San Francisco—Stories from the Model City, Part Two

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In the late 1930s, during the depths of the Depression, 300 craftspeople came together for two years to build an enormous scale model of the City of San Francisco — a WPA project conceived as a way of putting artists to work and as a planning tool for the City to imagine its future.

The model was meant to remain on public view for all to see. But World War II erupted and the 6,000 piece, hand carved and painted wooden model was put into storage in large wooden crates “all higgledy piggledy,” for almost 80 years.

The story of this almost forgotten, three-dimensional freeze frame of the City in 1938 leads us on a journey through the streets and neighborhoods of San Francisco — contemplating the past and envisioning the future with poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, historian Gary Kamiya, writer Maya Angelou, the current “Keeper of the model,” Stella Lochman, and many more.


In this episode, part two of three, the San Francisco model triggers stories of urban development and identity in a city poised on the edge of the continent, built on landfill, steep hills, and the dreams of immigrants and pioneers. We visit the Fillmore, Irish Hill, North Beach. We hear stories of The Glen Park Freeway Revolt and a plan to pave over the Bay.

The Kitchen Sisters produced this story for SFMOMA’s Raw Material podcast in conjunction with their Public Knowledge program, “Take Part” in which the museum partnered with the San Francisco Public Library and artists Bik Van Der Pol to engage the community in a series of talks and events around the model.

Explore the model (on your desktop) via the David Rumsey Historical Map Collection.

Listen to Part One of the story.

Stella Lochman (center) and volunteers cleaning the model.

Stella Lochman (center) and volunteers cleaning the model.