The Marina District is landfill of brick ruble from the 1906 Earthquake, but the area of the Embarcadero waterfront is mostly landfill from old ships abandoned during the Gold Rush era. Prior to 1906, several restaurants were housed in the remains of ships which had fill around them. During the 48 second shake in 1906, subsequent fire and fire break dynamite effort destroyed much of this area. The most significant survivor though--one of only two--is the Ferry Building. Serving to transport thousands daily across the bay to Oakland, prior to construction of the Golden Gate and Bay bridges during the 1930's, the Ferry Building was a huge transportation hub. My father recalls waiting in line for hours to load the family car onto a ferry at a time when the Ferry Building was the second busiest transportation terminal in the world. All Muni lines converged at the Ferry Building, and some 170 ferries per day floated commuters to and from work. Originally built in 1898, at the spot where ferry service had already been conducted since 1850, the Ferry Building serviced at this time the 10th most populated city in the United States, a city larger than Los Angeles prior to the 1920's. After the Bay Bridge was built, and the boom of the post-WWII automobile era, the building became almost forgotten, eventually hidden behind a ramp of the unfinished Embarcadero Freeway. At one point, the Ferry Building became slated for demolition. Fortunately, wiser heads prevailed, and rather the Embarcadero freeway became demolished when the Loma Prieta Earthquake exposed poor engineering. The Ferry Building has since been completely restored to prominence along the scenic Embarcadero.
At 20th and Dolores, near the Muni tracks just up the hill above Dolores Park is the Golden Fire Hydrant, a water producing hydrant during times when most hydrants were bone dry. The quake not only ruptured the gas lines that fed the street lamps, but also the water lines that served the fire departments. Prior to the quake, the city had already faced three devastating fires and had built up the fire department into one of best in the nation. Death of the fire chief at the outset and almost complete collapse of the water hydrant supply system quickly changed all that, beginning a reign of terror by the army that looted and dynamited parts of the city. The Golden Fire Hydrant was an exception to the water shortage, but it couldn't be reached because the trucks couldn't get up the hill, so a "bucket brigade" of sorts was improvised. The complete story is told in the line below. The bottom line is that Mission Dolores, and perhaps more importantly, the historic Liberty Hill neighborhood where the fire hydrant is located, were saved from the inferno. From all appearances, #12 Golden Fire Hydrant is still functional today. Read the commemorative plate when you get there.
In early 1906, 8 private companies ran 22 cable car lines, but cable was already challenged by electricity. Electric trolley was cheaper to build and operate, so prior to 1906, all companies were extending electrical into newer neighborhoods. However several street grades downtown remained too steep for electric traction, and overhead electrical wiring was opposed by city residents, particularly along Market Street.
During the quake both cable and electrical systems were devasted. The biggest problem was a cluster of powerhouses and barns that burned within the zone of the Great Fire. California Street Cable Railroad, lost its powerhouse and all cars, except for #24, the only car it could put into service four months after the quake. Eight cable car lines total remained operational, and by agreement with city hall "temporary" electrical lines quickly restored transit service into neighborhoods, overhead lines still strung today. Cable cars and trolleys both transported lumber brought by ship from Fort Bragg and the Pacific Northwest.
By the 1920s and 30s, General Motors diesel powered buses could climb hills better than electric trolley and were cheaper to operate than cable cars, and so both cable and electric trolley became regarded as obsolete, reducing, by 1944, the number of companies to 2 and the number of lines to 5. In 1944, MUNI bought the Market Street Railroad, leaving California Cable the last privately held transit system in San Francisco. But in 1946 a report found cable cars financially better than busses. Despite this finding, and efforts of Friedel Klussman and the Citizen's Committee to Save the Cable Cars, Mayor Lapham and the Utilities Manager attempted to shut down the entire system in early 1947. However, SF city attorney ruled that a petition to save the cable cars could proceed, and in late 1947, voters forced the city to continue running the system.
The Calvary Presbyterian Church, located at Jackson and Fillmore, has a remarkable history. First organized in 1854, the first building was on Bush street, between Sansome and Montgomery, in what is today the financial district. The first pastor, Dr. William Anderson Scott, a friend and minister to President Andrew Jackson, had come to San Francisco from New Orleans. A powerful and controversial preacher, Dr. Scott filled the 1,500 seat sanctuary every Sunday. During the Civil War he prayed for the presidents of both sides of the conflict, but his sympathies for the Confederate south, and outspoken in opposition to the Vigilantes in SF, forced him to flee the city. Years later, he returned to the city and founded St. John's Presbyterian Church, a historic monument in the Richmond District. Scott was also instrumental in the founding of San Francisco Theological Seminary. In any case, the church grew and in 1869 a new building was built at Geary and Powell Streets. "One of the largest and most elegant structures for worship of God on the Pacific Coast", my grandmother was baptized there as an infant in 1893. In 1903, the St. Francis Hotel purchased the lot on which it stood, and paid to move the building, stone by stone. Ironically, the brand-new St. Francis Hotel perished in the fire, while the venerable Calvary Presbyterian survived at the bed rock of the wealthy Pacific Heights neighborhood to where it was moved. After the great fire, the basement of the church served as the county courthouse. Anyone today will become spirtually lifted by the music from the church's huge organ, which was installed in 1928. The four-manual, six division Swain and Kates/Aeolian organ with 108 ranks and over 6000 pipes replaced a earlier pipe organ that was sold and remains in use today at St. Mary's College in Moraga, CA. Calvary Presbyterian is one of San Francisco's many buildings listed on the National Registry of Historical Landmarks. Closed on Saturdays.
