San Francisco's Chinatown, circa 1900. Arnold Genthe/Library of Congress

6 looks through the lens in California: portals to the past

1San Francisco’s Chinese diaspora began in the 1800s as thousands of immigrants sought work in the railroads and mines.

A distinct community emerged known as Chinatown that became a major force in shaping the city’s cultural and political character. Today, it’s the oldest Chinatown in North America and the largest Chinese enclave outside Asia.

A German photographer captured hundreds of photos of the vibrant community before the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 reduced Chinatown’s densely packed blocks — along with much of the city — to rubble.

Here are 22 images from the collection, taken between 1896 and 1906.


“Los Robles Affair I.”

From “Midnight Modern” by Tom Blachford, published by powerHouse Books

2Palm Springs is a mecca of desert modernism.

Australian photographer Tom Blachford spent three years capturing the area’s architectural jewels bathed only by moonlight. To enhance the vintage effect, he sometimes placed old cars out front.

The result, compiled in the book “Midnight Modern,” offers a noirish take on a city of pools and palm trees. “If these walls could talk,” Blachford told WIRED, “they would put even the most scandalous and stylish moments of Mad Men to shame.”

Midnight Modern | The Guardian

Highway 101, west of Ventura, 1912.

California State Archives

3For California, the automobile was love at first sight.

The first state road was authorized in 1895, a route from Placerville to the California-Nevada border that is now part of U.S. Highway 50.

From there, it was off to the races. Thousands of miles of road were added or acquired by the state over the next few decades — much of it on the backs of laborers who toiled with pickaxes and shovels — while the number of registered automobiles catapulted from 6,500 in 1906 to nearly two million in 1929.

The California State Archives, in partnership with Google, created a great online photo exhibit, titled “California Road Trip,” that traces the automobile’s early transition from a minor curiosity to a default mode of transportation.


Photo by Sam Contis/MACK

4A tiny college in the high desert outside Death Valley has been preparing the leaders of tomorrow for a century.

Founded in 1917, Deep Springs College was meant as a sort of training ground for intellectual cowboys. Students cook, clean, and help out on a working cattle ranch as part of a two-year liberal arts program.

The student body has been all-male. But this fall, after years of debate, the entering class will include women for the first time.

Sam Contis, an Oakland-based photographer, began visiting Deep Springs in 2013. Her work has been shown in numerous exhibits and is published in the photo book “Deep Springs.”

California Sunday Magazine | Aperture

A lenticular cloud formed atop Mount Shasta last March.

Joan Doernhoefer

5Clouds behave strangely around Northern California’s Mount Shasta.

They sometimes take the shape of mushroom caps or stacks of pancakes, a phenomenon that has led some people to suspect an alien provenance.

In reality, they are rushing streams of condensed moisture known as lenticular clouds, and Mount Shasta’s 14,180-foot peak is one of the best places to see them. Here’s a collection of stunning images and a time-lapse video.

California Sun

Sunset Boulevard at Gower in 1907.

U.S.C. Libraries

6Many Los Angeles streets have become famous as symbols of freedom and glamour.

But their beginnings were humble. A century ago, before many streets were paved, “mud often mingled with contributions from livestock,” historian Nathan Masters wrote. “Dust was such a problem that street sprinkling enterprises were counted among the city’s public utilities.”

KCET dug up a fascinating collection of archival photos of Los Angeles area streets like Sunset Boulevard, Pasadena’s Colorado Boulevard, and Pacific Coast Highway.


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