Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Remembering San Francisco's Big Shakeup

Want to see these photos in modern 3D with your smart phone? You can! Jump to the bottom of the article for instructions!

When San Franciscans went to bed on the night of April 17, 1906 (those who did go to bed - sections of the city teamed with life at night), little did they know that over three thousand would be dead in the morning. When the ground began shaking at 5:12 in the morning, the city which had been largely built with brick and wood crumbled. Powerlines came down at the same time as gas mains burst, and with the water mains also severed, fires raged across the city doing even more damage than the shaking ground had.

Then came those trying to control the fires, but dynamiting countless buildings in it path in hopes of cutting fire breaks, when all they did was create large mounds of wood and debris to fuel the flames. In the end, over 80% of the city was destroyed. It was rebuilt, of course, but rebuilt differently, newer, better, and much of what had once been was lost forever. After the Civil War, the San Francisco earthquake and fire were the first major American disaster to come about in the age of photography, and much of the damage was captured on camera, as with these stereo cards.

Wreck of interior of "Emporium" which collapsed after fire. "This confused mass of fallen and shattered steel beams and bare framework from whih the walls have fallen, roofless and wrecked, was once the largest store in San Francisco, a huge department establishment.... The upper stories were used by the State Supreme Court, but now all that remains in the least intact of the once handsome Parrott Building is the stone front on Market Street....

Post Street, once a busy shopping district, now a scene of desolation. "We are still in the heart of the business section, only a block or two from Market Street near the Call and Chronicle Buildings. No attempt has been made to clear away the wreckage in the street. The roadway is filled from curb to tcurb with bricks that have been shaken down, no so much by the earthquake, as by the repeated flames. Then on a level with the curious spectators is a tangled mass of charred wires, sagged down from their supports. These were the danger-points of the disaster and the origin of most of the fires thatj broke out at once, as the electric currents ignited the escaping gas from bursting mains. Post Street...was becoming a favorite retail shopping district, particularly in the vicinity of Union Scquare, a short distance down the street behind us. The skyscraper inthe background was in process of construction at the time of the disaster and was not injured.

Palace Hotel, undamaged by earthquake, interior burned out. "Less than a mile up Market Street from the ferry, we stop to gaze at the empty shells of these great buildings, once the very center of public life of the gay, cosmopolitan San Francisco. Directly in front stands the windowless, floorless Palace Hotel, the largest and most popular in the city. On the night of April 17th it was crowded to the doors with guests...attending the opera season by the Conried Company of New York. All escaped but with enormous loss, and the flames rapidly devoured all but the brick walls. Next above stands the ten-story Monadnock office building, hardly completed at the time of the disaster and but little dmamaged. Beyond that rises the tallest building in San Francisco, the huge Spreckels Building, better known as the Call, from the newspaper whose offices were located in it. This, too, was completely gutted by fire.

Wrecked Hall of Justice, seen from a street in Chinatown. "Chinatown, that mysterious and fascinating quarter of San Francisco, has vanished. No new Chinatown will probably ever present the same weird, Oriental aspect, nor add the hidden mystery of those vast underground burrows, now for the first time laid bare. The district was bounded approximately by Sacramento, Stockton, Pacific nad Kearney Streets, and we are standing in the heart of it on Washington Street, now filled with heaps of bring and iron beams. Down the street stands the Hall of Justice, with the steel frame of its cupola toppled over on the tower. Part of the ruin was caused by the earthquake, but the ragin fire that swept this district cleaned out the interior. The scorched trees on this side of the building are in Portsmouth Square, bounded nearest us by Kearney Street. This was formerly known as the Plaza, and aobut it stood the original little Mexican settlement of Yerba Buena."

Terrible destruction of City Hall (cost $7,000,000), from Market street. "The magnificent and costly City Hall, the pride of San Francisco, stands about a mile and a half from the Bay, in a small triangular park, called Yerba Buena after the original Mexican settlement northeast of Market Street. Its once stately outlines can with difficulty be traced in the sreck, which less than a minute produced. The destruction here was entirely the work of the earthquake. Nothin in all the ruined city shows more vividly the awful force of the earthquake than this shattered building. On this Larkin Street side the walls were thrown down for several hundred feet, filling the street for two blockes with high piles of brick and cement. Only two blocks away on the left, at Van Ness and Golden Gate Avenues, the fire reached its western limit."

Dynamiting dangerous walls on Market Street after the fire. "By April 21st the fire was practically extinguished and the next day the work of clearing up was begun. first of all Market Street was made passable, and for this work citizens of all classes were pressed into service by the military authorities, who were still the supporters of law and order. But when the debris had been cleared, a great danger still remained in the shattered walls, still standing in the most threatening condition. The dynamiting [of the walls] is being done under the direction of the Building Committee, a body of forty citizens appointed by Mayor Schmitz. Several members of the committee are in this automobile, watching the explosion several hundred feet down the street. This work will have to be done all over the burned district, for most of the ruined walls can be handled only in this way."

Want to see these photos in modern 3D with your smart phone? You can! All you need is one of the popular cardboard VR viewers - more details can be found on this tutorial page - and to download the version of the cards below to your phone.

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