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|April 11th, 2006, 04:29 AM||#1|
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The Great Quake: 1906-2006
Days before the disaster
San Francisco, the 'Paris of America,' was booming with industry and culture — a Gold Rush city built in an instant. It was also a calamity waiting to happen.
This is the first of a 10-part retelling of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake — and its aftermath.
Samuel Dickson was 17 years old, almost a man, that April night in San Francisco 100 years ago. He and a friend had gotten standing-room tickets for the opera and heard the great Caruso sing.
The night was clear and beautiful, so after the opera they went to the top of Telegraph Hill to look at the city -- the lights of the Barbary Coast, the steeple of Old St. Mary's Church on California Street, the rounded domes of Temple Emanu-El on Sutter, the alleys of Chinatown and the distant gilded dome of City Hall.
"It's the most beautiful city in the world,'' his friend said.
Dickson remembered that remark all of his long life, because the next morning, April 18, 1906, would begin three surreal days of terror, flight and chaos. A killer earthquake would strike. Untold numbers of people would die. Uncontrollable fires would rage at temperatures of 2,000 degrees. At least 250,000 people would be left homeless. And everything that Dickson saw before him, the great city of San Francisco, would be destroyed.
"San Francisco is gone,'' Jack London wrote later. "Nothing remains of it but memories."
San Francisco in 1906 was the largest city and most important port on the Pacific Coast, the financial center of the West, the ninth-largest city in the United States. The Palace was the biggest hotel in the West. City Hall was the largest public building west of Chicago. The Emporium on Market Street was the biggest department store in the West. San Francisco had the most populous Chinatown outside of Asia, the U.S. Mint at Fifth and Mission streets was the largest in the world, and in its vaults was $222 million in gold, one-third of the country's gold supplies.
San Francisco had been a U.S. city for not quite 60 years, but by the turn of the 20th century, it was world famous.
It had been born in the fantastic Gold Rush of 1849, an instant city that claimed it had never been a village. In the 1870s, San Francisco was flush with money from the fabled silver mines of Nevada, and the silver kings and railroad barons built huge, 50-room mansions on Nob Hill. They looked like Victorian wedding cakes, painted white with gilt trim and surrounded by spiked fences of brass and iron.
To climb the hills, a San Franciscan created the cable car, an invention that swept the nation. Cable cars ran down Broadway in New York and State Street in Chicago, and investors in cable car systems got rich.
Rich San Franciscans drank pisco punches, and poor ones drank steam beer. San Francisco was on the cutting edge of drinking, and bartenders claimed they had invented a gin and vermouth concoction they called the Martinez cocktail, a drink now known as the martini.
By 1906, San Francisco was booming. It had about 410,000 residents. The city had grown by 68,000 new residents and added 35,000 new houses in five years. The 8-year-old Ferry Building was becoming one of the busiest terminals in the world. The annexation of Hawaii and the Spanish-American War in 1898 had expanded U.S. power into the Pacific, and San Francisco, with its magnificent port, was in position to take advantage.
It was an industrial city and a port city, a dirty city and a beautiful city.
The handsome, 10-year-old Call Building, a 16-story skyscraper at Third and Market streets, had 272 offices and a restaurant on the top floors. The grand Palace Hotel was supplemented by the 1904 opening of the St. Francis Hotel on Union Square. The Fairmont, atop Nob Hill, was so new it hadn't opened yet.
Jack London thought that San Francisco was "a modern imperial metropolis," and the Brooklyn Eagle said San Francisco was "the most cosmopolitan city outside New York."
But San Francisco had its eye on another city: "It was Paris of America and the wickedest city on the continent,'' wrote Herbert Asbury in his book "The Barbary Coast."
It was a great theater and opera town, where even Chinese opera was available at the Royal Chinese Theater. The Grand Opera House on Mission Street could seat 2,500 patrons, and the Orpheum on O'Farrell had 3,500 seats, bigger than today's Geary and Curran theaters combined.
The Orpheum was the flagship of the 18-theater Orpheum circuit, and the San Francisco stage glittered with big names like Sarah Bernhardt, John Barrymore and dozens of others, including George Walker and Bert Williams, two African American comedians who got their start in San Francisco.
Williams was the first black superstar. In his prime, he was paid more than the president of the United States but was subjected to the racism that was the mark of the time. He was "the funniest man I ever saw and the saddest man I ever met,'' W.C. Fields said.
In 1906, San Francisco had five daily newspapers and half a dozen others in foreign languages, 42 banks and 120 places of worship, but also 3,117 places where liquor was sold.
San Francisco had a reputation for fine dining, particularly at the famous Palace Grill. "It has no peer,'' The Chronicle said. There were many other fine restaurants, where the elite sampled the cuisine of the world. Some of them, Tadich Grill, Sam's, Schroeder's and Fior d'Italia, said to be the country's oldest Italian restaurant, survive to this day.
The working stiffs, sailors and longshoremen patronized saloons on East Street -- now called the Embarcadero. Some served "cannibal sandwiches,'' raw hamburger on pumpernickel with a slice of onion.
San Francisco also had the so-called French Restaurants, multiple-story affairs, with legitimate family restaurants on the ground floor, and shady doings on the upper floors. No respectable woman, it was said, ever went above the first floor.
