Film of foreign cities, c. 1920

Shanghai, circa 1920? Do not know. Image is not from film below. (

Shanghai, circa 1920? This image is not from film below. (

Here is an amazing series of clips filmed around 1920, apparently during the travels of a U.S. Navy fleet to various port and other cities around the world. When the sailors get out of the way (as they do quite often), footage of ships in harbors, scrambling beggar urchins in Asia, ugly bullfights in Madrid, sailors cavorting with Scandanavian girls, and scenes of urban grunge and beauty, including classical buildings and palaces, etc., are stitched together here. Great shots of London – I imagine that must be the Admiralty that is so fulsomely filmed – and later of Athens, the Parthenon and other ancient Greek ruins (at 32 minutes in, approximately). It’s black and white, about an hour, and the film hops up and down near the top, but this footage from almost a century ago is … awesome.

The clip, which includes an index of its subjects, is from the Prelinger Archive, sent to the Pro-Urb listserv by Larry Johnson (hats off to him!), who offers footage from just after the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco. Digging further into his links uncovered a trove of film, including this footage titled “Foreign Cities.” With a charming naïveté, the site suggests donating to a veterans’ charity if one intends to use the clip to make money!

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy,, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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