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- 3 Fires
Due to a widespread practice by insurers to indemnify San Francisco properties from fire, but not earthquake damage, most of the destruction in the city was blamed on the fires. Some property owners deliberately set fire to damaged properties, in order to claim them on their insurance. Capt. Leonard D. Wildman of the U.S. Army Signal Corps reported that he "was stopped by a fireman who told me that people in that neighborhood were firing their houses…they were told that they would not get their insurance on buildings damaged by the earthquake unless they were damaged by fire".
Palace Hotel, subsequently rebuilt, which had many famous visitors, including royalty and celebrated performers. It was constructed in 1875 primarily financed by Bank of California co-founder William Ralston, the "man who built San Francisco". In April 1906, the tenor Enrico Caruso and members of the Metropolitan Opera Company came to San Francisco to give a series of performances at the Grand Opera House. The night after Caruso's performance in Carmen, the tenor was awakened in the early morning in his Palace Hotel suite by a strong jolt. Clutching an autographed photo of President Theodore Roosevelt, Caruso made an effort to get out of the city, first by boat and then by train, and vowed never to return to San Francisco. Caruso died in 1921, having remained true to his word. The Metropolitan Opera Company lost all of its traveling sets and costumes in the earthquake and ensuing fires.
Some of the greatest losses from fire were in scientific laboratories. Alice Eastwood, the curator of botany at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, is credited with saving nearly 1,500 specimens, including the entire type specimen collection for a newly discovered and extremely rare species, before the remainder of the largest botanical collection in the western United States was destroyed in the fire. The entire laboratory and all the records of Benjamin R. Jacobs, a biochemist who was researching the nutrition of everyday foods, were destroyed. The original California flag used in the 1846 Bear Flag Revolt at Sonoma, which at the time was being stored in a state building in San Francisco, was also destroyed in the fire.
The fire following the earthquake in San Francisco, cost an estimated $350 million at the time, equivalent to $8.97 billion. The devastating quake levelled about 80% of the city.
ResponseThe city's fire chief, Dennis T. Sullivan, was gravely injured when the earthquake first struck and later died from his injuries. The interim fire chief sent an urgent request to the Presidio, an army post on the edge of the stricken city, for dynamite. General Frederick Funston had already decided that the situation required the use of troops. Telephoning a policeman, he sent word to Mayor Eugene Schmitz of his decision to assist, and then ordered army troops from nearby Angel Island to mobilize and come into the city. Explosives were ferried across the bay from the California Powder Works in what is now Hercules.
On April 18, in response to riots among evacuees and looting, Mayor Schmitz issued and ordered posted a proclamation that "The Federal Troops, the members of the Regular Police Force and all Special Police Officers have been authorized by me to kill any and all persons found engaged in Looting or in the Commission of Any Other Crime". In addition, accusations of soldiers themselves engaging in looting also surfaced.
Early on April 18, 1906, recently retired Captain Edward Ord of the 22nd Infantry Regiment was appointed a Special Police Officer by Mayor Eugene Schmitz and liasioned with Major General Adolphus Greely for relief work with the 22nd Infantry and other military units involved in the emergency. Ord later wrote a long letter to his mother on the April 20 regarding Schmitz' "Shoot-to-Kill" Order and some "despicable" behavior of certain soldiers of the 22nd Infantry who were looting. He also made it clear that the majority of soldiers served the community well.
Political and business leaders strongly downplayed the effects of the earthquake, fearing loss of outside investment in the city which badly needed to rebuild. In his first public statement, California governor George Pardee emphasized the need to rebuild quickly: "This is not the first time that San Francisco has been destroyed by fire, I have not the slightest doubt that the City by the Golden Gate will be speedily rebuilt, and will, almost before we know it, resume her former great activity". The earthquake itself is not even mentioned in the statement. Fatality and monetary damage estimates were manipulated.
Almost immediately after the quake (and even during the disaster), planning and reconstruction plans were hatched to quickly rebuild the city. Rebuilding funds were immediately tied up by the fact that virtually all the major banks had been sites of the conflagration, requiring a lengthy wait of seven-to-ten days before their fire-proof vaults could cool sufficiently to be safely opened. The Bank of Italy had evacuated its funds and was able to provide liquidity in the immediate aftermath. Its president also immediately chartered and financed the sending of two ships to return with shiploads of lumber from Washington and Oregon mills which provided the initial reconstruction materials and surge. In 1929, Bank of Italy was renamed and is now known as Bank of America.
William James, the pioneering American psychologist, was teaching at Stanford at the time of the earthquake and traveled into San Francisco to observe first-hand its aftermath. He was most impressed by the positive attitude of the survivors and the speed with which they improvised services and created order out of chaos. This formed the basis of the chapter "On some Mental Effects of the Earthquake" in his book Memories and Studies.
H. G. Wells had just arrived in New York on his first visit to America when he learned, at lunch, of the San Francisco earthquake. What struck him about the reaction of those around him was that "it does not seem to have affected any one with a sense of final destruction, with any foreboding of irreparable disaster. Every one is talking of it this afternoon, and no one is in the least degree dismayed. I have talked and listened in two clubs, watched people in cars and in the street, and one man is glad that Chinatown will be cleared out for good; another's chief solicitude is for Millet's 'Man with the Hoe.' 'They'll cut it out of the frame,' he says, a little anxiously. 'Sure.' But there is no doubt anywhere that San Francisco can be rebuilt, larger, better, and soon. Just as there would be none at all if all this New York that has so obsessed me with its limitless bigness was itself a blazing ruin. I believe these people would more than half like the situation."
For example, real estate investors and other land owners were against the idea due to the large amount of land the city would have to purchase to realize such proposals. City fathers likewise attempted at the time to eliminate the Chinese population and export Chinatown (and other poor populations) to the edge of the county where the Chinese could still contribute to the local taxbase. The Chinese occupants had other ideas and prevailed instead. Chinatown was rebuilt in the newer, modern, Western form that exists today. The destruction of City Hall and the Hall of Records enabled thousands of Chinese immigrants to claim residency and citizenship, creating a backdoor to the Chinese Exclusion Act, and bring in their relatives from China.
While the original street grid was restored, many of Burnham's proposals inadvertently saw the light of day, such as a neoclassical civic center complex, wider streets, a preference of arterial thoroughfares, a subway under Market Street, a more people-friendly Fisherman's Wharf, and a monument to the city on Telegraph Hill, Coit Tower.
The earthquake was also responsible for the development of the Pacific Heights neighborhood. The immense power of the earthquake had destroyed almost all of the mansions on Nob Hill except for the James C. Flood Mansion. Others that hadn't been destroyed were dynamited by the Army forces aiding the firefighting efforts in attempts to create firebreaks. As one indirect result, the wealthy looked westward where the land was cheap and relatively undeveloped, and where there were better views and a consistently warmer climate. Constructing new mansions without reclaiming and clearing old rubble simply sped attaining new homes in the tent city during the reconstruction.
Reconstruction was swift, and largely completed by 1915, in time for the 1915 Panama–Pacific International Exposition which celebrated the reconstruction of the city and its "rise from the ashes".
Since 1915, the city has officially commemorated the disaster each year by gathering the remaining survivors at Lotta's Fountain, a fountain in the city's financial district that served as a meeting point during the disaster for people to look for loved ones and exchange information.
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