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Book Bag: San Francisco: Portrait of a City Notecards Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

2 March 2016

In 2014 Fred Lyon published San Francisco, Portrait of a City 1940-1960, a 224 page love letter to the city he calls home as a fourth generation San Franciscan. Two years later Princeton Architectural Press got the bright idea to merchandise 12 of those images in a large-format notecard set called San Francisco: Portrait of a City Notecards.

Portrait of a City. That's Fred in his youth on the right.

And being something of a San Francisco photographer ourselves (second generation native, but who's counting), we couldn't help peeking at the set, especially since it harkens back to an almost Maltese Falcon-like era in the city.

No magic time transport was involved in the creation of these images, though. Lyon, who is 91, was around at the time, having apprenticed at the Gabriel Moulin photography studio when he was 14. During World War II, he served as a Navy photographer in Washington, D.C. where his news and feature stories were released to the wire services and national magazines.

He shot fashion in New York City after the war before moving back to California where he shot freelance for House & Garden, Vogue, Glamour, Mademoiselle, Seventeen, Life and Look. Then he added advertising photography and book publishing to his resume.

In the 1970s he focused on his three most favorite subjects: travel, food and wine. He has been working on his archive, which led to the book publication of his favorite shots of San Francisco.

And now these cards.

In addition to the luscious images on the front of the 5-1/8 x 6-3/8 cards, which are cropped to a variety of aspect ratios, there is a short caption by Lyon on the back of each card. On the back of the Cliff House card, for example, he writes:

The Cliff House, along with the Sutro Baths, was Gold Rush entrepreneur Adolph Sutro's westernmost jewel. Sutro's turreted Victoiran incarnation of the eatery burned down in 1907. Sutro's daughter commissioned a new structure, seen here, that is the basis of the one that exists today.

So, you see, there is something to read.

The set of 12 images covers Coit Tower at night, an aerial shot above Post and Powell, a cable car at Jones and Hyde, steep hills, an aerial shot of the Golden Gate Bridge, a seagull above the Golden Gate Bridge, Chinatown at night, sailing on the Bay with Alcatraz in the background, Ocean Beach, the Cliff House, herring fishermen and a foggy night at Land's End.

We enjoyed every one of them. But take our advice. Don't buy one set. Buy a set to keep and another to use and maybe a few for gifts, too.

San Francisco: Portrait of a City Notecards by Fred Lyon, published by Princeton Architectural Press, 12 notecards with envelopes, $15.95 ($15.95 at

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