Old S.F.: New Website An Engrossing Walk Down San Francisco's Memory Lane

In the course of poking around online it's common to stumble upon a site that becomes a serious black hole for your time. It's something that happens to everyone and nothing to be embarrassed about.

Actually, I take that back. It's almost always something to be embarrassed about.

That you spent five straight hours reading Texts From Last Night or Craigslist Missed Connections is usually not information you'd willingly volunteer when your grandmother asks how your spent your weekend.

There's something about getting sucked into Old S.F., on the other hand, that feels positively enriching.

Created by designers Dan Vanderkam and Raven Keller, the site takes images from the San Francisco Public Library's Historic Photograph Collection, geocodes their locations and puts them on a Google Map of San Francisco.

The result is a striking visual representation of the city stretching all the way back to 1850.

Zooming in on a particular neighborhood yields an instant history lesson. Just in my 'hood of Hayes Valley alone, I learned about the Communist bookstore that was raided by the police in 1934 and the long-gone Acme Brewery that used tower over Grove Street.

Vanderkam, who said coding the site took about two months, got the idea after getting frustrated with the text search on the Historic Photograph Collection's website and wishing it had a mapping feature.

"One difficulty came from streets that were renamed after the photo was taken," he said. "One of my favorite tidbits was a photo located on 'Berlin Street,' which no longer exists. After much sleuthing, I found out that it was renamed 'Brussells Street' because of anti-German sentiment during WWI. Crazy"

The collection has about 40,000 images but locational information could only be found for about half of them and, of those with info, Keller and Vanderkam have only put 65 percent on the map.

So if there isn't an picture of what your building looked like after the 1906 earthquake on the site yet, there's a chance it'll be there soon.

Visit Old S.F. to explore your neighborhood and beyond.