The city was wide open with prostitution, drugs (opium was the drug of choice in 1906) and dance halls that never closed. Some things were too much, even for San Francisco. Crusaders, led by the Rev. Terrance Caraher -- "Terrible Terry" they called him -- had closed down the Hotel Nymphia on Pacific Street, an establishment with 300 prostitutes that had billed itself as the largest bordello in the world.
Morton Street, near Union Square, was another street of open prostitution where ladies of the evening, with names like "Idoform Kate" and "Rotary Rosie," held forth. The top performers charged $1, but sex was on sale for as little as 25 cents. Morton Street is now called Maiden Lane.
Vice was a big business, and so was civic corruption. Eugene Schmitz, a handsome man with a salt-and-pepper beard, was mayor, but the real power was in the hands of Abe Ruef, a dapper lawyer who controlled the mayor and the 18-member Board of Supervisors. It was a group so crooked that Ruef joked they would eat the paint off a house.
Ruef, head of the Union Labor Party, collected "lawyer's fees" from public utility companies, the shady French Restaurants and houses of prostitution. One bordello was so well connected with the city politicians that it was known as the Municipal Brothel.
Just north of downtown was Chinatown, a crowded ghetto where the Chinese were forced to live. Prejudice against them was not only widespread, it was also city policy. One of the planks of the Union Labor Party, which controlled San Francisco's government, was the exclusion of Chinese and Japanese from immigration to the United States.
The city had gone through a violent teamsters strike in 1901, and the divisions among San Francisco's white population -- the city was 95 percent white in 1906 -- were clear. The rich lived on Nob Hill and the better neighborhoods north of Market Street.
Cable car lines ran down the middle of Market Street, which was the civic dividing line. South of Market -- or "South of the Slot," meaning the slots between the cable car rails -- was a working-class district, overcrowded and dirty, where residents spoke with a distinct accent, a cross between Boston and Brooklyn, and uniquely San Franciscan.
The South of Market district had hundreds of small factories and foundries, and the air was thick from belching smokestacks. At the Union Iron Works, out on Third Street, the shipyard turned out freighters, ferryboats, submarines and even battleships.
It was said that 1 in 3 San Franciscans earned a living from the maritime industry.
Yet the city had its dark side. The age of sail is presented now as a romantic period, but a century ago, a sailor's work was hard, his wages were low, and men were still shanghaied in San Francisco.
Steve Canright, a historian at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, thought it was like slavery. "They were wage slaves,'' he said.
There was a certain uneasiness in the air early in the century. Outside of downtown, San Francisco was a wooden city, with houses crowded close together. The National Board of Fire Underwriters had warned of major fires as recently as 1905. "In fact,'' the report said, "San Francisco has violated all underwriting traditions by not burning up.''
Dennis Sullivan, the fire chief, repeatedly asked the Board of Supervisors for money to build a high-pressure water system to fight fire with water from the bay. "This town is in an earthquake belt,'' he said in a speech. "One of these fine mornings, we will get a shake that will put this little water system out, and then we'll have a fire. What will we do then? Why, we'll have to fight her with dynamite.''
The Bay Area had earthquakes all the time, and big ones in 1836, 1868 and 1892. In 1905, the Weather Bureau recorded 16 small earthquakes. The science of seismology was in its infancy, and portions of what was then known as the San Andreas rift had been identified as recently as 1893.
In December 1905, the Rev. F.P. Driscoll was preaching a sermon on the second coming of Christ at St. Dominic's Church and had just come to his peroration: "He will not come unannounced. ... There will be signs great and fearful!'' At that moment, an earthquake rocked the church. Strong men fell to their knees, children ran out of church, and women swooned. The next day's Call newspaper thought it pretty funny.
It was a long and rainy spring, 100 years ago. In April 1906, right after Easter, the weather turned warm and pleasant. Tuesday, April 17, was warm and very still, not a breath of wind, a fine evening for a night at the opera. The Metropolitan Opera from New York was in town, and the star was Enrico Caruso, one of the most famous tenors of all time. He sang Don Jose in Bizet's "Carmen" at the Grand Opera House opposite Olive Fremstad. All of society was there, the women glistering with diamonds and rubies, the men in white tie and tails. It was grand opera at its finest, a fitting end to a perfect night.
Wednesday morning, just before dawn, just as it was getting light, just as the last streetlights were going dim, the San Andreas Fault slipped. The epicenter was just off the coast from Golden Gate Park. It was the beginning of the worst natural disaster in American history up to that time, and the end of the old San Francisco.
Monday: the Great Quake.
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|April 11th, 2006, 04:31 AM||#2|
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The Great Quake: 1906-2006
The Day the Earth Shook
This is the second of a 10-part retelling of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake — and its aftermath.
Wednesday, April 18, a century ago, began warm and sultry, with a crescent moon. "Earthquake weather" is what the old-timers call it.
Twenty-two minutes before dawn, not quite daylight. "As fair a morning as ever shown upon the world," Ernest Simpson, editor of The Chronicle, remembered. Just past 5:12, the earth slipped along 296 miles of the San Andreas Fault.
In Santa Rosa, a man named J.W. Brown heard "a great noise" and saw the treetops waving. He looked to the west and actually saw the earthquake coming, the ground moving like waves on the ocean. There were waves, he said, about 2 feet high and 15 feet long.
