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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tion of stores and warehouses, will be resumed with energy
when these structures shall be replaced. Commerce will
have even more rapid development in consequence of
its temporary interruption, and industrial enterprises will
be speedily resumed now that the shock of the disaster has
been expended.


It may be observed that one of the chief contributory
causes for mercantile defaults is loss by fire. Inasmuch
as such loss has in this case been enormous, and in very
many cases not offset by insurance or through salvage,
there will doubtless be more or less anxiety felt in bank-
ing circles — until the actual loss shall be determined and
the sum of such loss be reducible through insurance — ^re-
garding the solvency of their debtors. The banking orga-
nizations of the Pacific states, which doubtless are chiefly
interested, were in such a position, as regards accumulated
surplus and undivided profits, as to be able to meet losses
sustained through defaults by their borrowers without the
least embarrassment or a material reduction of their sur-
plus. Therefore with the fire losses minimized because of
the prompt response of insurance companies; with needs
largely met in consequence of liberal contributions of

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SAN Francisco's great disaster. 331

money for relief, and with assistance extended for the re-
sumption of productive activities, local and other capital
will be confidently and liberally employed.


Daniel Hudson Bumham, builder of cities, expects
San Francisco to take its place as the American Paris
in the arrangement of its streets and the American Naples
in the beauty of its bay and skies. The plans for the ideal
San Francisco were his, and hardly had his report been
printed than the columns of the old city went down to
ruin and fire swept out of existence the landmarks by the
gate of gold.

It is now the question, How far will the new San Fran-
cisco realize the dreams of those who have had before them
for so many years the image of a metropolis of the Pacific
with broad boulevards and great parkways and wooded
heights — a city of sunken gardens, of airy bridges, of
stately gardens and broad expanses?

Upon the invitation of the Association for the Im-
provement and Adornment of San Francisco Mr. Burnhatii
went to the Golden Gate, where he devoted months to the
plans for a new city. A bungalow was built on the Twin
Peaks seven hundred feet above the level of the streets,
from which Mr. Bumham and his staff of assistants could
command a view of the city and the bay. The material
which they sought to make into the perfect city was before
them day and night. They saw San Francisco by sunlight,
in fog, in storm or in the blaze of a myriad lights. As the
work progressed the San Franciscans who were interested
in the scheme often climl^ed to the bungalow to watch the
progress of the work.

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The scheme prepared by Mr. Bumha^ provided, first,
for a civic centre where all the principal city buildhigs were
to be located and also the new union railroad station.
About this was to be a broad, circular boulevard, a perim-
eter of distribution, and beyond this a series of broader
boulevards or parkways connecting the hills, which were to
be converted into parks themselves.

About this was to have been the encircling boule-
vard following the shore line of the peninsula. The scheme
included also the extension of the avenue leading to the
Golden Gate Park, known as the Panhandle, the building
of a Greek amphitheatre on the Twin Peaks, with a statue
of 3an Francisco greeting the countries of the Orient. The
plan also provided for a new parade ground at the Presidio
and the building of numerous parks and playgrounds
throughout the city. All this was to have cost millions,
but to a man of the largeness of view of the City Builder
this was a detail which was to be reckoned with year by

Now that buildings which were to have been acquired
by the city to make room for the pathways of the ideal San
Francisco have been swept away by fire, it may be that the
vision of Daniel H. Bumham may be realized, not in years
but in months.

Like most men who accomplish things Mr. Burnham
is not given to talking. He said that he did not think the
work which he had done entitled him to the name
of Builder of Cities, which had been bestowed upon him.

*As a matter of fact," he said, "I did not do so very
much. I served on a few commissions."

He is square shouldered and has the bearing frequent-
ly noticed in men of his type who are accustomed to deal-

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ing with difficulties and overcoming them. His eyes are
genial and kindly and they show the artist and the idealist
as strongly as the firm chin reveals the aggressive business
man. He is a combination of the poet and the utilitarian,
for he is as romantic as he is practical. The designer of the
Jewel by the Golden Gate is also the architect of the Flat-
iron Building.

