The Market Street Railway blog dug up further details about the context for this amazing footage. It’s now believed that it was only days before the big earthquake, and the film was only saved from being incinerated by being shipped off to New York, perhaps as close as one day before the epic fire that destroyed most everything seen in the clip.
Using information generously contributed by David [Kiehn of the Essenay Silent Film Museum], and our own archival material, we created a commentary for the footage (our version of which starts near Eighth Street, not Fourth Street as in the You Tube version) that puts everything you see in the film in context. It explains why the automobiles you see are weaving wildly around the street. It identifies the streetcars that cross the cable car lines running along Market (no, those aren’t “streetcars” as the streetcar caption says, but the cable car lines of United Railroads). It identifies landmarks, provides social history, and sketches the politics that influenced the state of Market Street back then.
You can view the full 10-minutes of footage of which the above clip is only a sample at the museum itself, located at the San Francisco Railway Museum.