A. M. Allison_

Nineteen and Six_

San Francisco in Ruins_

x\s-- ... It is on this great and rich city that the dark demon of destruction has now descended, as it fell on the next younger of our cities, Chicago, in 1872. It was the rage of the fire-fiend that desolated the metropolis of the lakes. Upon the Queen City of the West the twin terrors of earthquake and conflagration have descended at once, careening through its thronged streets, its marts of trade, and its abodes alike of poverty and wealth, and with the red hand of devastation sweeping one of the noblest centres of human industry and enterprise from the face of the earth. It is this story of almost irremediable ruin which it is our unwelcome duty to chronicle. But before entering upon this sorrowful task some description of the city that has fallen a prey to two of the earth’s chief agents of destruction must be given... xs--thirty-seven-one-twenty-two;:


The Summarily the Description of Events_

The historians of modern or ancient times have never recorded such a maelstrom of terrified, horror and panic-stricken human beings as awoke to the realization of the master seismic tremblor, in the City of San Francisco at 5:13 on the morning of April 18th, 1906. The initial quake, being followed by many of less severity, tumbled chimneys, large and small buildings of poor or faulty construction, broke water mains and ruptured electric light and power conductors, causing many conflagrations in a few moments. Then followed a catastrophe unparalleled in modern times, a disaster beside which, for property losses, the Chicago fire, the Johnstown flood, the Galveston tidal wave, the Mont Pelee eruption, Vesuvius’ spoutings and the Baltimore fire, fade into infinitesimal disturbances on the records of Father Time.

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+ x\s ;: -37-122_ >> ... At 11:30 A. M. of Thursday from my window I could see blazes on Jones Street at Clay, and southerly as far as Sutter and Leavenworth. About this hour, although the fire did not reach here until after 3 o'clock, the soldiers and police drove the people from their stores and houses on Polk Street. Johnson & Co. were ordered out and not permitted to return to save books and papers, although they begged permission to do so. I think the Pleasanton was on fire at about this time. At noon the flames were continuous from Clay, on Jones, to California. At 1:30 it had almost reached Hyde and Clay, and was continuous from that point to Polk and Sutter, the blaze reaching from 50 to 75 feet high. At 2:30 it was approaching Van Ness at Hyde and Washington, and reaching south as far as Sutter and Van Ness. I was in my front room watching with my field-glass, house after house take fire and the long line as I have just described. I saw many pigeons flying wildly about, seeking some place of safety. As it approached Van Ness it did not burn north of Washington Street. The wind being northwest, and Van Ness Avenue 125 feet in width, I felt sure the fire would not cross. While the fire was thus raging, the thought came to me, How fast in value is property being consumed?—and as I looked at the line of flame, I remember I thought it must be as much as a million dollars an hour. It shows how imperfect in this matter was my estimate, when later the loss is estimated to be four hundred millions, and the duration of the fire, from 5:15 A. M., the 18th to 3 P. M. of the 20th—say sixty hours, which would be at the rate of about six million five hundred thousand per hour... >> ;: -01-00_ x\s =

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In three days, which seemed only as so many hours, there faded out of existence noble business blocks, grand and imposing structures, beautiful and superb residences the homes of the Argonauts, the sea kings, mining barons and merchant princes, together with the marts and dwellings of those who toil and delve and go down to the sea in ships, completely desolating and razing by fire three-fourths of this once beautiful metropolis of the whole Pacific Coast on either the northern or southern continents.

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+ x\s ;: -37-122_ >> ... At 3 o'clock the soldiers drove the people north on Van Ness and west up to Franklin Street, saying that they were going to dynamite the east side of Van Ness. From my window I watched the movements of the fire-fighters and dynamiters. They first set fire to every house on the east side of Van Ness Avenue between Washington and Bush streets, and by 3:30 nearly every one was on fire. Their method was this: A soldier would, with a vessel like a fruit-dish in his hand, containing some inflammable stuff, enter the house, climb to the second floor, go to the front window, open it, pull down the shade and curtain, and set fire to the contents of his dish. In a short time the shades and curtain would be in a blaze. When the fire started slowly, they would throw bricks and stones up to the windows and break the glass to give it draught. It took about 20 minutes for a building to get well on fire. From 4 to 4:30 St. Luke's and the Presbyterian Church and all the houses on Van Ness Avenue from Bush to Washington were on fire. At about this time they began dynamiting. Then they started backfiring, and, as the line, of fire was at Polk Street, the idea was to meet the flames and not allow them to cross Van Ness Avenue. This was a great mistake, as it caused the whole of the blocks between those streets to be on fire at once, which made an intense heat, while if allowed to approach Van Ness from Polk Street the heat would have been much less, and would not have ignited the west side of Van Ness. The explosions of dynamite were felt fearfully in my house; those within two blocks would jar and shake the house violently, breaking the windows, and at the same time setting off the burglar alarm. As the windows would break it tore the shades and curtains, covered the floor with glass, and cracked the walls. After it was over I found that it had demolished in my house twelve plates and fifty-four sheets of glass, each measuring about thirty by fifty inches... >> ;: -01-00_ x\s =

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Nor was the City of San Francisco alone in its extremity, for many smaller and populous towns within a radius of seventy-five miles were subjected to the peril of the mighty corkscrew quakings, Santa Rosa being entirely shaken down; Salinas, San Jose, Palo Alto, Santa Cruz, Berkeley, Alameda and Oakland all suffering great property losses and some human lives. The beautiful structures of the Leland Stanford, Jr., University, at Palo Alto, all erected and endowed to a sum in excess of $40,000,000 by the late Senator Leland Stanford and his philanthrophic wife, were almost completely wrecked, including the Memorial Cathedral, which contained the largest and finest collection of mosaic pictures on the Western Hemisphere.