'What do you think of San Francisco?** he was asked.

"San Francisco," he replied, and his eye kindled as he
spoke, "has the finest site for a city in the world. No words
can do justice to the natural beauties which surround it.
It can be easily a second Paris."

"But will it?" was asked.

"That is hard to say," replied Mr. Bumham. "It
was the original intention that a change should be made
gradually. In order to carry out the scheme considerable
legislation will be nec-essary. It was intended that Balti-
more after the fire should be completely remodelled as far
as its streets were concerned, but, as is well known, not all
of these plans were carried out. The improvement of
Paris is still being carried on in conformity with the plans
prepared by Baron Hausmann, and it will be many years
before they are completed. In the French capital boule-
vards are still being constructed and changes made in ac-
cordance with the Haussman scheme."


"It is an unfortunate thing that our American cities
are not first laid out in accordance with some definite idea.
As a matter of fact, however, they simply grow up and
later have to be changed in order to give them symmetry.
In Europe the whole idea is different. The government

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334 SAN Francisco's great disaster.

has more control over such affairs than it has i^^ this coun-
try, and it prescribes just what the height of th-; buildings
shall be. The result is a skyline which is imposing. In this
country each man builds for himself.

"San Francisco interested me greatly/' he added, "on
account of its possibilities. I have never enjoyed my work
more than I did there on the top of Twin Peaks, with the
city lying beneath us. Everybody who was connected with
the plan was enthusiastically interested in its success."


Mr. Bumham's plan for the New San Francisco left
Chinatown out of the reckoning, as there was talk of pri-
vate capital arranging for the transfer of the quarter to
another part of the city. It was the opinion of Mr. Bum-
ham that Chinatown, as occupying a valuable section of
San Francisco, would eventually have to go.

"Twin Peaks," runs the report made by Mr. Burnham,
"and the property lying around them, should be acquired
for park purposes by the city. The idea is to weave park
and residence districts into interesting and economic rela-
tions, and also to preserve from the encroachments of
building the hill bordered valley running to Lake Merced,
so that the vista from the parks to the ocean shall be un-
broken. It is planned to preserve the beautiful canyon or
glen to the south of Twin Peaks and also to maintain as
far as possible the wooded background formed by the
hills looking south from Golden Gate Park. This park
area of the Twin Peaks, which includes the hills which sur-
round the San Miguel Valley and is terminated by Lake
Merced, is a link in the chain of parks girdling the city.

"To the north of Twin Peaks lies a natural hollow.

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SAN Francisco's great disaster. 335

Here it is proposed to create an amphitheatre or stadium of
vast proportions. The gentler slopes of the Twin Peaks
will probably be used as villa properties. The plans for
Twin Peaks also include a collective centre or academy
which is to be arranged for the accommodation of men in
various branches of intellectual or artistic pursuits. A
little open air theatre, after the Greek model, would form
a part of this scheme."

Even Telegraph Hill is to have its precipitate sides ter-
raced and is to be transformed into a park, according to the
design of Mr. Burnham. To carry out all the plans of the
architect will be a large task, but the citizens of the new
San Francisco expect that the broad general lines will be
laid down and then in the course of time the rest will be

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The San Francisco fire takes rank as the most desti*uc-
tive conflagration in all hfstory, being a calamity of far
greater magnitude even than the famous fires of London
and Chicago. Present indications are that it has done up-
ward of $300,000,000 damage and has made 300,000 people
homeless. The greatest fires of history have been as fol-

Great fire of London, September 2-6, 1666; 436 acres
devastated, 89 churches, many public buildings and 13,200
houses destroyed ; 200,000 people made homeless.

Comhill Ward of London, March 25, 1748; 200 houses

New York City, December 16, 1835; 600 warehouses
destroyed; loss, $20,000,000.

Charleston, S. C, April 27, 1838; 1158 buildings de-

New York City, September 6, 1839 ; 46 buildings de-
stroyed; loss, $10,000,000.

Pittsburg, April 10, 1845; ^^^^^ buildings destroyed;
loss, $6,000,000.

