through a Submarine Periscope

san francisco golden gate bridge

Anyone who has been to San Francisco in California cannot deny being charmed by this quaint city. It is a place unlike anywhere else with its delightful landmarks known all over the world. From the cable cars, to Fisherman’s Wharf, the Victorian homes, Union Square, Lombard Street, to Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco is truly a place so easy to get endeared with.  Perhaps the signature song of crooner Tony Bennett, I Left My Heart in San Francisco, written by George Cory and Douglass Cross best captures the charisma of the city by the bay.

san francisco coit tower
Coit Tower

Archived photos that recently emerged of the city however, show a very different view of this beloved place. Apparently, in 1951, a diesel powered warship, particularly a U.S. Navy submarine was in the bay area to fetch a pair of reservists ostensibly for a training exercise.  Christened the U.S.S. Catfish, the stealth ship stationed in San Diego spent about an hour traveling from a point five miles out from Golden Gate Bridge to moor at Treasure Island. It would pass under the famous Golden Gate and do a short tour of San Fran Bay.

u.s.s. catfish
U.S.S. Catfish

The ship’s crew decided to take some shots of the city, but through the unusual view of the periscope. The result is this series of black and white images that look a bit awry because of the crosshairs. To those familiar, the periscope crosshairs are usually the bull’s-eye for aiming torpedoes launched from a submarine. The photographs include shots of the Golden Gate Bridge, Coit Tower, the factory sign in Ghirardelli Square, the infamous Alcatraz, the Palace of Fine Arts, and the San Francisco skyline among others.

palace of fine arts
Palace of Fine Arts

The rare and odd looking photographs were recently discovered by Bill Van Niekerken. Niekerken is the library director at the San Francisco Chronicle, where he came across the series at the photo morgue of the newspaper. It was Peter Hartlaub who organized and assembled the pictures together to be posted for an online gallery for everyone to see.

See this unintentionally strange view of San Francisco over here.

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Patricia Ramos

Patricia Ramos

I am a freelance photographer who is no stranger to smudged lenses, long hours in front of the computer, heavy camera bags (and the back aches that ensued) and missing lens caps. If you know what I'm talking about, you probably have as much love and passion for photography as I do.