The earthquake hit San Francisco at 5:12:05 a.m. There were two shocks. The second one was stronger. It lasted 40 seconds, but in those seconds, energy equivalent to several nuclear bombs was released.
It sounded like "the roar of the sea," to police officer Jessie Cook, who was at Washington and Davis streets. It was "a low, rumbling noise like the fluttering of wings of steel," said Pierre Berlinger. It was like "an uncanny mezzo forte ... like the roll of a cymbal or gong," said Alfred Hertz, principal conductor of the Metropolitan Opera who was staying at the Palace Hotel.
"There was noise and a swaying sensation, and there was a tense vibration, like a strong fist, closed tight, grimly shaking," said Samuel Dickson. "Like a terrier shaking a rat," thought newspaper reporter James Hopper.
"The shock came from all directions, up and down, sideways, zigzag and 40 other ways," said Charles Lloyd, president of an ironworks. He thought it was like trying to stand up in a wagon pulled by a runaway team of horses over a road strewn with boulders.
"My heart beat double quick somewhere up in my throat," Mary Edith Griswold wrote in Sunset magazine. "I felt nauseated, but I managed to save my toppling mirror while other breakable objects in the room went smash." She remembered perfume bottles sliding off the dresser and breaking, the earthquake accompanied by expensive fragrances.
The church bells all rang, as if it were midnight on New Year's Eve, as if it were the end of the world.
In the rectory of the Episcopal Church of the Advent at 11th and Market streets, the Rev. Charles Lathrop felt the bed begin to shake.
He couldn't understand what was happening and went to the window. "I thrust my head a few inches out of the window." An avalanche of bricks from the chimney roared by, not 6 inches from his head. "I remember being numbed with amazement to see a large window across the street fall out and crash with no one about and, in my mind, with no adequate cause," he wrote.
He thought, as many did, that the earthquake was happening to him alone, the house bending and creaking like a ship at sea; it was unbelievable, impossible. "I thought I was crazy," he said.
On Market Street, modern office buildings swayed out over the street, then moved back. The 16-story Call Building rocked on its foundations.
The cable car tracks were knocked askew, and the electric and telephone wires broke and snapped in the streets, like snakes.
Near 18th Street in the Mission, a police lieutenant named Henry Powell saw Valencia Street begin to dance "and roll in waves like a rough sea in a squall, but it sank in places and vomited up its car tracks and the tunnels that carried the cables. These lifted themselves out of the pavement, and bent and snapped."
It was, he said, impossible for a man to stand.
People ran into the middle of streets all over the city -- some half-naked, some in their bedclothes, some, it was said, still in formal wear from the opera the night before. At the Palace Hotel, opera star Enrico Caruso ran out in the street, wearing a fur coat with a towel around his neck and an autographed picture of President Theodore Roosevelt under his arm. "Hell of a place," he said over and over. "Hell of a place."
In the Latin Quarter, along what is now Columbus Avenue, Mary Edith Griswold saw the streets "full of terrified people all crowding to keep in the middle of the street. It was the quietest crowd I was ever in. The fear of God was upon us all. Everyone was afraid of another shock."
Inside the Palace Hotel, not long after the quake, the staff dusted the furniture, as if nothing had occurred.
At the St. Francis Hotel, breakfast was served as usual. The menu included scrambled eggs, stewed rhubarb, oatmeal, biscuits, bacon and coffee -- the same menu that has been served every April 18 since.
In Duboce Park, miles from downtown, Simpson, The Chronicle's editor, saw the sun rise with a crowd of "night-gowned, barefoot men and women. ... They ran about aimlessly. Some knelt on the sidewalks as if praying; some rushed into their houses and out again; some looked mutely at the serene sky."
All of the people in the cities around the bay held their breath.
Tuesday: the quake damage
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|April 11th, 2006, 04:32 AM||#3|
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I'm surprised no one has started a thread about the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco yet. Here's a video from the Chronicle: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/object...0QUAKE.DTL&o=0
|April 13th, 2006, 01:58 AM||#4|
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The Great Quake: 1906-2006
The Quake Damage
Much of thecity became an unrecognizable jumble of collapsed buildings and twisted tracks.
Now that the ground had finally stopped shaking, and the sun had risen over the eastern hills, it was very quiet on the morning of Wednesday, April 18, 1906 -- as if San Francisco were in the eye of a hurricane.
But it was an illusion.
The Rev. Charles Lathrop, an Episcopal priest, looked down Market Street and saw the face of disaster: "I saw a wagon coming up the street ... the driver driving this way and that to escape the live wires hanging down across the street. He told me he was looking for a hospital, that there was a dying man, a policeman, in the bed of the wagon.
"I saw a man, flopping in his death agonies, mashed beyond recognition. Then the horror of the catastrophe broke on me.''
The earthquake victim had been fatally injured at City Hall, a once-imposing monument that had just collapsed in a shower of bricks and masonry.
For anyone in San Francisco that Wednesday morning a century ago, the city looked like a mess.
"I hurried to Market Street -- and what a sight!'' wrote Charles B. Sedgwick, a newspaper editor. "It was a strange San Francisco that I gazed upon. I had seen this stately thoroughfare only the evening before ... now the grand old street was scarcely recognizable -- a sad scene of destruction.