New York City, June 28, 1845; ^3^0 dwellings de-

New York City, July 19, 1845 > 3^^ buildings destroyed
and four lives lost

Albany, N. Y., September 9, 1848; 600 buildings de-
stroyed ; loss, $3,000,000.

St. Louis, May 17, 1849; ^5 blocks of houses and 23
steamboats destroyed ; loss, $3,000,000.

San Francisco, May 3-5, 185 1; 2500 buildings de-


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SAN Francisco's citEAT disaster. 337

strcyed, many lives lost; loss, $3,500,000.

San Francisco, June 22, 1851 ; 500 buildings destroyed;
I0S&, $3,000,000.

Portland, Me., July 4, 1866; city practically destroyed;
10,000 made homeless; loss, $15,000,000.

Chicago, October 8-9, 1872; 17,450 buildings de-
stroyed, 200 people killed, 98,500 made homeless; loss,
$200,000,000. The most destructive fire ever known prior
to the San Francisco calamity.

Boston, November 9, 1872 ; 800 buildings burned ; loss,

Baltimore, February 7-8, 1904 ; 2500 buildings burned ;
loss, $70,000,000.

It will be seen that the great Chicago fire is second in
the extent of loss of life and property loss to that at San
Francisco. The great fire most recently in the minds of
the people was that at Baltimore. The whole nation was
appalled at the extent of that disaster. Something of the
awful catastrophe at San Francisco may be imagined when
the fact is stated that it is twenty times greater than the
calamity at Baltimore. The Baltimore burned district con-
tained nearly 140 acres, while at San Francisco, six square
miles, or nearly 4000 acres were burned over. The extreme
length of Baltimore's burned district, north and south, was
2900 feet ; east and west, 3800 feet. The extreme length of
San Francisco's devastated area, north and south, was
21,000 feet, or four miles, and the extreme length, east and
west, 15,700 feet, or three miles. The outer margin of the
San Francisco fire was 26 miles long. In the Baltimore fire,
73 blocks and 25 isolated sections along the water front, or
93 squares, were destroyed. In San Francisco more than
lOGO blocks were wiped out. The total number of buildings

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338 SAN Francisco's great disaster.

destroyed in Baltimore was 1343, while 15,000 buildings
were burned or razed by the earthquake in San Francisco.
Conservative estimates place the actual property damage
in Baltimore at $150,000,000, on which $50,000,000 in
insurance was carried, of which $32,000,000 actually was
paid. The actual property damage in San Francisco equals
$300,000,000, on which $150,000,000 will eventually be
paid. In Baltimore 20 banks, 8 hotels, i theatre and i
church were destroyed. In San Francisco, 4 banks, 7 hotels,
6 theatres, 17 churches and 2 markets, though this does
not include smaller banks and hotels.

But what makes the Baltimore fire fade into insig-
nificance beside the Western disaster is that while in Balti-
more few liomes were burned and, so far as known, no
lives were lost; in San Francisco thousands were left home-
less and 1,000 persons perished.


The Chicago fire first called to the attention of this
country the possible fate of great cities when attacked
by this destroyer. That catastrophe sartled the country
as few disasters ever have done. The wave of horror, and
following it the greater wave of sympathy and will to aid,
equalled in intensity similar phenomena which followed the
Mow to San Francisco.

The conflagration commenced by the overturning of
a lamp, in a district built up almost exclusively of wood,
about nine o'clock in the evening of Sunday, October 8,
1871 ; it continued through that night and the greater part
of the next day, lapping up great blocks of houses, and
growing by what it fed on. It was finally checked by ex-

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SAN Francisco's great disaster. 339

plosions of gunpowder in a line of houses on tlie south of
the fire, and exhausted itself on the north By buminj^c ^^1
there was to ignite. The area burned over in each divi-
sion of the city was as follows: West division (in which the
fire originated), 194 acres; South division, 460 acres;
North division, 1470 acres. The total area burned was
2124 acres, or nearly 31-3 square miles, about 4 miles in
length, .and from i to ij^ miles in width. The season had
been excessively dry; the rainfall in Chicago for the sum-
mer had been 28>4 per cent, of the average. There was
a strong southwest wind, made a very sirocco by the heat,
and taking irregular, fantastic and uncontrollable off-shoots
and eddies, which spread the fire in all directions except
west. The city fire department, though lai^e and efficient,
had been exhausted by an unusually extended fire the Sat-
urday preceding, and the flames outran even their earliest
efforts. Wooden buildings were scattered throughout the
entire city, acting as brands to spread the conflagration.
These were the main conditions of the fire.