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+ x\s ;: -37-122_  >> ... At 4:45 1 was ordered out of my house by the soldiers,—not in a quiet manner, but with an order that there was no mistaking its terms and meaning,—about like this: "Get out of this house!" I replied: "But this is my house and I have a right to stay here if I choose." "Get out d—n quick, and make no talk about it, either!" So a soldier with a bayonet on his gun marched me up Clay Street to Gough amid flames, smoke, and explosions. Feeling exhausted from climbing the steep street, and when within one hundred feet of Gough Street I rested on a doorstep. I had not been there for more than two minutes before a soldier on the opposite side of the street leveled his gun and cried out, "Get out of that old man, and go up on to Gough Street." As he had a loaded gun, and appeared very important, I quickly obeyed his polite order. As I reluctantly ascended Clay Street in charge of the soldier, I held back long enough to see the steeple of the Presbyterian Church fall. I stayed at Gough Street a while, looking down upon my house, expecting every minute to see the flames coming out of it. I watched from Gough Street with much anxiety, and made up my mind that I would see if I could not get back into my house, for I believed I could save it. The heat was so intense that it had driven the guards away from Van Ness Avenue; so, seeing no one near, I quietly slipped down the north side of Washington Street to Franklin. As no one was around there, I continued to Washington and Van Ness and, putting up my coat-collar and protecting the side of my face with my hat, I ran along Van Ness to my front door and quickly got into the house again at 5:40, being kept out fifty-five minutes. My clothing got very hot but was not scorched. This I did at a great risk of my life, for these soldiers were very arrogant and consequential at having a little brief authority, and I was afraid they would not hesitate to shoot on slight provocation. I felt provoked and disgusted that I had to take such a risk to enter my own house. When I returned, Mr. Merrill's house had been dynamited, and the two churches, St. Luke's and the First Presbyterian, the Bradbury house at the corner of Van Ness and California Street, and the Knickerbocker Hotel adjoining, and the Gunn house, corner of Clay and Franklin, had shared the same fate... >> ;: -01-00_ x\s =

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+ x\s ;: -37-122_  >> ... But now a new danger threatened. The range of blocks from the north side of Washington Street to the south side of Jackson were on fire at Hyde Street, and the flames coming toward Van Ness Avenue, with the possibility of crossing. The Spreckels stable on Sacramento and also the houses back of the Neustadter residence were now on fire. This, I knew, would set fire to the three Gorovan cottages, two other two-story houses, and the dynamited house of Mr. Gunn, all fronting on Clay Street, between Van Ness and Franklin. So I watched from my front window, the fire approach Van Ness between Washington and Jackson, then going to my back window to see the threatened danger from Clay Street. The Wenban residence, at the corner of Jackson and Van Ness, was well on fire at 6:15; at 6:55 it fell in. The Clay-Street danger began at about 7:30 P. M.. At 8:15 the whole front as here described was blazing and at its full height. My windows were so hot that I could not bear my hand on them. I opened one and felt the woodwork, which was equally hot. I had buckets of water in the front and rear rooms, with an improvised swab, made by tying up a feather duster, ready to put out any small fire which would be within my reach. I watched the situation for an hour, and as the flames died down a little I had hope, and at 10 P. M. I felt satisfied that it would not cross Van Ness Avenue, and neither would it cross Clay Street. At this time, as the heat had somewhat subsided, I ventured out, and saw a small flame, about as large as my two hands, just starting on the tower of Mrs. Schwabacher's house, which is next to mine on Clay Street. A very few people were around. James Walton of the Twenty-eighth Coast Artillery, was there, also C. C. Jones, of 2176 Fulton Street, and David Miller Ferguson, of Oakland. I said I would give any man ten dollars who would go up and put out that fire. They went into the house with a can of water, climbed the stairs and opened a window, and in a few minutes put it out. Two of the men would accept nothing; the soldier, the next day, accepted ten dollars. I later presented Ferguson with a gold matchbox as a reminder of that eventful night. Had Mrs. Schwabacher's house gone, all in the block would have gone; the fire would have crossed to the north, up Pacific, Broadway, and Vallejo, and probably over to Fillmore, when very little would have been left of the residence portion of the city... >> ;: -01-00_ x\s =

At no point in the affected area were the earthquake shocks so severe and destructive as in the down town district, south of Market and east of Kearny streets, where were the large office buildings, newspaper offices, banks, wholesale stores and warehouses, the occupants of which conducted the business, commerce and financial engagements of not only the major portion of the Pacific Slope, but a large and constantly-growing Oriental trade as well. The opportune hour of the morning was all that saved the lives of the untold thousands who labored there, but had not as yet left their homes in the residence sections of the ill-fated city.

