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Outside Lands Podcast Episode 3: Jesse B Cook Collection

We share one terrific online collection of historical San Francisco images: the Jesse Brown Cook Scrapbooks at the Bancroft Library.
Outside Lands San Francisco Podcast - Jan 17, 2013

Outside Lands Podcast Episode 3: Jesse B Cook Collection Outside Lands Podcast Episode 3: Jesse B Cook Collection

(above) Presidio, 1906

1906 Earthquake and Fire, Refugee Camp, east of Letterman Hospital. Pacific Heights and Russian Hill in background. Large circus-type tent at left.
Jesse Brown Cook

Podcast Transcription

Outside Lands Podcast Episode #3: Jesse B. Cook Collection

Originally Recorded January 17, 2013


[Intro Music]

Woody LaBounty: So it's the Outside Lands Podcast it's January 17, 2013. I'm Woody LaBounty.

David Gallagher: And I'm David Gallagher. 

Woody:  We're here from the Western Neighborhoods Project and we're going to talk about what today, David?

David:  Today we're going to talk about some online resources that we use regularly here at the Western Neighborhoods Project.

Woody:  I get that question all the time.  People say where did you get your photo? Where did you get these photos?  Where do you find them?  So we're going to give people a clue as to where we find some of these things.

David:  We're going to tell them exactly how to find them.

Woody:  Better than a clue.

David:  Yeah.  One thing where…so one collection that I really love is in the collection at  the Bancroft Library at Berkeley and they have a great website, the online archive of California.

Woody:  I think the online archive of California takes digital images and other finding aid material from lots of institutions, but the Bancroft, I think, has the majority of the material on there.

David:  Yeah so the one that we're going to focus on today is the Jesse Brown Cook scrapbooks.

Woody:  And I think people can find it pretty easily if they go to Google and you put in Jesse Brown Cook, I think it'll come up first.  And Jesse is j-e-s-s-e and then brown cook.  And who is Jesse Brown Cook?

David:  Jesse Brown Cook was a police officer in the San Francisco Police Department.  Well he started as a police officer and he had a career of about 35 years and he ended up as police chief.  And then he was police commissioner.

Woody: In San Francisco.

David:  San Francisco yeah.

Woody:  You know what I like about him?

David:  What?

Woody:  When he was a younger man, he worked as a contortionist.

David:  That's not documented in these scrapbooks unfortunately.

Woody  No but I think that gives him a sort of interest in some morbid or interesting subjects, I think, being a contortionist.

David:  Right.  So anyway these scrapbooks are like 39 volumes of photographs and clippings, which include about 12,000 items.

Woody:  Yeah, a lot of them have been digitized and are showing up, you can just look at them.

David:   4,500 of them have been digitized.

Woody:  Wow.  And what I like about him, and I think what you might like about him David, is that these are, I mean he might have some images you might expect to see, the building of the Bay Bridge or the Panama Pacific Exposition, but he has a lot of odd photos in there too.

David:  Just documented street corners and intersections and  general buildings all around town.  I mean you can put it on just about any intersection and find something close.  Or a street name and you'll find pictures from, from 19, just after the earthquake, 1910 to 1930 pretty much.

Woody:  And he has his little handwriting.  They scan it so you see the handwriting, his own like scrawl underneath the photos and sometimes it's misspelled or slightly misidentified but he's just writing into scrapbooks exactly what the picture’s of.

David:  Right you can recognize the intersections.  You can see buildings as they were when they were built.  You can see street car tracks and…

Woody:  Old businesses…

David:  horse cars…

Woody:  and signs.

David:  businesses yeah.

Woody:  Yeah, I mean, I think what I like too is that, you know, I can put in 21st Avenue and Anza and there's going to be a picture of this street corner that has nothing on it but some houses.  And it's weird because often he seems to be in the picture like standing in the intersection in the distance and I think, because he was police chief and worked in the police department, he seems to have made use of the official police photographer…

David:  Right.

Woody:  whose name was George Blum, to take a lot of these photos.  And I know there are mug shots in there too and typical sort of police things.  I think there's pictures of corpses and crime scenes that…

David:  Those aren’t digitized.

Woody:  No but, I understand the police stuff, but then there's just like, here's a picture of, you know, 37th and Balboa.

David:  Right with nothing around but sand dunes and just the streetcar tracks or there's, there are some old pictures of Carville there too where he could recognize he had a sense of history and he realized in, I guess those Carville shots are from like the late 20s.

Woody:  Yeah.

David:  Very last remnants of Carville.

Woody:  And Carville was a streetcar community where they used old cable cars and street cars to live in and have bars and clubhouses and things.

David:  Right.  That's another podcast.

Woody:  Yes.

David:  But, so he would take pictures of these artifacts that he knew were going away.

Woody:  Or historic buildings like he said…he would say “oh this guy who built this house in the 1870s” and it's one of the only houses in this area, you know, from that age.

David:  Right.  And it's not limited to just the west side, although that's a big part of our interest.  It's all over San Francisco so yeah, it's a fantastic record.

Woody:  Yeah.  I think we also have a westside connection because Jesse Brown Cook lived at like 37th and Geary. there's like pictures of his…

David:  The Richmond District!

Woody:  That's right, in the Richmond.  I think maybe even a Lincoln Manor, which is a little neighborhood up there at 37th and Geary.  So yeah, so he was out here.  He's a west side guy.

David:  Was there anything out here when he was living here?

Woody:  He’s got his house.  


Woody: The cliff house and other things.  It's not all totally accurate, but it…that makes it kind of fun for us as history detectives too because they'll be pictures that the bancroft has as unidentified and I go that's an aerial of Westwood Park and it's kind of nice for us because we can kind of like do a little detective work and add our own history to this these historic scraps.

David:  That's the only downside, I think, to the online archive of California is that it was kind of built before this social media aspect.  So it's hard to put a comment on a photo or identify something.  No crowdsourcing.

Woody:  Right.  And now there's so many of us history people out there who are kind of sharing information.  we could definitely help.  Anything else you have to say about Jesse Brown Cook, Jesse B. Cook?  He has a great mustache.

David:  If you do look at the Jesse Brown Cook scrapbook collection online, set aside some time.  

Woody:  Because you're going to be there a while.

David:  Yeah, it's like web browsing from the olden days.

Woody:  Yeah but…

David:  I dated myself there.

Woody:  Yeah you just get sucked in.  And we have a confession to make about the Jesse Brown Cook collection.  You know what the confession is?

David:   Uhhhh, that our logo on our website, outsidelands.org, is a picture from the Jesse Cook collection.

Woody:  That's right.  Looking south on Great Highway.  That is from the Jesse Cook collection and we finally got a nice version of it from the Bancroft at some point after using it for years.

David:  We paid up.

Woody:  We paid up exactly.

David:  All right I think that's all I have.

Woody:  Yeah that's all I have.  Again this is more of a visual subject, so we encourage you to go to Google, put Jesse Brown Cook in, and start looking through the scrapbooks and we'll hear from you again in probably a month or so because you'll be sucked in forever.

David:  You might find your house.

Woody:  Yeah.  All right, well thanks, we'll see you next week.  I'm Woody.

David:  This is David.

Woody:  And we're Outside Lands Podcast for the Western Neighborhoods Project.

[Music and Background Noise]


Woody: Learn more about the Western Neighborhoods Project and more about San Francisco history at outsidelands.org


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