Does it surprise anyone that the oldest building in San Francisco is also one of the few that survived the Great Fire? The Mission District barely survived the earthquake and fire, due in part to the Golden Hydrant (see that tip) that continued to pump water after all other pipes when dry. Virtually all the touristed areas known today perished in the fire, but the city's first building, once a humble Mission for the Ohlone Indians, located alone near a stream in a valley on the SF peninsula, survived. In fact, Mission Dolores has survived numerous other earthquakes, and the adobe and wood structure has settled slightly with each one. In 1906, the relatively new cathedral immediately adjacent to the old mission santuary collapsed, while the adobe of Dolores stood firm. The exact reasons why the adobe structure has proved more stable are not completely understood, but it seems clear that the massively thick mud brick walls are more able to adjust to landform changes below. Numerous San Francisco churches burned to the ground during 1906, but its also notable that in addition to several more grandiose church survivors (see Calvary Presbyterian Church, for example), humble Mission Dolores is among them.
"Portals of the Past" was the entrance to the mansion of A.N. Towne, on Nob Hill. It now stands on the shores of Lloyd Lake, in Golden Gate Park, and is a favorite with photographers. The image below shows where the portals originally stood, with the stricken city in the background, the mansion having been destroyed by fire. In this photo also, one can make out the ruins of the city hall in the background. The website link provides images of the four columns as they stand in Golden Gate Park today.
At the foot of Mission on the Embarcadero is the Audiffred Building, which, along with the Ferry Building, is the only survivor of the 1906 earthquake in this part of town. A bribe of whiskey kept firefighters from dynamiting the building during the great fire that followed the earthquake. For years, the building stood little noticed in the shadows of the Embarcadero Freeway--an 1950's gasoline generation fiasco that was itself damaged by the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake. Political wisdom prevailed, the freeway structure was torn down, uniting the city with its waterfront once again. The building is a national landmark not only because it survived the earthquake but because of it's architectural beauty. See the link the below for photo and more details.
Nothing is more inspirational to me, deepens my love of San Francisco, or is more enjoyable than the outstanding and excellent photography of Morton Beebe.
Just like when I follow Patricia Wells footsteps through Paris for amazing food,
I am also addicted to chasing Morton Beebe around San Francisco with my eyes and digital camera.
Merely aspiring to approach the level of quality and artistry in his work would be sacrilegious,
but is it ever great fun pursuing his beautiful & signature scenes around the City.
I currently own 2 books of his San Francisco photographs:
"San Francisco: City by the Bay - 3rd Revised Edition"
and I am most proud to also have a signed first-edition copy of "San Francisco."
The new and currently available editions are excellent and contain additional pages & photos along with updated examples of his work.
Accompanying the incredible photographs in his books are essays and commentary by Herb Caen, Tom Cole, Barnaby Conrad, Kevin Starr, and Herbert Gold, along with many archived black&white photographs from San Francisco's early days.
Morton Beebe is a kind, patient & gracious gentleman as well as a world-class artist and photographer.
Just my opinion, but no home or business of any San Francisco-lover could possibly be complete without at least one book of his beautiful photographs sitting within easy reach for everyone to enjoy.
You can check out some of his work here:
Morton Beebe as well as purchase it online.
Mr. Beebe: Thanks much for your kindness and attention, not to mention your wonderful work that you share with everyone.
All the great cities have talented buskers, street performers & artists, and San Francisco is no exception.
This particular group (DeCadence) from Berkeley was performing on a Saturday morning near the Embarcadero.
My foto and even their website do them no justice as their a cappella vocals, choreography, arrangements etc. were tight, outstanding, all delivered with tons of spirit.
And it was free (but you have to drop some $ in the hat when someone is that good).
