The city of San Francisco experienced two earthquakes in 1906. This caused firestorms which lasted for days destroying life and property worth billions. The city residents were shocked at the sudden turn of events. This is because they could not come to terms with the massive loss they had suffered as a result of the earthquake. People lived in fear as they lost hope in their livelihood since they did not expect such a catastrophe to befall them. However, they quickly recovered and embarked on the reconstruction of their city. There were various causes of the earthquake. As much as such occurrences are deemed to be natural, the San Francisco case was believed to be steered by selfish people, a majority being their political leaders. It is on this background that this paper seeks to articulate the events of April 18, 1906. It will also reflect on the political climate of the city, the response to the disaster and the progress that has been made so far.
A Violent eruption shook the foundations of San Francisco on the morning of April 18 1906. The first eruption lasted for about forty seconds but the effects were devastating. The tremor shattered glass, moved furniture and toppled chimneys. There was 10 seconds of calmness before the tremor hit again for a continuous 25 seconds. The second one was more powerful than the first. The streets were filled with panicking residents unable to comprehend what was going on. They panicked and sought solace in each other trying to comprehend what has just hit them. Hundreds were injured while few were trapped in collapsed establishments. Cries of help filled the city that early morning. To the believers, the world had come to an end. Official records show that the 1906 earthquake was a significant earthquake between 7.8 and 8.3 magnitudes. Geologists posit that it was caused by the movement of tectonic plates of the pacific and North America moving past each other. They were as close as 15 feet apart. After the first two tremors, the subsequent mild shocks persisted for a few hours. This resulted in the break out of fires in a number of areas across the city.
An unfortunate catastrophe had hit the city of San Francisco. The city had prided itself of being a leading cultural and economic powerhouse of the west coast. Disasters of that morning cast a gloomy future for the city and its residents. The earthquake and the fire caused immense destruction of property and caused a surface rapture of about 200 miles which ran sporadically for approximately 80 miles. More significantly, it resulted in the loss of thousands of lives. The deaths of about 3,000 residents were confirmed with another 200, 000 residents being left homeless. Additionally, the tremor and the fire also led to the destruction of essential necessities like the railway system, the water and sewage system, telephone lines, the street and almost all forms of public transport. It is vital to note that within 30 hours after the first tremors begun, the resulting fires had developed into firestorms burning continuously thought the city for three days. They destroyed any familiar or historic buildings bringing the city to its knees.
Despite the massive setback, the city and its residents, supported by the United States governments and the rest of the world began on an ambitious plan to get back to its feet barely before the ashes became cold. Construction works began immediately as people came to terms of what had hit them. Mortar chucks, bricks and heavy stone were used to construct a temporary rail line. Most of the debris, however, was hauled way in using horses. Most of it was dumped into the ocean paving way for new construction sites. During this period, the rest of the United States assisted the residents with food, clothing, sheltering tents and medicine. Other countries globally also contributed immensely in terms of relief aid. Japan was particularly generous contributing almost an equal amount as other foreign countries combined. Several cities were bookmarked for groundbreaking. Even though the new city was constructed along the lines of the old one, the new metropolis plans incorporated a number of developmental changes that made the city modern. For example, a new inspired city hall was designed. The city celebrated its rebirth using a world fair event, the Panama Pacific International Exposition of 1915.
It has been argued that though the city’s management and political leadership may not have caused the fire, they immensely contributed to the devastating events that followed. This has led some scholars to coin the arguments the San Francisco caused the catastrophe and not the earthquake and the subsequent firestorms. Indeed, before and after the tremors hit, the city experienced a number of political challenges. The affluent in this society controlled the political leadership which was tasked with the responsibility of giving directions to the rest of the populace. As such, leaders were regularly being accused of being focused with pleasing the rich rather than serve the city residents without discrimination. The military, the police, the fire brigade and the civilian authorities were accused of a clumsy response to the fire. It is alleged that the rich with the lead of the city`s Mayor usurped the critical functions of the government. The government machinery was held captive at the wimps of unelected officials. They used government facilities and equipment to save their properties and families rather than having a coordinated response designed to save the city as a whole and in the best interest of all city residents. For example, the California Progressives unleashed a wave of violence and divisive politics throughout the city in scheme designed to take over political power. In their minds, this was a moral exercise designed to purify the society of its moral ills. Ruef and other town officials found themselves on the receiving ends. They were being blamed for the earthquake, the fire and their response. A lot of politics led to the prosecution of Ruef and some of the officials who worked at city hall. The progressively had the support of President Roosevelt and a number of powerful individual in his administration. They ended up seizing political power and the government machinery.