"Buildings by the dozen were half-down; great pillars, copings, cornices and ornamentations had been wrenched from the mightiest structures and dashed to the ground in fragments; the huge store windows had been shattered, and costly displays of goods were so much litter on the floors.
"The sidewalks and roadway were covered with fallen stones, wooden signs and the wreckage of brick walls, the car tracks were twisted, the roadbed had here fallen, there lifted, and everything on every hand was either broken, twisted, bent, or hideously out of place."
There was substantial damage all over the city, especially to buildings built of brick. The entire front walls of buildings had fallen into the street -- the steeples of St. Patrick's, which landed on Mission Street, the fronts of apartment houses on Nob Hill. The Victorian tower of the California Hotel on Bush Street, which looked like a witch's hat and soared to the height of an 11-story building, had collapsed in a hail of bricks.
The quake toppled the San Francisco Fire Department's fire alarm system. Telephones went out. The telegraph cable connecting the city with the rest of the country went dead. The cable car and streetcar tracks were damaged. The earthquake had knocked out public transportation.
In the South of Market, poorly built wooden buildings used as hotels and boarding houses collapsed -- at Third and Mission streets, Fifth and Minna streets, Third and Folsom streets, and Sixth and Folsom streets. There, the Corona House Hotel fell, killing 40 people.
Sister Mary Joseph O'Leary, a nun stationed at a Catholic school at Third and Mission streets, near where the Museum of Modern Art now stands, looked out of the school gate on Minna Street and saw "bricks, plaster wood, glass, all in confusion, while immediately opposite our gate ... a household had caved in, and horrible to relate, the occupants were in eternity.''
The Valencia Street Hotel between 18th and 19th streets also collapsed, and perhaps 80 people died. Those on the fourth floor stepped out into the streets, but people in the lower floors were killed or trapped. William Bock, the proprietor of the hotel, was buried in rubble in his bed and killed, but his wife, who slept beside him, was unhurt.
There was extensive damage in Chinatown, where the buildings were constructed of unreinforced masonry.
The roof fell in at the Grand Opera House, and the stage where Enrico Caruso had sung the night before was ruined.
The new post office at Seventh and Mission streets was "dreadfully damaged," said a man named Burke, an assistant for San Francisco Postmaster Guy Gould. "Walls have been thrown into the middle of various rooms, destroying furniture, and covering everything with dust," he wrote. The expensive marble in the corridors had cracked, chandeliers were broken and twisted, and the building's beautiful new mosaics were shattered.
Two-story flats were knocked off their foundations in the Mission District, houses fell over on Golden Gate Avenue, and in Butchertown, in the Bayview district near Hunters Point, whole buildings fell into the bay.
Outside of San Francisco, it was much worse: The main building at the Agnews State Hospital for the Insane in Santa Clara County was wrecked. More than 100 patients died, and others wandered the grounds. In a grotesque scene, mentally ill patients were chained to trees to keep them from escaping.
Almost all of the nearly new buildings at Stanford University were knocked down, "gone bum,'' President David Starr Jordan's young son said.
There was a lot of damage in San Jose, in Hollister, in the little port town of Bolinas in Marin. Santa Rosa, the pretty county seat of Sonoma County, was knocked flat. Jack London, on his way to San Francisco to cover the disaster, told his wife: "Santa Rosa got it worse than S.F.''
A lot of San Francisco, however, was not wrecked. The Palace Hotel, with walls 2 feet thick, suffered only minor damage. The Chronicle Building at Kearny and Market, designed by the famous architectural firm of Burnham and Root, was intact. The Call building, the tallest in the West, had little damage. The 2-year-old Flood Building at Powell and Market streets was fine.
But things were about to get worse. Much worse.
Wednesday: a city on fire
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|April 13th, 2006, 02:01 AM||#5|
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The Great Quake: 1906-2006
The great fire
The first, and most deadly, of 52 blazes that began almost simultaneously, started South of Market.
Roy Graves arose early on April 18, 1906, to take the train from San Rafael to his job in Sausalito. Most of his fellow passengers were headed to a ferry that was bound for San Francisco.
There was no instant communications in those days -- the Marin commuters thought the predawn quake was just a big shaker. No big deal.
But just before they got to Sausalito, everyone saw a column of smoke coming from San Francisco. When they got off the train, they were surrounded by crowds of passengers coming off the big white ferry from the city, carrying everything from suitcases to birdcages.
Graves and his fellow passengers were witnessing the start of the worst urban fire in the history of the United States, a firestorm not equaled in the world until the bombing raids of World War II. "One of the greatest conflagrations ever known,'' Berkeley Professor H. Morse Stephens said.
Fifty-two fires started almost at once across the city. The first, and most deadly, was the Chinese laundry fire South of Market near Third and Howard streets, a blaze that started after the quake knocked over heating fires at the laundry.
The nearest firefighters were right across the street in Station Four. They were already in shock: The wall of a hotel next door had fallen right through the roof of their firehouse and buried James O'Neil in a shower of broken bricks. He was a firefighter assigned to hook-and-ladder truck No. 1, and he'd been getting ready to bring water to the horses when death came through the roof. He would be the city's only rank-and-file firefighter to die in the quake and fire of 1906.
