Sydney Tyler.

San Francisco's great disaster; a full account of the recent terrible destruction of life and property by earthquake, fire and volcano in California and at Vesuvius .. online

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able-bodied citizen to fight fire and perform other manual
labor and the other rigorous measures adopted did much
toward preserving quiet and order during this worst calam-
ity that ever befell an American city. His telegrams sent
all over the country asking for bedding, tents and food and
the efficient manner in which he provided for the distribu-
tion of all supplies averted the danger of famine. It took
quite as prompt measures to provide against pestilence
because of the large number of dead in the ruins and about
the streets. Before the fire was out he sent out reassuring
proclamations to the citizens, and no sooner was he told
that the flames were under control than he was talking of
a new and greater San Francisco to arise on the ashes of
the old. All this sounds easy, but when one is worn out by
three days' incessant labor, with three-fourths of the city,
for whose welfare he is responsible, in ruins, it is not as
easy as it seems.

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With the pall of smoke still enshrouding the devastated
city, gallant San Franciscans began the work of rehabili-
tation. Mayor Schmitz, in the midst of the terrors of the
conflagration, sent abroad the brave message that a new
and greater city would rise speedily to take the place of the
old. That prophecy is already on the way to realization.
It is a giant task. The city must almost be built from the
very foundations upward. Tremendous expense falls upon
the national government, the State government, the city gov-
ernment and hundreds of home and foreign business con-
cerns, as well as upon thousands who had owned homes.
Congress has provided for federal structures worthy of the
city ; a special session of the legislature has given freely of
the funds of the States to supply housing for its agencies
of government and has empowered the city to secure the
million necessary in replacing and repairing the scores of
schools and other public structures which were reduced to
ashes. The task is a gigantic one. It may take ten years,
it may take twenty years. But San Francisco has gone
bravely to work and it can be taken for g^nted that the
time consumed will be the minimum time in which it is
possible to undo the joint work of earthquake and conflag-

The natural advantages of San Francisco, including
a matchless harbor, it was said, made it, and would make it
for all time the metropolis of the West. The fact that the
depth of the water only on the San Francisco side of the
bay was ample for large vessels would prevent commerce of
the port leaving the city. The necessities of commerce and
traffic compel the rebuiMing of the city.


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W. H. Crocker, of San Francisco, who, with his elder
brother, George, directs most of the Crocker estate, placed
the total losses of the family through fire and earthquake
at $7,500,000. The insurance is merely nominal, he said,
and will not begin to cover the loss.

"Mark my words,'' he said, "San Francisco will arise
from these ashes a greater and more beautiful city than ever.
I don't take any stock in the belief of some people that in-
vestors and residents will be panicky and afraid to build
up again. This calamity, terrible as it is, will mean nothing
less than a new and grander San Francisco.

"It is preposterous to suggest the abandonment of the
city. It is the natural metropolis of the Pacific Coast. God
made it so. D. O. Mjlls, the Spreckels family, everybody I
know, have determined to rebuild and to invest more than
ever before. Burnham, the great Chicago architect, has
been at work for a year or more on plans to beautify San
Francisco. Terrible as this destruction has been, it serves
to clear the way for the carrying out of these plans. Why,
even now we are figuring on rebuilding.

"More than that, I am confident that, except for what
fire has absolutely laid waste, it will be found that the build-
ings are less injured than was supposed. Plastering, orna-
mental work, glass and more or less loose material has been
shaken down, but the framework, I am sure, will be found
intact in many big buildings."


D. O. Mills was equally emphatic about the rebuilding
of the stricken city. He said :

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SAN Francisco's great disaster. 301

"We will go ahead and build the city and build it so
that earthquakes will not shake it down and so fire will not
destroy it, and we will have a water system which will enable
us to draw water from the sea for fire extinguishing ser-
vice and other municipal purposes. We will thus have less
to fear from the destruction of the land mains.

