by Frank Dunnigan
In recent decades—and especially since the onset of Covid in early 2020—parades have fallen into a state of decline, compared to years past. San Francisco’s “Big 4”—Pride, Chinese New Year, St. Patrick’s Day, and Italian Heritage (formerly called Columbus Day) Parades still draw big crowds, but going through the OSFH Archives, we can see numerous images of many other festive gatherings that were also huge, well-attended events, year in and year out. Here are some memorable examples of San Franciscans turning out for parades over the last 100 years or so.
Preparedness Day events were held in many U.S. cities between May and July of 1916 in order to show America’s readiness for what became this country’s eventual (1917) involvement in the European conflict that began in 1914. With more than 50,000 marchers, the Preparedness Day Parade was believed to be San Francisco’s largest such event at that time. Sadly, there was a bombing as the parade was passing near the corner of Market & Steuart Streets, killing 10 persons and injuring 40 more. Read the details here.
War Women’s Day Parade on September 2, 1919 celebrated the contributions of women volunteers in World War I. The day wrapped up with an elaborate event at the Exposition Auditorium (later, Civic Auditorium and today, Bill Graham Civic Auditorium). Read more in this San Francisco Call article.
The Diamond Jubilee Parade marked Admission Day of 1925—a full 75 years since California’s admission to the Union as a new state on September 9, 1850.
This float in the 1932 Shrine Parade advocated for passage of the 21st Amendment to repeal the 18th Amendment which had taken effect in January of 2020. Prohibition was officially repealed on December 5, 1933.
This parade celebrated the opening of the Bay Bridge in 1936. More festivities would follow in 1937 to mark the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge.
For decades, San Franciscans celebrated Armistice Day, marking the end of the First World War on November 11, 1918. This image, featuring a proud majorette, is from the 1940 event.
Post-World War II American Legion Parade on Market Street in 1946. The Pix, Esquire, and TeleNews Theatres on the left side of the street, plus the adjacent low-slung Douglas Building were all demolished in the late 1960s to make way for Hallidie Plaza and BART/MUNI’s Powell Street Station.
San Francisco’s Portola Festival was a civic event first held in 1909 to celebrate the City’s recovery from the events of 1906. The Womens Army Corps is shown marching here in the 1948 event. Currently, the name Portola Festival name is being used for a music event scheduled at Pier 80.
President Dwight Eisenhower, who was seeking his party’s nomination for a 2nd term in the White House, visited San Francisco during the 1956 Republican National Convention then being held at the Cow Palace.
A well-attended ticker-tape parade along Montgomery Street in April of 1958 welcomed Willie Mays and the San Francisco Giants to town from their former home in New York City.
Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev drew large crowds when he visited San Francisco in 1959. Read more details of his visit in this San Francisco Chronicle article.
Not to be outdone by the Soviet Premier, French President and World War II General Charles de Gaulle visited San Francisco several months later in 1960. He was greeted by thousands of people, including large numbers of school children—including the entire student body from the French-speaking school, Notre Dame de Victoires.
Running for a full term in the White House, President Lyndon Johnson campaigned in San Francisco ahead of the 1964 Democratic National Convention that was held in Atlantic City later that summer.
The Chinese New Year Parade of 1965 was still being held on Market Street in the years prior to BART construction. First held as a private event in Chinatown in the Gold Rush era of the early 1850s, it was expanded considerably to the entire community by 1953. The Embassy and the Strand Theatres, shown in the background, were located in the 1100 block of Market Street—an area that has changed considerably over the years. The Embassy was severely damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and was abandoned before being torn down in 1994. The adjacent Strand fell into disrepair before it was shut down by City officials in 2003. It was subsequently rehabbed into a performing arts space by 2015 and is now being used for live performances by the American Conservatory Theater. Read more about Chinese New Year in San Francisco over the years.
By 1968, with BART construction in full swing on Market Street, the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade took an alternate route to Civic Center and is shown here crossing Eddy Street and then continuing along Polk Street to its final destination. Just like the Chinese New Year Parade, the St. Patrick’s Day event traces its origins back to the Gold Rush era of the early 1850s.
Pride (then known as “Gay Freedom Day”) Parade moves up O’Farrell Street to Civic Center in 1974. The event, which began with an estimated 15,000 spectators in 1972, had an estimated attendance of 60,000 spectators by 1974 and has continued to grow significantly each year. See more pictures from the 1974 Gay Freedom Day parade and read about the history of the early days of SF Pride.
This Hare Krishna Parade was held in Golden Gate Park in the Summer of 1974. Read details of this event.
Carnaval San Francisco is a multicultural celebration of music, dance, and artistry that began in 1978, presenting Latin-American, Caribbean and African cultures and traditions. This 1979 parade at Precita Park was an early recorded image of the celebration. Read more about this annual event.
The Columbus Day Parade (now known as Italian Heritage Day Parade) marches up Market Street past Montgomery Street in 1980, displaying various forms of transportation development over the centuries: boats, railroads, airplanes.
The Victory Parade as the 49s won the 1982 Super Bowl (beating the Cincinnati Bengals 26-21 in Pontiac, Michigan) drew an estimated 50,000 people to San Francisco City Hall, with some of the revelers sitting in trees as masses of balloons were released into the air. Read more about this event.