The Howard Street firefighters responded immediately to the laundry fire, but when they coupled their hoses to the nearest hydrant, there was no water. In a matter of minutes, the blaze got away from them, raging free in a city of wooden houses.
For firefighters, it was much the same all over South of Market, a working-class district where there were dozens of cheap hotels and boardinghouses, plus hundreds of three- and four-story residential flats. The city's main reservoirs were miles away, and six miles of pipeline ran through the rift zone of the San Andreas Fault. Because there was little or no water, the fires spread, and many people burned to death in collapsed buildings, a vision out of Dante.
On Sixth, only three blocks south of Market Street, a house had collapsed right next to Engine Company Six. The building was completely wrecked, fire Capt. Charles Cullen wrote in his report. "The bare foot of a child could be seen in a pile of debris.'' The firefighters went to work with axes, trying to clear the wreckage. They worked with passion. Some of their own families lived in the wrecked house. They pulled three little children and five adults from the ruins.
"The old familiar cry of 'Fire!' was heard ..." Cullen wrote. The firefighters turned and saw that the wreckage all around them was blazing. Cullen had 10 men -- half he assigned to fight the fire, half to rescue people.
The water quickly gave out. Firefighters pumped the sewers for wastewater, but to no avail.
At the Royal Hotel on Fourth -- where the new Moscone West convention center stands now -- 60 people were buried alive. At a four-story flat on Fifth, now the site of a big parking garage -- 40 bodies were found later, charred bones, skulls. At the Portland House, at Sixth and Mission, dozens were trapped. "Agonizing cries for relief were heard a half block away,'' the San Francisco Examiner reported.
"Even now,'' Sister Eugenia Garvey, the principal of St. Vincent's School, wrote days later, "When I close my eyes, I see flames, nothing but flames."
At Third and Mission, a building had collapsed and a man was pinned in the wreckage. The fire was coming, and he was trapped. He pleaded for help, and bystanders tried to rescue him. They frantically tried to clear the rubble, but the fire was close and getting closer. It was a race the man could not win.
"Realizing that he would soon be burned to death, he begged for bystanders to kill him," said police Capt. Thomas Duke. A large, middle-aged man stepped forward and talked to the trapped man, then pulled out a revolver and shot him in the head, killing him instantly.
South of Market was not the only inferno. At Gough and Hayes streets, a block from where Davies Symphony Hall stands now, a family cooked breakfast on a wood stove. The chimney had been damaged in the quake, and sparks from the stove set the house on fire.
It was the same story: There was no water to put the fire out. The blaze spread to the next house, then the next, then the whole block.
This was called the "ham and eggs fire." It destroyed St. Ignatius College, jumped Van Ness Avenue, and set the ruins of City Hall and the Hall of Records on fire.
The Rev. Charles Lathrop quickly set up an emergency hospital at Mechanics' Pavilion, an auditorium on Grove Street; the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium is there now. The makeshift hospital, which already had 287 patients by 8 in the morning, had to be moved by midday because of the encroaching flames.
The staffs began to show up at the newspapers, ready to cover the biggest story of their lives. Reporter James Hopper was sent to South of Market.
He got as far as Tehama Street, an alley lined with wooden buildings. He saw a fire "swirling up the narrow way with a sound that was almost like a scream."
"Frail shanties," he wrote, "went down like card houses."
The South of Market fires merged until there was one huge fire burning downtown. From the bay, Jack London, the celebrity author, saw "a lurid tower visible a hundred miles away."
At Third and Market, fire got into the elevator shaft of the 16-story Call Building, which had been advertised as absolutely fireproof, and soon, Hopper wrote, "the tallest skyscraper in the city was glowing like a phosphorescent worm. Cataracts of pulverized fire poured out of the thousand windows.''
The Hearst Building burned, too. So did The Chronicle, across the street at Geary, Kearny and Market, and the famous Palace Hotel, which had 800 rooms. The Palace also had more than 600,000 gallons of its own water and miles of hose, but the water ran out.
People stood in absolute silence, watching. The Palace, built in 1876, in the city's champagne and silver bonanza days, was the symbol of the city. A U.S. flag, raised that morning at dawn, continued to fly, sometimes becoming invisible behind the smoke, which would roll away revealing the flag once more still flying. Then it vanished in one last tongue of flame.
"The destruction of the flag was perhaps a fitting symbol of the hotel's end," wrote Oscar Lewis in "Bonanza Inn," his history of the Palace. "There had always been something theatrical about the Palace and it seemed proper that it should be permitted to make a good exit."
Charles Sedgwick, a newspaper editor, was at Second and Stevenson streets, just off Market, when he saw a fallen building, with some firefighters pitching bricks in the street from some ruins.
"A woman standing near called out to me, 'Go over and help them, mister; there are people buried there. ... We hear them groan,' " he said.
Sedgwick went, and others came, too. They could hear groans, "but oh, so faint and seemingly distant. We all worked in silence, nobody saying a word," he said. Soon the firefighters were called away, and the other men stopped and looked at each other. "Each of us read in the other' faces the same thought: 'A hopeless task.' "
The fire was moving closer. "We all climbed down and went on our way,'' Sedgwick wrote, "leaving those poor mortals to their doom." Out on the bay, riding a ferryboat toward San Francisco, Jack London and his wife, Charmian, noted the complete lack of wind. "It was dead calm. Not a flicker of wind stirred. Yet from every side, wind was pouring in upon the city ... thus did the fire of itself build its own colossal chimney through the atmosphere. Day and night this dead calm continued, and yet, near the flames, the wind was often half a gale, so mighty was the suck."