"The whole point with all of us who own property
down there is that we have to build. To let it lie idle, piled
with its ruins, would mean the throwing away of money,
and I am sure none of us intend to do that. The city will
go up like Baltimore did, and Galveston, and Charleston,
and Qiicago, and there will be no lack of capital. Califor-
nia spirit and California enterprise, which are always
associated with the State of California, will rise superior
to this calamity."

In the rebuilding of San Francisco it is probable that
an effort will be made to lay out the new city on different
lines, so that the new structures for the business district
may be provided with good foundations, such as could not
be obtained within the area of the made ground formerly
occupied by the business section.

D. Ogden Mills, Colonel Dudley Evans, President of
Wells, Fargo & Co. ; Archer M. Huntington, Isaac Guggen-
heim, who lost heavily in the destruction of San Francisco,
all expressed their conviction that the city would recuperate
from this disaster and rise from the ruins more beautiful
and more prosperous than ever.

If the ideas of Colonel Evans, an old-time Califomian,
in the matter of building the city come to pass, the interest-
ing fact will obtain that the disaster has shaken the places
of the rich into the places of the poor, and vice versa. Col-
Evans says that in building the new city the business section

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should be laid out south of Market street, where the poor
have lived. There is a better foundation to be had there.

"You may say for me, that San Francisco will rise
Phoenix-like from the ashes of her ruins. The present
generation is imbued with the spirit of courage exhibited
by their forefathers in their sturdy fight during the pioneer
days of '49.

"In my opinion, San Francisco in a few years will be a
greater and grander city than it ever was before. I do
hope, however, that there will be some method arranged to
keep the merchants from building on that dangerous spot
of made ground.

"There the damage is always greatest, because, there
is no foundation, practically, for the immense buildings
erected there necessary for the wholesale purposes. It is
quite probable, though, that with the knowledge of the
danger to be incurred by building there, the merchants will
shun that portion of town and reconstruct on solid ground
formerly known as Tar Flat, south of Market street, where
the poorer classes have heretofore lived."

"All talk of abandoning the city for some such place
as Seattle is foolish," said Archer M. Huntington, whose
San Francisco residence containing many valuable paint-
ings was destroyed. "San Francisco is the logical me-
tropolis west of the Rockies. The city will be rebuilt at
once, and it will be an improved city."

As to rebuilding our own residence there no plans
have been formulated. Nothing will be done in that di-
rection for some time at all events.


Isaac Guggenheim of M. Guggenheim's Sons showed

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SAN Francisco's great disaster. 303

that his confidence of a new San Francisco is of a practical
sort when he announced that orders had been issued to
proceed as soon as possible with the construction of a nc,v
smelting plant planned recently for the city.

"We have every confidence in the city's recuperative
power," he said. "Our losses have been fairly large, but
so trifling in the face of the larger losses that I decline to
discuss them."

Engineers and contractors are already sending repre-
sentatives to the ruined city, where the results architec-
turally will be studied. The reports of these experts will
have a great deal to do with the constructing business of
the future. The George H. Fuller Company and the
Thompson-Starrctt Company have already started their

Theodore Starrett, President of the Thompson-Star-
rett Company, called attention to the fact that the San
Francisco Chronicle Building passed safely through the
earthquake, although it was subsequently destroyed by fire.
Mr. Starrett nearly twenty years ago, when the Chroni-
cle Building was put up, was the engineer for the firm of
architects in charge of the job.

"When that building was put up," said Mr. Starrett,
"the earthquake of 1873 was still fairly fresh in the minds
of San Franciscans, and while the structure was not of the
modem steel skeleton type, it contained one structural
feature which, I am confident, saved it so far as the jarring
of the earth" was concerned.

"At every floor level and in some instances between
floor levels there were imbedded in the outer walls courses
of rails and I beams, extending entirely around the building
and giving it greatly increased stability.

