April 18 - 23, 1906
San Francisco was wrecked by a Great Earthquake at 5:13 a.m., and then destroyed by the seventh Great Fire that burned for four days. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of trapped persons died when South-of-Market tenements collapsed as the ground liquefied beneath them. Most of those buildings immediately caught fire, and trapped victims could not be rescued. Reevaluation of the 1906 data, during the 1980s, placed the total earthquake death toll at more than 3,000 from all causes. Damage was estimated at $500,000,000 in 1906 dollars.
Fire Chief Engineer Dennis T. Sullivan was mortally wounded when the dome of the California Theatre and hotel crashed through the fire station in which he was living at 410-412 Bush St. Acting Chief Engineer John Dougherty commanded fire operations.
The earthquake shock was felt from Coos Bay, Oregon, to Los Angeles, and as far east as central Nevada, an area of about 375,000 square miles, approximately half of which was in the Pacific Ocean. The region of destructive effect extended from the southern part of Fresno County to Eureka, about 400 miles, and for a distance of 25 to 30 miles on either side of the fault zone. The distribution of intensity within the region of destruction was uneven.
Of course, all structures standing on or crossing the rift were destroyed or badly damaged. Many trees standing near the fault were either uprooted or broken off. Perhaps the most marked destruction of trees was near Loma Prieta in Santa Cruz County, where, according to Dr. John C. Branner of Stanford University, “The forest looked as though a swath had been cut through it two hundred feet in width.” In little less than a mile he counted 345 earthquake cracks running in all directions.
U.S. Post Office at Seventh and Mission was dreadfully damaged by the earthquake. Assistant to the Postmaster Burke said, “walls had been thrown into the middle of various rooms, destroying furniture and covering everything with dust. In the main corridors the marble was split and cracked, while the mosaics were shattered and had come rattling down upon the floor. Chandeliers were rent and twisted by falling arches and ceilings.”
Fireman James O’Neill, drawing water for the horses in Fire Station No. 4 on Howard Street opposite Hawthorne, was killed when a wall of the American Hotel collapsed onto the fire station.
Police officer Max Fenner was mortally wounded when a wall collapsed upon him at 138 Mason Street.
All telephone and telegraph communications stopped within the city, although some commercial telegraph circuits to New York and to India, via the Pacific cable at the Ocean Beach, remained in temporary operation.
A messenger arrived at Ft. Mason at 6:30 a.m. with orders from Gen. Frederick Funston, United States Army to send all available troops to report to the mayor at the Hall of Justice. First army troops from Fort Mason reported to Mayor Eugene E. Schmitz at the Hall of Justice around 7 a.m.
At 8 a.m., the 10th, 29th, 38th, 66th, 67th, 70th and 105th Companies of Coast Artillery, Troops I and K of the 14th Cavalry and the First, Ninth and 24th Batteries of Field Artillery arrived Downtown to take up patrol.
Seventy-five soldiers from Companies C and D, Engineer Corps were assigned to the Financial District at 8 a.m., and another 75 along Market from Third Street to the City Hall at Grove and Larkin streets.
A major aftershock struck at 8:14 a.m., and caused the collapse of many damaged buildings. There was much panic.
Second day session of the Grand Chapter of the Royal Arch Masons of the state of California fifty-second annual convocation. The group met after the earthquake but evacuated before the temple at Montgomery and Post streets was destroyed by fire. The Masons listed the date as April 18, A.I. 2436, A.D.
At 10 a.m. Headquarters and First Battalion 22nd Infantry, were brought from Ft. McDowell by boat, and were held for a time in reserve at O’Farrell St. They were later utilized as patrols and to assist the fire department.
At about 10:05 a.m. the DeForest Wireless Telegraph Station at San Diego radioed press reports of the disaster at San Francisco to the “U.S.S. Chicago.” Admiral Caspar Goodrich immediately ordered fires started under all boilers, and after a confirmation message from the Mayor of San Diego, the “Chicago” steamed at full speed for San Francisco. It was the first time wireless telegraphy was used in a major natural disaster.
At 10:30 a.m., the “U.S.S. Preble” from Mare Island, under the command of Lt. Frederick Newton Freeman, landed a hospital shore party at the foot of Howard St. to help the wounded and dying who sought help at Harbor Emergency Hospital.
General Funston’s staff abandoned the Dept. of California’s Headquarters in the Phelan Building, across from the Palace Hotel, at 11 a.m. They did manage to save valuable records.
Winchester Hotel caught fire at Third and Stevenson streets and collapsed at 11 a.m.
Two earthquake in Los Angeles just before noon, about ten minutes apart. The quaking began as crowds gathered around bulletin boards to read the latest telegraphic dispatches from San Francisco. Thousands ran in panic when the earthquakes struck.
Hearst Building at Third and Market streets caught fire at noon.
St. Mary’s Hospital at First and Bryant sts. was abandoned to the fire at 1 p.m. Patients were loaded aboard the ferryboat “Modoc” and taken to Oakland.
Entire area in the Financial District, behind the Hall of Justice, was on fire by 1 p.m.
Restaurant atop the Call, or Claus Spreckels Building, at Third and Market streets, took fire at 2 p.m.
|Call newspaper building on fire, April 18, 1906|
Latest casualty count: 750 people seriously injured people were being treated at various hospitals at 2:30 p.m.
Dynamiting of buildings around the U.S. Mint at Fifth and Mission streets began at 2:30 p.m.
U.S. Army Signal Corps established Ferry Building telegraph operations at 3 p.m.
The Mayor appointed ex-Mayor James Phelan to head the Relief Committee.