The disaster was not even a day old, but the city's power brokers were already running out of options. They had only one card to play -- and it would turn out to be a bargain with the devil.
Thursday: a big mistake
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|April 13th, 2006, 02:04 AM||#6|
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Grand S.F. plans that never came to be
Grand S.F. plans that never came to be
Architect Daniel Burnham envisioned grandeur — only shades of his plan survive.
San Francisco's most tantalizing "what-if" after the 1906 earthquake came when civic leaders turned their backs on one of the most ambitious plans ever crafted for an American city.
It conjured alluring images of a gracious metropolis radiating from a vast Civic Center. Reservoirs cascaded west from Twin Peaks through sculpted greenery covering nearly five times as much land as Golden Gate Park. Market Street concluded in a formal Grecian retreat, and Telegraph Hill was topped by a spacious park.
But the plan also had an elevated bayside road that foreshadowed the loathed and now-gone Embarcadero Freeway. Forests were cleared for the sake of manicured views, and San Francisco's poorhouse was banished to a site near the county jail.
The design was the work of one of America's best-known architects, Daniel Burnham. It was embraced by civic leaders, and the devastation of April 1906 seemingly cleared the way for work to start. Instead, it was never to be -- but it left a mark on San Francisco's map and spirit just the same.
"Of all the plans the city has had, this is the one that sticks in peoples' minds," says Charles Fracchia, president of the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society. "We're always looking to build the ideal city, but tussling with the messiness along the way."
San Francisco before the earthquake was the nation's ninth-largest city, with a population of 350,000 that was three times the size of rival Los Angeles. Its port was unchallenged on the West Coast, and it stood as "the great American metropolis of the Pacific," in the florid judgment of "San Francisco and Thereabout," a book from 1902.
It also was a trash-strewn city with a topography-defying grid of narrow streets and a notoriously licentious reputation. Political boss Abe Ruef pulled the strings of power while the well-to-do fumed because the city lacked the sort of gracious boulevards and public buildings that captivated them on visits to Europe. Or, for that matter, any sort of coherent long-term plans for transportation and the city infrastructure.
Self-styled political progressives such as former mayor James Phelan saw an obvious solution: San Francisco needed an inspiring vision of what it could become, a vision that also might help rally voters to their side. This quest for the "city beautiful" was much in vogue at the time, a dream sparked by the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago with its glistening neo-classical structures along canals on the shore of Lake Michigan.
Aiming high, Phelan and other boosters decided that the man to make their wish come true was Burnham -- the Chicago architect who oversaw the exposition and won accolades for his plan to make the Mall in Washington, D.C., a centerpiece of national pride.
Burnham accepted the invitation. All he requested in return was a cottage atop Twin Peaks because, he said, "from that location I can see clear around the compass."
Having assembled a team that included local architect Willis Polk, Burnham was rarely on the scene. His longest visit came in September of 1904 when he declared "our shanty a charmer" to his diary and also noted a meal with Polk of "soup, steak, salad and omelet, with good red wine; the best dinner we ever had."
The plan was previewed the following September to rapturous response. "All classes are pledged to see that its principal features are carried out as soon as possible," one booster wrote Burnham. Support also came from Mayor Eugene Schmitz, a Ruef protege who arranged for the city to help publish the report and hold an exhibit at City Hall.
Legend has it that copies of the plan arrived at City Hall on April 17 -- just in time to be consumed by the fire that tore through the city the next day.
As far as backers were concerned, nature had cleared the way for Burnham's dream to come true. Declared Phelan: "This is a magnificent opportunity for beautifying San Francisco."
In hindsight, Burnham's plan is best described as a cross between the San Francisco of 1906 and the Paris of Napoleon III a half-century before that.
Most of the street grid was left intact, but it would be sliced by wide diagonal boulevards that linked otherwise isolated districts to the grandest path of all, "a broad, dignified and continuous driveway skirting the water edge and passing completely around the city."
Along much of the bay, the boulevard would be on a new seawall with public beaches to the east, and new docks for the port to the west. On the northern waterfront, where finger piers already poked into the bay, the boulevard would rise up and run on top of the warehouses -- providing "an extensive line of fireproof storage" as well as a vantage point from which to "study the effects of sunshine and shadow on islands and mountains seen through the masts of ships."
Burnham also emphasized the scenic drama of the city's hills. He proposed that Bernal Heights and Potrero Hill be terraced with lavish plantings on their slopes and playgrounds on top; Telegraph Hill would be wrapped in classical buildings and crowned by "a monument symbolical of some phase of the city's life."
Twin Peaks received the most spectacular treatment of all.
The plan called for an "amphitheater or stadium of vast proportions" as well as an atheneum with columns and other classical flourishes and -- as a sort of exclamation point near one peak -- "a colossal figure symbolic of San Francisco."
On the west slope, stretching down to Lake Merced through rolling hills, Burnham proposed a single open space of 4,764 acres. By comparison, Golden Gate Park is 1,017 acres. It would be a series of reservoirs tumbling through illuminated landscapes: "not only a public park," Burnham wrote, "but a center for great public fetes."