"The steel frame of The Call Building stood up in

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good shape and The Chronicle Building was all right until
the fire reached it, so that, so far as an earthquake is con-
cerned, a union of these two types of buildings — that is, a
steel frame with reinforced walls — should afford effective

Architect Francis H. Kimball, said:

"It seems to me that the foundations of many of our
buildings carried down by caissons to bedrock, would af-
ford considerably greater security against smy disturbances
of the earth than could be had in structures supported by
one means or another on a comparatively soft bottom.

"The modern steel skyscraper is no such fragile crea-
ture as most people imagine. Properly built, it is practi-
cally a unit, or a series of units bound together."


There is one point in connection with the San Fran-
cisco disaster^ to be brought out in the later investigation
of its results, that will be of interest to architects and
builders. That is whether the steel frame buildings which
have withstood the shock have not been thrown out of


That the spirit of the city is not broken is shown by
the talk of prominent men.

Ex-Mayor James D. Phelan, addressing a meeting of
the General Relief Committee, suggested that the press
make known to all people that the work of rebuilding will
begin as soon as possible and that all skilled labor and
trades should be prepared to remain in or near the city,
as there would be plenty of employment immediately.

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"California can take care of all the homeless," said Mr.
Phdan, "and it is hoped and urgently desired that unskilled
labot«rs do not go to far-off Eastern cities^ as they will
soon be employed in San Francisco."

He said later: "The city will be rebuilt on lines of
strength and beauty heretofore unknown."

Rudolph Spreckels said: "Of course the city will be
rebuilt and better than ever."

Homer S. King, President of the San Francisco
Clearing H#use, said:

"San Francisco has a future, and will rebuild. There
is not even a panic and I have seen more than one panic.
It is only a setback from which the city is strong and vigor-
ous enough to recover. I do not believe any of the bankers
consider this disaster anything more than a serious wound
that will heal quickly and cleanly.

"The banks are more than willing to help the people
who have shared in the common distress. Chicago and
Baltimore in time recovered from even greater setbacks.
The people of San Francisco have always been progressive,
and are recognized as hard workers. There is no reason
why they should not do the same.

"The bankers will help to rebuild the city. We are
absolutely satisfied and assured as to our own standing.
Most of the money that is put injto circulation will go where
it will be most effective in the re-establishment of busi-

With the fire almost out, authorities and large prop-
erty holders were able to go into the devastated district
and get some idea of the extent of the ruin. It was found
in Miany instances that the losses were not so great as

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3o8 SAN Francisco's great disaster.


In three things the destruction of San Francisco
wrought good to the San Francisco of posterity:

It removed forever from the center of the city the
greatest pest hole of any modem city — Chinatown.

It taught the people of San Francisco how to build
for security against earthquakes.

It made possible the rectifying of the serious blunders
of the builders of the city, who had blotched the finest topo-
graphical site for a city beautiful in America.

It can be taken for granted that Chinatown, which lay
on the slope of Nob Hill between the best business and
finest residential sections, will never be rebuilt in the center
of the city. San Franciscans in New York, in the midst of
their profound grief at the destruction of the city, paused
to congratulate each other frequently that Chinatown
would never more blot the side of Nob Hill.

For years the public spirited men of San Francisco
have planned to have Chinatown removed to the outskirts
of the city. Men and women have almost prayed that one
of the frequent fires in the cramped quarters of the little
Canton would wipe it out, but the close proximity of two
engine houses has always been its safeguard up until now.
One idea of the progressive San Franciscans was to move
the Chinese out of the town altogether and make them set
up a town of their own. Since they would gamble and
plunge into immoralities they should do it in a city by
themselves, where the whites would not be contaminated.

A big f)ortion of the better class population of San
Francisco had of necessity to go through this Chinatown
to and from their places of business. It crowded the very
business centre itself. Within one block of the Hall of Jus-

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tice were some of its worst dens. From 25,000 to 30,000
Chinese, mostly of the worst class, thronged its narrow-
streets at night and shot each other in the theatres or split
open the heads of enemies in dark halls. The protection
fund, raised by the gambling trust, was large enough to
buy many of the police officials. Only a little over a year
ago Chief of Police Wittman and Sergeant Ellis were re-
moved from office because of a scandal resulting in the
latter's admission that he had been receiving protection
money from the head of the gamblng trust.