The California state government was categorical that the city needed to be rebuilt. Governor Pardee called for immediate construction to commence so as to have the city by the Golden Gate up and running again. Business leaders and some politicians downplayed the damage even going to the extent of alleging that the monetary damage and the fatality statistics had been manipulated to hype the effects of the tremors. Nevertheless, when the rebuilding progress began, the government issued strict guidelines to contractors with regards to building standards. The government was determined to enact any measures that would make the city less vulnerable to future earthquakes. With time, these measures have become less stringent. However, there is a still a policy that constructors should ensure buildings are strengthened up to 50%. It has been acknowledge that the rush to rebuild the city was the desire to host the Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915. Indeed, city residents wanted to demonstrate to the world that they resilient. It was a desire to show the world that they can overcome any challenges that face them and bounce back to their feet. During the exposition, there was little or no evidence that the town had bit hid by a significant disaster less than a decade ago. Despite this massive improvements and progress, analysis still insist some of the buildings built then do not meet the standards. In fact, it has been argued that if an earthquake of a lesser magnitude hit the city more damage would be caused than what occurred in 1906. Indeed, some of the skyscrapers within the CBD are building constructed during the beginning of the 19th century, which did not take into account the relevant building standards.
Since the disaster a lot has been done to sell the city of San Francisco as the city that holds a bright future. A lot of construction has taken place not to mention advertising. Hon. Schmitz the Mayor of the Town at the time commissioned a number of projects for rebranding of the city. Some of these included a reconstruction of the financial markets and trading to make the city attractive to investors because of easy of doing business, improvements in the insurance industry to protect investments from natural causes and the beatification of the city. Since then City Hall was redesigned and is now an architectural masterpiece and the interior of the town cleaned. Popular personalities have also been identified to advertise the city. William Chapman adopted the city as his hometown and subsequently setup the original Palace Hotel The tourism industry has also cashed in from protected areas which remind the world of the catastrophe.
The real estate and construction industries become booming industries overnight. Investors made significant amounts of money from selling construction site to the city and other rich people who wanted to put up new building. However, a number of land owners were against the proposal to sell huge parcels of land to the city. At this point, it is vital to note that the Chinese population in the city had grown tremendously. Prior to the earthquake, they lived and traded the part of the called Chinatown. Unfortunately, like the rest of the city, Chinatown had been brought down to ashes. A number of politicians and opportunistic business people wanted to take advantage of the preceding events to take over the remains of Chinatown. They also plotted a scheme to take over other areas inhabited by poor immigrants. However, a few voices of reason had their way. Chinatown was quickly built from its ashes in the same area it was before. It was argued that the Chinese could still significantly contribute to the local tax base. Therefore, ideas and arguments by the Chinese and immigrants’ proponents had their way leading to the construction of new, modern and vibrant Chinatown. Today, the area is still popular among town residents because of the unique and valuable services it offers to the city residents. Excitingly, the total destruction of Hall of Records and City Hall created an opportunity which was utilized by the Chinese to claim their citizenship. It also provided a widow of opportunity for other immigrants to come to the city and claim rights of residency and citizenship. Prior to the disaster, city hall had enacted the Chinese Exclusion Act which denied thousands of Chinese immigrants’ citizenship and residency rights.
The events of the morning of April 18, 1906 will forever be remembered by the residents of the city of San Francisco. Their faith was restated and their hopes shaken. However, the victims and survivors of the catastrophe maintained a positive attitude, which was fundamental in the reconstruction of the city. Within a decade, fundamental yet significant progress had been made. It had made the residents stronger despite the plethora of challenges that they had to face. The restoration of the original grid paved way for the construction of the Burnham’s proposals. This gave way to new architectural designs to be constructed within the city. Further, it also led to construction of a subway under a market street, wider streets, a neoclassic civil center and the adoption of arterial thoroughfares. Additionally, the earthquakes led the construction of the Pacific Heights. Since 1915, when official reconstruction of the city had been completed, the city and its officials have been commemorating the day of the disaster each year. This involves gathering around survivors and visiting areas that remind them of their loved ones including the city’s financial district area.
"Earthquake and Fire." 2013. www.foundsf.org. 05 November 2013 <http://www.foundsf.org/index.php?title=Category:1906>.
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