These picturesque elements help explain why the plan is remembered. Also, Burnham understood cities need to function; to improve circulation, for example, he proposed a downtown subway and a set of one-way streets.
But for every aspect of the plan that seems prescient, another is impractical or elitist.
Much of the focus was an immense civic center framing a retooled intersection of Market Street and Van Ness Avenue. For this still-raw city on the edge of the continent, Burnham implanted a collection of 21 governmental and cultural buildings fanning out from a "great central Place" where 11 streets came together, with an obelisk in the middle of the traffic.
It also included an ornate train station that Burnham dubbed "the grand vestibule to the city" -- even though the Ferry Building was already a popular landmark and the unquestioned point of entry for nearly all visitors.
As for the park on Twin Peaks' western slopes, Burnham wanted to enhance the view by cutting down existing forests, "leaving a clean sweep to lake and ocean." Another obstacle was a public almshouse, which provided services to the poor; Burnham called it "a blot on one of the fairest vistas" and proposed moving it to the outskirts of San Francisco near the county jail.
"As a visual plan it's cool and beautiful, but as a real thing imposed on the city it would have been so totally wrong," argues Stephen Tobriner, an architecture professor at UC Berkeley and author of "Bracing for Disaster: Earthquake-Resistant Architecture and Engineering in San Francisco, 1838-1933."
"It's a total misreading of what was necessary for San Francisco."
As it turns out, people at the time felt the same way.
Burnham cut short a European vacation to return to San Francisco. He was on hand when the Board of Supervisors endorsed a streamlined version of the plan on May 21 as Schmitz declared "This means business... We can now get down to work."
But as an elated Burnham headed to Chicago after the plan's approval, the consensus began to unravel.
Newspapers ridiculed "the cobweb plan" -- the scornful phrase used by The Chronicle to dismiss the proposed boulevards. Property owners threatened litigation if their land was seized for boulevards or street-widening.
"We may allow visions of the beautiful to dance before our eyes," thundered The Chronicle, "but we must not permit them to control our actions."
Meanwhile, the alliance between progressives and the political machine collapsed after Ruef used the plan as a pretense to try and change city laws to allow elected officials to rewrite city contracts at their whim.
Progressives lobbied Burnham to return yet again and revive the crusade. Even Schmitz wrote Burnham, saying, "The author of those plans should be the one to lay the foundation and to direct the work."
The pleas fell on deaf ears. Not only was the architect's health spotty, he also was poised to begin work on a plan for Chicago, which appeared in 1909.
Ultimately, the impact of Burnham's plan is measured by the shadows it cast on the landscape.
A formal civic center now exists, though not at the scale or the precise location he proposed. Sunset and Park Presidio boulevards on the west side of the city reflect Burnham's call for green thoroughfares. Another Burnham suggestion -- a Market Street subway -- became fact in 1980.
In a less obvious sense, the plan looms in civic history as the road not taken. Opportunity Lost.
"They had a chance. They had an empty slate. There was an opportunity for the city's elected leaders to re-create San Francisco," wrote Simon Winchester in last year's best-selling "A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906."
But instead of striving for an orderly utopia, San Francisco followed a more expedient path. The only hilltop monument is Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill, a tribute to firefighters suggestive of an upright hose. The train station was never built; reservoirs added since 1906 are hidden out of sight.
The city rebuilt -- quickly -- by returning to the street grids that Burnham dismissed in his plan as "embarrassments." Not only that, a wariness of grand plans seeped into San Francisco's psyche -- from the campaign to stop freeways in the early 1960s to today's ongoing strife over a proposed redevelopment district along several tattered blocks of Market Street.
"Daniel Burnham and his West Coast ambitions fell victim to both the indolence of the city and the impatience of its business community," Winchester concluded: "... without a settled sense of urban purpose, the city allowed itself to grow organically, with neither direction nor design."
All of which makes for a great story. But a great city is organic. It evolves with society and responds to unexpected stimulation. It is judged by quality of life, not quality of design -- and by that standard, San Francisco fared just fine.
|April 13th, 2006, 02:07 AM||#7|
Join Date: Aug 2005
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Wow that would have been awesome I lived near the Van Ness/Lomard Street intersection....
|April 13th, 2006, 03:01 AM||#8|
Join Date: Jan 2006
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Oh that's right, the 100 year anniversary of THE quake is coming up. Congrats to SF for coming such a long, long way since the disaster.
|April 16th, 2006, 06:30 AM||#13|
Join Date: Dec 2005
Location: Santa Rosa, CA
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The SR Press Democrat had a great section devoted to the 100 yr Anniversary in Thursday paper, still online...
Some little known information.....
"But for all the words he devoted to the conflagration in San Francisco, (Jack) London dashed off to see a relative in Santa Rosa, this often overlooked historical footnote: "Santa Rosa got it worse than S.F."
Historians and geologists agree. In the history of The Big One, Santa Rosa suffered more death and destruction per capita and square block damage than San Francisco"
"An analysis of the surface damage undertaken shortly after the 1906 quake found that the shaking in Santa Rosa exceeded the shaking felt in San Franciso, even though San Francisco was closer to the epicenter.
Santa Rosa, Boatright said, "got creamed.""