Within this congested pesthole hundreds of Chinese
women were kept slaves. Walking through narrow alleys
the visitor would see their faces behind iron barred win-
dows hardly large enough to let in the necessary air. There
was a society formed for the rescue of Chinese girls
brought over from China for immoral purposes under the
g^ise of "wives of Chinese merchants." This society ac-
tually encountered difficulties from the white officials in
carrying on its work, so powerful was the corruption fund.
There is no people on earth so given to the giving and tak-
ing of bribes as the Chinese.

Right in the heart of Chinatown was one of the most
openly conducted and the largest immoral house perhaps
in the world. What was once a hotel on Jackson street was
turned over to immoral purposes and from 150 to 200
women had "cribs" there. So openly was it conducted that
the newspapers referred to it as the "municipal crib." A
lialf dozen other smaller places, but equally notorious,
were on the edges of Chinatown.

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310 SAN Francisco's great disaster.


With San Francisco's Oiinatown, the largest Chin-esc
settlement outside of China, destroyed — it occupied ten
square blocks in the city's heart — a new Chinese city will be
built on the Pacific coast. A site will he purchased by a
syndicate of Hongkong merchants, who already have the
scheme well under way.

While many Chinamen were among those who peri-
shed, 20,000 managed to get across the bay to Oakland,
where some found accommodations in Oakland's Chin^ese
quarter. The majority of the rich merchants of San Fran-
cisco's Chinatown were importing agents for large syndi-
cates in China, and it was on these syndicates that much of
the loss falls. However, many of San Francisco's Chinese
importers lost every dollar they possessed, for some of
them carried stocks of gold and silver jewelry of great

The fifm of Sing Fat & Co., at 614 Dupont street, was
probably the largest firm of its kind in the world, and car-
ried a stock valued at a million and a half dollars. They
were in the heart of Chinatown in San Francisco, and were
completely burned out.

The firm of Wing Chong Wo, flour merchants, were
at 7x6 Sacramento street. They were the owners of big
flour mills at Seattle, Portland, and Oakland, but their
headquarters were in San Francisco. As they were right
in the line of the fire they probably lost half a million

Sun Kam Wah, the Chinese millionaire of San Fran-
cisco, was at 716 Dupont street, and his losses will foot up
half a million. In fact, most all the importers and ex-
porters along Dupont, Commercial, Clay, Washington,

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Jackson, Pacific, and Stockton streets, Waverly Place, and
Washington alley haye suffered losses that will amount to
more than $10,000 each, and in many instances to

Many of the Chinamen in San Francisco owned real
estate in Chinatown, but some of them were backed by
Hongkong syndicates, who will start them again in new
buildings as soon as the work of erecting the new oity gets
under way.

Chinatown in San Francisco was bounded by Califor-
nia and Pacific streets, and Kearny and Stockton streets.

About 21,000 Chinamen lived there, many of whom
had gone West only recently to work in the salmon fish-
eries. The normal population of Chinatown, was about
17,000, but with the advent of Spring many Chinamen
from other parts of the country had arrived, intending to
remain for a few weeks. In fact, there were more China-
men in San Francisco on the day of the disaster than had
ever assembled there before. Not only was the Chinese
quarter filled to overflowing, but in addition to the 3,000
employed as cooks and in laundries and in the twenty-four
branches of the building trades, there were 4,000 others
from the East who had gotten employment in the factories
last month.

According to Le Compte, the Western Union Tele-
graph operator who was the last to remain on duty,
even after the city was in flames, many of the Chinamen
gathered up their belongings and went up to the Golden
Gate Park, where they camped out, but about 300 re-
mained on guard in their shops until the roofs of the build-
ings caught fire.