Hardly had the mighty tremblor ceased its gyrations when innumerable fires broke out among the chaotic ruins, having caught from engine furnaces, broken electric wire conduits and spontaneous combustion, fed by the most inflammable of materials and fanned by a stiff breeze from the bay, grew and spread into what shortly became the most stupendous and widespread, as well as awe-inspiring conflagration, which any people of the eighteenth or nineteenth century have ever as yet looked upon or flown from. Had the water mains not have been ruptured, the splendid San Francisco fire department might have been able to cope with these many outbursts of flame at their inception, but deprived of water in the mains, they nobly fought the appalling flames by pumping water from the bay at as many places as length of hose and their engines’ ability would permit; but their efforts to stay the onrushing, wide-spreading flames proved as a match’s flicker before a whirlwind.

It being quickly seen that the panic-stricken people would soon become a fleeing, dazed and terror-awed multitude, General Frederick Funston, commanding the Department of California, United States Army, with headquarters at the Presidio, immediately ordered out the cavalry, infantry and artillery forces under his command, who aided and directed the fleeing populace, gathered up and succored the wounded, established emergency hospitals, and policed the city. At the same time men-of-wars-men from the Mare Island Navy Yard, consisting of the battleship Ohio, the cruiser Chicago, and the torpedo boat destroyer Paul Jones, together with the ships of the United States Army Transport Service, and all available steam craft, attacked the flames along the water front and succeeded in saving much wharfage and the Ferry building, which is the principal gateway from the mainland.

Aided, ordered and guarded by the United States Army and Marine forces, assisted by the California National Guard, who were at once called out by the Governor, George C. Pardee, the excited and frenzied San Franciscans made their way to squares, parks and the open hills, over two hundred thousand fleeing to these places of refuge and another hundred thousand making their way by ferry-boats and other craft across the bay to the cities of Berkeley, Oakland and Alameda, caring for naught except to get away from the awful havoc and destruction of the place they once proudly called their City.

In untiring efforts to stay the flames the army, navy, marine corps and police used artillery fire, gun-cotton, dynamite and rhyolite in back-firing, sacrificing whole blocks of splendid residences and other structures to retard the unquenchable ever-advancing line of fire, which at times extended unbroken for over three miles in length. At last, at the dawn of Saturday, April 21st, after three days and nights of valiant effort, the wind subsided and the flames died down to rise no more; but not until after they had swept the once proud and majestic city from the Ferry building to Van Ness avenue, ruining all the residences on the west side of that broad, stately boulevard, to Twentieth and Guerrero streets in the Mission, and from the waters of San Francisco bay to the Golden Gate itself. Not in all this vast section, measuring over sixteen square miles, did one single habitation escape the shock of the giant tremblor or the all-devouring flames, with but a few exceptions, viz.: the United States Mint, the United States Custom House, the United States Postoffice, which was damaged one-half a million dollars’ worth by made-land sinking away from it, the new unfinished newspaper building of the Chronicle, and the new building of the California Casket Company just erected, but not wood-finished. Every other building, of whatsoever class, kind or construction, was tumbled, crumbled, shaken down, or absolutely gutted by the fierce flames in which granite dissolved to powder and steel beams melted and buckled like a watch’s freed mainspring; where cobble-stones scaled and chipped off and marble slabs disintegrated and became as bone-dust to the touch.

No computer or statistician lives who could accurately arrive at the monetary loss, variously estimated at from three hundred and fifty to four hundred millions of dollars. Nor will the loss of human life ever be known, said to be from fifteen hundred to two thousand; many more are known to have perished in the lodging houses and cheaper hotels located in the district south of Market street, as well as in the poorer districts, of which no returns will or can ever be made; many identities were lost both in and out of unidentified graves.

On the cessation of the first quake and the breaking out of the flames all means of surface transportation was rendered useless, except the automobile, which did good and swift work in rescuing the wounded and carrying the living to places of safety, as well as transporting dynamite and other high explosives to the busy fire-fighters, also rendering invaluable aid in getting food and water to the refugee camps in the parks, when the relief trains, so generously and beneficiently forwarded by all the cities of the land, began to arrive laden with provisions and clothing for the hungry and the destitute. The sister city, Los Angeles, which by her nearness was enabled to supply physicians, nurses and medical supplies, as well as foodstuffs, getting the first relief train to the stricken city on the night of the first day.

Congress appropriated money, private citizens throughout the broad land gave of their wealth. Army and navy stores and the cargoes of many merchantmen in the harbor were all made available, and thus famine and disease were prevented and lives which would have flickered and then passed out were saved, encouraged and strengthened for the monumental task of raising a grander, greater, safer and more beautiful New San Francisco phoenix-like from the ashes of the City of the Forty-Niners.

These are the words; the pictures tell the tale much better; pictures the like of which, it is earnestly hoped, will never be presented by any camera again while the earth rolls around.