Yeah...I hope that doesn't happen the next time around.
|April 16th, 2006, 10:35 AM||#15|
Join Date: Jun 2005
Location: Baghdad by the Bay
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^Ooh..thanks for the reminder, jiggawho. I'll make sure not to miss that.
|April 16th, 2006, 07:13 PM||#16|
Join Date: Sep 2005
Location: Tampa, Florida
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Corporations Are People Too - Mitt Romney
For the People that dress up like Corporations.
|April 18th, 2006, 08:33 PM||#18|
Join Date: Oct 2004
Likes (Received): 1
The Great Quake: 1906-2006
SF celebrates, mourns quake's 100th anniversary
- Carl Nolte and Patricia Yollin, Chronicle Staff Writers
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
(04-18) 10:03 PDT SAN FRANCISCO -- San Francisco celebrated and mourned an infamous anniversary early this morning, 100 years to the minute after the city shook and burned in the great earthquake and fire of 1906.
In the pre-dawn hours, thousands packed downtown streets around Lotta's Fountain, glowing gold under the television lights on Market Street, to honor the people who died in the 40-second quake and rejoice in a city that survived and thrived after a fire burned for three days.
There were eleven quake survivors, none under 100 years old. There were politicians, history buffs, nostalgia junkies and babies. They wore top hats, down parkas, yellow hardhats and Giants caps. Some brought a sense of history, others a sense of occasion, dressing up in period costumes.
They included financier Warren Hellman, who honored his grandfather, I.W. Hellman, head of Wells Fargo bank, by wearing only a nightshirt, as his grandfather would have at the time of the quake. The city observed a moment of silence at 5:12 a.m., the time the quake hit.
Three horse-drawn steam fire engines commemorated the firefighters who saved the city.
The oldest person there was Chrissie Mortensen, 109, who remembered the smell of smoke from a city in flames, and a cow running down California Street, its tail straight up in the air.
The youngest, Norma Norwood, said she was "conceived in the park," where her parents joined thousands left homeless by the quake. "My parents snuggled to keep warm," Norwood said. "And when you snuggle, you have a baby."
The earthquake, one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history, took the lives of as many as 3,000 people, historians now say, and left 250,000 homeless -- more than half of the city's 400,000 population.
Police Chief Heather Fong presented a purple heart to the family of San Francisco police Officer Max Fenner, the only policeman killed in the quake, who died when a building fell on him as he was trying to save a woman.
The great-grandmother of Ann-Marie Conroy, San Francisco's director of emergency services, was killed in the fire that consumed much of the city following the quake.
"Let's go out and have a good time -- the bars open at 6," Conroy exhorted the early morning crowd. "We should raise a toast to the incredible spirit of San Francisco."
Three blocks of Market Street were closed for the celebration, from Montgomery Street on the east to Stockton Street on the west. And every inch was packed with people anxious to get a glimpse of history -- and be part of a once-in-a-lifetime event.
Bob Costello of San Francisco came dressed in a top hat and black overcoat. He good-naturedly dealt with this repeated query: "Are you a survivor?"
"I'm only 80!" replied Costello, whose mother was 8 years old at the time of the quake and had to camp out on Twin Peaks. Costello is a member of Sons of the Shake and has been coming to earthquake anniversaries every year since 1974.
Others in the crowd called themselves "Lotta's Fountain virgins," meaning it was the first time they had come to the Market Street fountain that served as a communication center for families and friends separated during the quake. Ever since, the location has been the site of quake anniversary celebrations.
Barbara McCormick, 50, of San Francisco arose at 2:20 a.m. and came downtown with a large group of people wearing yellow hardhats. They were a contingent from NERT, the Neighborhood Emergency Response Team.
"It's the first time for a lot of these people," she said. "We all figured it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
Roberto Isola, 44, of Daly City came dressed as Enrico Caruso, the famed tenor who sang in the San Francisco Opera House just hours before it collapsed in the quake. Carrying a cane, Isola wore a top hat, spats, an arrow collar, a white vest and white gloves.
"I'm an enthusiast about history," said Isola, who was born and raised in San Francisco. "It's one of those things that's in you."
More than 800 other history enthusiasts streamed in and out of a restored earthquake shack -- one of many tiny homes hastily constructed in San Francisco to house quake refugees -- on exhibit on Market Street between Third and Fourth streets through April 29.
"People keep joking that this would go for $600,000 in San Francisco today," said David Gallagher of the Western Neighborhood Project, which is sponsoring the exhibit.
Inside the little green shack, the smell of wood permeates the air, a reminder of another era. On one wall are photos and information about the 1906 quake. The opposite wall is about a modern disaster, last summer's devastating Hurricane Katrina.
Originally, the shack sat in the Camp Richmond refugee camp on what is now Park Presidio Boulevard.
Quake celebrations will be held throughout the day in San Francisco, including a parade beginning at 10 a.m. in the Civic Center and winding up at noon in Justin Herman Plaza, and an interfaith prayer service at noon at Old St. Mary's Cathedral on California Street at Grant Avenue.
E-mail the writers at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
|April 18th, 2006, 10:26 PM||#19|
Join Date: Sep 2003
Location: Canary Wharf > CityPlace
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|April 19th, 2006, 01:15 AM||#20|
Je suis tout à vous
Join Date: Jul 2005
Location: Miami, FL
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