The oldest existing monument in San Francisco is Lotta's Fountain, located at the intersection of Market, Kearney, and Geary, diagonally across from the Palace Hotel. This rather humble gold painted, cast iron public fountain (now dry), with lion heads was purchased and shipped from Philadelphia by famed singer, Lotta Crabtree, and dedicated as a token of her appreciation for the city that made her rich. Lotta Crabtree and her mother arrived in San Francisco in 1852, and built a fortune from gold nuggets tossed on stage for young Lotta's performances. While her mother wore black and had business talents, red headed and vivacious, Lotta woed the miners with her Mae West style suggestive singing and hip movements. Between the late 1860's through 1890's Lotta was a national sensation for her stage and theater performances. Despite her popularity, she never married. Lotta became very wealthy and provided the public fountain at the time the new Palace Hotel was constructed in 1875. Few Hollywood stars today will be so well remembered as Lotta Crabtree. See links below for more information about her life and times. The monument is a survivor of the 1906 earthquake and fire, and was a popular meeting place for those looking for loved ones. Also, note that famed Italian opera singer Luisa Tetrazzinni, who sang in front of Lotta's Fountain on Christmas Eve in 1910, is memorialized on a bronze band around the upper part of the fountain. The KQED link below has a quicktime recording of the diva's arias sung that night, as well as the interesting story of her free concert on the street of San Francisco.
I love Paris / Montparnasse, and San Francisco as well, and feel a similar vibe in both cities.
I was exiting North Beach, walking into the Jackson Sq. Historic District
by the old Fugazi Bank Building
when I spotted my old friend Kiki from Montparnasse on the wall across the street from the Alioto building.
For anyone who loves San Francisco and Paris, and knows who Kiki & Man Ray were, you will understand the reason I took this picture.
The Pacific Heights neighborhood generally faired very well during the earthquake and fire, because of the solid bedrock location, the quality of upscale housing built there, and the ability of the neighborhood to defend itself against loss during the great fire. I have several tips on VT related to the homes and buildings here, among them nearby Calvary Presbyterian Church. The Webster Historic District deserves special attention not only because of these older homes are earthquake and fire survivors, but also because the initial quality design and construction by notable SF architects, such as realestate subdivider William Hollis. Perhaps the most famous of the historic landmarks within the Webster Historic Distric is the Dallam-Merritt House at 2355 Washington Street, which is between Buchanan and Webster. In addition to the extraordinary finish detail, note how the home is set back on the lot, and has extra landscape space and more windows on the south side of the building. In addition to this building, is another less dramatic, but still wonderfully restored home on the same block.
Visitors are very likely to pass by the huge bronze statue of 5 muscle bound and naked men struggling with a stamp press. Formally the Peter Donahue Memorial, Mechanics Monument is located at the intersection of Market, Bush, and Battery. This most brilliant of three works along Market Street by the "Michelangelo of the West", Douglas Tilden, a native-born Californian, and a university trained artist whose wealthy family is perhaps most famous around the city of Chico, where descendents mostly live today.
Then Major Phelan, gave Tildren free reign, while the son of Peter Donahue, founder of the Union Iron Works, donated the idea and money for a tribute to his father. Donahue had arrived in 1849 with only an anvil, hammer, and apron and began business under a shade tree. He proceeded to create the first foundry west of the Mississippi, to manufacture the first printing press west of the Mississippi, and to build the first city railway. He also founded Pacific Gas, which after merging with Edison Electric, became PG&E, today the largest supplier of natural gas and electricity on the Pacific coast.
Tilden details well the human body. Here, muscles flair, and men of impressive proportions perform a heroic task, actually the everyday work of laboring men. Unfamiliar with the labor of an iron worker, Tilden was impressed by seeing men using the stamp press. My grandfather, who with Union Iron Works at the time, could easily have served as a model for Tilden classic work.
Tilden's two other bronze works along Market street were built earlier: The Admission Day Monument (Market and Montgomery Streets), and the California Volunteers (Market and Dolores Streets).
The earthquake caused the reflecting pool of the Mechanics Monument to crack and drain, but the monument survived while buildings around it collapsed. Tilden's monuments provided inspiration for the rebuilding of San Francisco after the 1906 Earthquake. In these photos, someone had cleverly provided a worker a bicycle helmet.
Douglas Tilden, a California native university trained in art, was commissioned to build 3 Market street monuments, including The Pioneers, The Mechanics, and The Admissions Day monument. Tilden is often regarded a the "Michelangelo of the West" for the muscular realism in his bronze statues. Tilden is also known for being deaf. Born in 1860, Tilden lost his hearing from scarlet fever at age 5, but with the help of wealthy parents, was educated at the California school for the deaf, and taught art there after he graduated. Later he learned more about sculpture from another deaf sculptor during a trip through France. The Admission Day monument, located at the intersection of Market, Post, and Montgomery Streets, is actually a collaboration with famed Bay Area architect, James Phelan. This monument commemorates the entry of California into the union of the United States in 1850.
Address: 999 California
Mark Hopkins built this wooden Victorian mansion atop Nob Hill. It was destroyed by the 1906 earthquake and fire. Now the location of the Mark Hopkins Hotel. I love the bar they have here today, the "Top of Mark", famous for the history and the great views.
This place does not get as much "love" as the Fairmont Hotel, across the street, but I don't think you can find a true local who has not had a glass of bubbly at the "Top of Mark".