Mayor Schmitz, at 8 p.m., was still confident that a good part of downtown could be saved. Unfortunately a possible arsonist set fire to the Delmonico Restaurant in the Alcazar Theatre Building on O’Farrell near Stockton, and that blaze burned into Downtown and to Nob Hill.
|Possible deadly mischief at the Alcazar Theatre Building on O'Farrell Street, 1906|
Firefighters attempted to make a stand at 9 p.m. along Powell St. between Sutter and Pine, but it was unsuccessful in keeping the fire from sweeping up Nob Hill.
Governor Pardee arrived in Oakland at 2 a.m. He was supposed to arrive three hours earlier, but his train was stalled because of sinking of the track in the Susuin marshes. The governor said he would declare a bank holiday today.
Mayor Schmitz and Capt. Thomas Magner of Engine No. 3 found a cistern at the Hopkins Mansion, Mason and California streets, at 4 a.m., and attempted to keep the fire from burning the structure. They were not successful.
Secretary Taft ordered all hospital, wall and conical tents sent to San Francisco from army posts at Vancouver; Forts Douglas, Logan, Snelling, Sheridan and Russell, from San Antonio and the Presidio of Monterey.
“Call,” “Chronicle” and “Examiner” printed a combined newspaper today on the presses of the “Oakland Herald.”
176 prisoners moved from city prison to Alcatraz.
“U.S.S. Chicago” arrived in San Francisco Bay at 6 p.m.
The fire burned as far as Franklin St. by 5 a.m., then attempted to circle south.
Fire approached the Appraisers’ Building for a second time at 3 p.m. Lt. Freeman attempted to pump saltwater from the Bay but found that his hose connections would not fit those of the Fire Department, so the effort was abandoned.
Gen. Funston issued General Orders No. 37 which placed Lt. Col. George Torney of the Medical Department in full control of sanitation in San Francisco.
Gen. Funston wired War Department at 8:30 p.m. on status of the fire. He advised that Fort Mason has been saved, and some looters have been shot. His telegram said most casualties are in the poorer districts, South of Market St.; not many killed in better portion of the city.
Haig Patigian’s statue of President McKinley, commissioned for the city of Arcata, found in the rubble of a local foundry and saved by several artisans who carried it into the street.
The fire that swept the Mission District was stopped at 20th and Dolores sts. by three- thousand volunteers and a few firemen who fought the blaze with knapsacks, brooms and a little water from an operating hydrant at 20th and Church.
Fire Chief Engineer Dennis T. Sullivan died at the Army General Hospital at the Presidio at 1 a.m.
Father Ricard at the University of Santa Clara wrote to the “San Jose Mercury”:
People should fearlessly go to work and repair mischief done and sleep quietly at night anywhere at all, especially in wooden frame. Never mind foreboders of evil: they do not know what they are talking about. Seismonetry is in its infancy and those therefore who venture out with predictions of future earthquakes when the main shock has taken place ought to be arrested as disturbers of the peace.
United Railroad crews began stringing temporary overhead trolley wires on Market St., but did not repair the cable traction system in the street.
Governor Pardee told a newspaper reporter, “The work of rebuilding San Francisco has commenced, and I expect to see the great metropolis replaced on a much grander scale than ever before.”
Imperial decree on the 30th Day of the Third Moon from Empress Dowager of China to send 100,000 taels as a personal contribution to the relief of the San Francisco sufferers. President Theodore Roosevelt declined the offer, as well as donations from other foreign governments. Noble, but how odd for a U.S politician.
The Alcazar fire burnt up Powell Street and at two o'clock A.M. the St. Francis was on fire. Going north to Sutter, this fire joined the fire from Kearney Street. At three A.M. Old St. Mary's Church on California Street was burned, and a little later flying embers ignited the colored church on the east side Powell Street near Bush. Another street which the authorities had thought to make the western limits was crossed, and all thoughts of the fire stopping east of Van Ness were given up. The usual west wind failed to help the firemen in their fight.
Powell Street was for some distance an admirable place for an ordinary fire to go out. Union Square, occupying the block bounded by Post, Geary, Stockton and Powell Streets ought to have helped in the fight, but fire burned all around it. The block above Post Street, was only partly filled with buildings, as excavations for a new structure were in progress. Above Pine, toward Nob Hill the block was occupied by the Stanford House, which set well back from the street, and should have been easy to save; and north of California, to Sacramento, was the magnificent new Fair mount Hotel, with a wide terrace on the east. But the vulnerable block, with its wooden church steeple, broke the chain of fortification, and everything must burn.
Mark Hopkins Institute of Art, the property of the University of California, was the next prominent landmark to be destroyed. For a long time the presence of water in cisterns on top of Nob Hill helped the firemen in a desperate effort to save the building. Because his sentences cover many points of interest during the April days, I will quote from the report of the Captain of 3 Engine - "We then played a stream on the Mark Hopkins Institute and surrounding building until the water supply in that cistern (California and Mason Street) was exhausted. I then put Engine 3 to work on the cistern inside the grounds of the Institute.
While working on the Institute we were visited by His Honor the Mayor, who came up into the building to encourage us in our good work, and left orders to work our best in trying to save the Institute. Under the direction of Battalion Chief O'Brien, we continued working until the fire surrounded us in a very threatening manner, and to save our apparatus we had to leave there."
|Mark Hopkins Residence, Mason and California Streets|
|James Flood mansion, catty corner from the Mark Hopkins mansion is the only residence not burned to the ground on April 18, 1906.|
|The Charles Crocker residence disappeared in flames but from the ashes rose the present day Grace Cathedral|