OpenSFHistory in the Streets

by David Gallagher

Become a guerrilla historian with these easy-to-print, DIY posters!

EDIT: May 25, 2020 – It goes without saying that these history posters should not be applied to private property without permission. Please don’t use tapes, adhesives, or staples that might damage or deface the surface you apply them to. Please read the SF Department of Public Works guidelines for posting signs

Posting OpenSFHistory in the neighborhood
Posting guerrilla OpenSFHistory posters in the neighborhood


OpenSFHistory gives an unprecedented virtual view into San Francisco’s past. People, places, buildings, parks, events, and more are represented in nearly 50,000 historical images on the site. Seeing the city’s past provides context and possibly a better, richer understanding of the city’s present. That’s a basic tenet for OpenSFHistory, it helps inform our current existence. The downside for me has always been that it requires people to sit at a computer or look at a phone, and that they need to own or have access to one of those devices. These days people (myself included) are spending and extraordinary amount of time at their desks. I wanted to find a way to get back outside.

Because the best way to connect with local history is out in the streets, an early project for Western Neighborhoods Project was the West Portal History Walk of 2002. We curated about 15 historical pictures of the neighborhood with descriptive paragraphs (and Cantonese translations), had them beautifully framed and placed in storefronts along West Portal Avenue. A couple of them might still be out there. The project was a great success, but it took a lot of work (at great expense).

SF Chronicle Photo: Richard Brandi and Woody LaBounty show off a historical photo, 2002
SF Chronicle Photo: Richard Brandi and Woody LaBounty show off a historical photo, 2002

Fast forward to 2015 when, among other features, I built a download system into OpenSFHistory. I figured people would want to take the photos and use them, so why not make it easy to do? Each image has a download link that produces a watermarked version, allowing anyone to take and use them on websites or social media. We hope they don’t go to the trouble of cropping the watermark out, though some do. It’s not about the recognition; we want to make sure people can find us if they want to know more.

Now in 2020, OpenSFHistory photos are all over the Internet. We reach thousands of history lovers around the world every day, but I worry that we aren’t reaching the general public in the neighborhoods even though we try. Similar to what we did on the West Portal History Walk, we once had a rotating picture on the wall at Devil’s Teeth Bakery on Noriega. We also provide monthly OpenSFHistory pictures to neighborhood newspapers like the Noe Valley Voice, the Sunset Beacon, and the Richmond Review. But can we do better? I miss our history walks, and getting our pictures out into the streets has been a goal of mine for years. Then I saw a post from our friends at SF Heritage, and others, showing our photos printed out and posted in windows and on telephone poles.

OpenSFHistory posted at 22nd and Collingwood
OpenSFHistory photo posted at 22nd and Collingwood (SFHeritage on Twitter)
OpenSFHistory Image posted in Noe Valley
OpenSFHistory photo posted in Noe Valley (Stephen R. Fox @FS6 on Twitter)

I realized that this was the idea I’d been looking for.  With this in mind, I made a set of images, added the titles and some description, generated QR codes (funky square barcodes that smart phones can read, allowing people to learn more), and made a few individual posters for locations near my house as a test run. It was fun putting them up. That’s my wife, Brady, at the top of the page doing her best Guerrilla Historian impersonation. (Ok it’s not an impersonation, this really is guerrilla history in action.)

These were extremely time consuming to create (not unlike this blog post) and to put up. Even with daily essential activity bike rides, I couldn’t cover the west side and I definitely can’t cover the entire city on my own. So, I decided to make the posters easier to create because I want you to do this, too, as part of my guerrilla history street team.

OpenSF History Poster Download Link

You can help us get OpenSFHistory out into the streets by printing out photos and installing them at their depicted locations. Pin them up, tape them up, whatever works (but don’t do anything illegal! And please don’t post on private property or use adhesives that may damage anything you affix the poster to. They’ll get removed, and that’s ok.). Now, there’s a link to these guerrilla history posters (in the right column, just below the map) next to each OpenSFHistory photo. Use that link to download and print photos in the format seen below, with a title, a shortened description, and a QR code that links back to the original image on

Show your neighborhood some love by sharing its history with people who might not otherwise see it. And let us know where to find them by posting to your own social media and tagging @opensfhistory and/or @outsidelandz (Twitter & Instagram). Or, be anonymous and let us find it for ourselves.
22nd & Collingwood, 1920