Portals of the Past: The Photographs of Willard Worden

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A fascinating though largely forgotten figure in the Bay Area’s rich photographic history, Willard Worden (American, 1868–1946) photographed San Francisco during its darkest and brightest moments of the early twentieth century, from the disastrous earthquake of 1906 to the spectacular Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915.

Settling in San Francisco in 1901, Worden promptly turned his lens to his new surroundings, creating picturesque views that formed a rich travelogue of the city, from dramatic seascapes of Ocean Beach and the Golden Gate to urban scenes of Union Square and Chinatown. With the 1906 earthquake, Worden turned photojournalist, documenting its fiery aftermath with images that fueled the public’s fascination with the disaster.

As the city struggled to rebuild, the ruins of the Towne mansion on Nob Hill photographed repeatedly by Worden—the “Portals of the Past”—became a symbol of San Francisco’s resilience. The city’s resurgence would be on display with the 1915 world’s fair, for which Worden was an official photographer, highlighting the spectacle of its architecture and sculptures.


JAMES A. GANZ is Curator of the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. His publications include Impressionist Paris: City of Light (DelMonico Books*Prestel) and Artistic San Francisco.

Pub Date: 2015
Format: Paperback with bw & color illus.
Pages: 104
Size: 11.00 x 9.00 inches

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