The total number of buildings destroyed was 17,450,
and 98,860 people were rendered homeless; of the latter
250 perished in the flames or lost their lives from exposure.
Thousands, tiying before the flames, sought refuge in the
lake, and remained standing in the water for hours as the
only means of preservation against the intense heat and
the showers of sparks and cinders. Among the buildings
destroyed were the custom-house, post-office, courthouse,
chamber of commerce and nearly afl the churches, railway
stations, hotels, banks, theatres, newspaper offices, and

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340 SAN Francisco's great disaster.

buildings of a quasi-public character. It is estimated that
73 miles frontage of streets was burned over, most of which
had been improved with wood block pavements ; these were
partially destroyed. The total loss has been estimated at
$196,000,000— of which $53,000,000 represented the value
of the buildings destroyed, $58,710,000 the personal effects,
and the remainder business stocks, produce and manufac-
tures of every description. On the losses there was an in-
surance of $88,634,122, of which dbout one-half was re-
covered. A vast system of relief was organized, which re-
ceived the most generous aid from all parts of the world.
The money contributions from the various States and from
abroad were $4,996,782 ; of this England contributed nearly
$500,000. These funds, which were over and above the
contributions of food, clothing and supplies, were made to
last, under the careful and honest administration of a so-
ciety of citizens till the close of the year 1876. Out of them
temporary homes were provided for nearly 40,000 people ;
barracks and shelter-houses were erected, workmen were
supplied with tools and women with sewing-machines ; the
sick were cared for and the dead buried; anil the poorer
ckisses of Chicago were probably' never so comfortable as
within two or three years after this fire.


The work of rebuilding the city was accomplishel with
marvelous rapidity. Immediately after the fire, the most
sanguine persons predicted that it would require at least
ten years to restore the buildings that had been destroyed.
But within three years the city was provided with buildings
equal in capacity and of two-fold value. The work was

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begun before the cinders were cold, and the population
seemed to gain new ambition and new energy from the dis-
aster. The "fire limits" were extended so as to prevent the
erection of other that stone, brick or iron buildings within
a large area, and subsequetly this prohibition was applied
to the entire city. The result has been to make new Chicago
the most beautiful city in America in its business center.

But it is within the last five years that the architectural
development of Chicago has been greatest and most marked.
The construction of buildings of 12, 14 and even 18 and
20 stories has become so common that the erection of half-
a-dozen new "skyscrapers" is hardly noticed. Office build-
ings containing from 400 to 600 rooms are common, and
even larger buildings are projected. No city on earth can
boast of such commercial buildings as Chicago, while the
structures devoted to manufacturing purposes are un-
equalled anywhere. Side by side with this, the erection of
public buildings and private residences has gone on apace
until Chicago stands second only to New York among
American cities. The swift rehabilitation of the city is
prophetic of what will happen at San Francisco. The same
indomitable spirit, born, perhaps of the West, is the proud
possession of the people of the city that sets a watch at
the Golden Gate. Just as the new Chicago, that rose on
the ashf-'s of the old was a greater city than had been, so
the nev/ San Francisco will be greater. Chicago's inspira-
tion came largely from the fact that it stood in a position
of strategic importance to the vast West which was then
on the threshold of a tremendous commercial importance.
In the case of San Francisco there is even greater inspira-
tion to be got from her commercial future. The great
Orient is only beginning the era of its importance as a

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342 SAN Francisco's great disaster.