Only a few of those who remained behind are believed
to have escaped death, as they sat behind barred windows

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guarding their poultry and smoked fish until they them-
selves were smoked to death. Of course, they were
Chinamen of the lower class.

The bankers and traders were among the first to flee,
and they are now safely housed with friends in Oakland.
Some of them will make their homes in Oakland in the
future, but the majority will go to the new Chinese city
as soon as it is completed, because they able to tran-
sact their business as well in the new settlement as any-
where else, for the reason that much of their business con-
sists of trade with China.


Several thousand of the burned-out Chinamen will
probably go East and settle in New York. If they do this
they will undoubtedly take their Chinese wives, so that, in-
stead of having half a dozen Chinese women, New
Yorkers will see four or five hundred. The Chinese women
of San Francisco dressed very gaudily, Avith loose-fitting
blouses of generous dimensions. They painted their faces
so that the paint was easily discernible.


It is only of very recent years that there has been any
concerted movement among the citizens of San Francisco
to make of the city a city beautiful. There was formed
about two years ago an organization of business and pro-
fessional men, including landscape artists and architects,
which had planned, roughly, some improvements that
would have greatly enhanced the beauty of the city.

But right at the start this committee realized that con-
certed effort could never make the city what nature had

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SAN Francisco's great disaster. 313

seemingly intended it to be from the standpoint of beauty.
Laid out in a hurry^ as it were, and planned by men not
realizing, nor perhaps caring, that its hills were more
numerous and more beautiful than the hills of Rome, there
could not have been a greater blotch to landscape than the
running of streets straight up and down such hills as Nob,
Russian and Rincon. That the early builders would un-
doubtedly have marred Telegraph Hill in the same way is
certain but for the fact that it happened to be too steep
even for cable cars to climb almost perpendicularly.

There are a dozen of these steep hills in San Francisco
which overlook the bay, and afford a view of the whole
country roundabout. Monte Diablo, with its occasionally
snow capped head rising within twenty miles of San Fran-
cisco, which hasn't experienced snow in twenty years,
seems to be but across the bay from these hills. The San
Franciscan wearing spring clothes without an overcoat, is
often treated to the sight of snow on Monte Diablo.

Then the hills behind Oakland and Berkeley, and the
hills of Marin County and Mount Tamalpais to the north
lie within the easy range of vision of the hill dweller of San
Francisco. Standing on the great veranda of the Fair-
mount Hotel at just this time of the year there lies before
you a scene un<equaled in its kind by any in the world ex-
cept the view of the Bay of Naples from the City of Naples.
The panorama of the bay and the hills beyond, with Monte
Diablo in the background, never tires, for the reason that
within a half hour the hue of the bay and the hills may
change a half dozen times. On the green hills, especially,
is there a constant change of nature's delicate colors. First
she is blending blue and purple and then purple, g^een and

It was on these hills that the planners of San Fran-

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Cisco beautifully dreamed of great, winding terraces and
marble palaces that should surpass anything in the world,
but they had but little hope of ever realizing their dream
because the hills for the most part had already been marred
by the almost perpendicular streets.

Will this be changed now? It will be if it is found
practicable, and if the sense of beauty, which is strong in
California, triumphs over the spirit that made of Rincon
Hill, for instance, a district of cheap residences.

As to the rebuilding of San Francisco, it is certain that
the city will enforce restrictions, based on the terrible ex-
perience which the city has just gone through. It is the
opinion of architects and builders that all business houses,
no matter of what height, will be of steel cage construction,
with the walls anchored to the steel frame-wotk. The
earthquake demonstrated that such buildings ^ill with-
stand anything except such a convulsion of tb« earth as
would topple them over from their own sheer w«!§ht.

The earthquake has perhaps destroyed one *ond hope

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Online LibrarySydney TylerSan Francisco's great disaster; a full account of the recent terrible destruction of life and property by earthquake, fire and volcano in California and at Vesuvius .. → online text (page 17 of 25)