market for American products. Through the Golden Gate
is to stream a commerce, growing each year in extent and
importance, even greater than that which has grown up in
the territory which pays tribute to the marts of Qiicago.
It is no empty prediction that a greater future spreads out
before San Francisco than before any American port. The
whole nation will share in the prosperity which must come,
not only to San Francisco, but to every port on the
Pacific Coast, which flings open its portals for the trade
of the East. Mighty China is awakening. Manchuria, to
the northward, is to be an ever increasing market. Ameri-
can merchants already have invaded some of the most
promising territory. One day all of China will be opened to
the trade of the world ; the people will awake to needs now
undreamed of in their primitive state. Every producing
country in the world will be a competitor for the rich
stakes offered, but American enterprise will, beyond doubt,
dominate the ever widening Asiatic market. It is through
San Francisco, largely that the trade must flow ; that which,
in ever increasing volume, will flow from the East toward
the American and European markets. It is to realize all
the boundless possibilities of this golden future that the
city must rise, as her sister, of the mid-west rose, thirty-
five years ago.


A little more than a year after the Chicago fire the
nation was startled again by a similar disaster which visited

The buildings of Boston having from the first been
largely of wood — the use of which material for that pur-

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SAN Francisco's great disaster. 343

pose IS now under severe restrictions — and closely com-
pacted, the old town suffered from frequent and disastrous
conflagrations, several of which were successively described
as "The Great Fire." There had been ten of these disas-
ters, severe under the then existing circumstances, before
the year 1698. In 171 1, the townhouse and a meeting
house, both of brick, and a hundred dwellings were de-
stroyed. In 1760 a conflagration consumed 349 dwellings,
stores, and shops, and rendered more than 1,000 people
homeless. But these and all subsequent ones were eclipsed
in their devastation by the disaster of November 9-10,
1872, in which hundreds of costly warehouses filled with
goods, with banks, offices, churches, etc., were destroyed,
though all of brick or granite, involving a loss of over
$80,000,000. It is an evidence of the energy and resources
of the citizens, that in a little more than two years after
the catastrophe, the whole "burnt district," with widened
and improved thoroughfares, was covered with solid, sub-
stantial, and palatial edifices combining all the safeguards,
improvements, and conveniences of modem skill.

Here, again, American pluck came to the fore. This
time the sturdy New England stock was called to show
its mettle. And when the battle had been won it remained
an open question whether New England valor or western
pluck had gained the day. At any rate, Just as Chicago
•had met the crisis and come oflf victor, so Boston, in her
hour of trial, won the laurel and the bay. And the same
moral must be pointed; for what Boston, on the Atlantic
seaboard, did, San Francisco, on the shores of the Pacific,
will do.


The Baltimore fire, to which reference has been made

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by way of comparison, will always be numbered among
the great disasters to American cities, though outdone by
the extent of the catastrophes at Chicago, Boston and San
Francisco. In the case of Baltimore, the blow was struck
mainly at the business life of the city. So far as known
no life was lost directly as the cause of fire and only a few
score were rendered homeless. The fire ravaged the busi-
ness districts of the city, leaving the residence sections in-
tact. It began on Sunday afternoon, February 7, 1904,
and burned for forty-eight hours. Fire apparatus from
Washington, Philadelphia, New York, and a score of
smaller cities in Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey
was sent to aid the Baltimore department and the credit
of stopping the avalanche of flame on the eastern edge,
within five hundred yards' of the city's great tenement
house district was accorded to the volunteers from New
York. The damage amounted to $150,000,000. Insurance
of $59,000,000 was paid. The city declined to accept out-
side assistance, though this was freely proffered from all
parts of the country. The Mayor, Robert M. McLane,
sent abroad a brave message declaring that the blow had
fallen exclusively on the business interests, that there was
no human want or suffering, and that, unassisted, the busi-
ness interests of the city would meet the crisis and rebuild
their city on a bigger and better scale than it had known.
All of this was accomplished. Within a year tremendous
strides had been made toward rebuilding. In the mean-
time business had invaded residence sections, even the
fashionable thoroughfares of the city, and, despite the
handicap of temporary and incommodious quarters had not
only held their own in a commercial way but had increased

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SAN Francisco's great disaster. 345

the commercial importance of the Gateway City of the

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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 19 of 25)