The 1906 San Francisco earthquake: Rare pictures & reports made while the fires were still burning the city

1906 San Francisco earthquake

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1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire devastated the city when the shaking first struck at 5:12 am on Wednesday, April 18, 1906. 

Amazingly, from within a fire zone in the hours just after the 7.9 quake, the dedicated reporters and press people of San Francisco’s three major newspapers — the Call, the Chronicle & the Examiner — banded together and produced a short, special edition newspaper.

Below you can see exactly what they reported the very next morning.

Not long after, the building they were reporting from — the home of the Call — was badly burned and gutted by the fires that plagued the city for days.

View of the Call Building from O'Farrell and Stockton Streets 1906
View of the Call Building from O’Farrell and Stockton Streets 1906
1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire: City in ruins

The Call-Chronicle-Examiner (San Francisco, California) April 19, 1906

Death and destruction have been the fate of San Francisco. Shaken by a temblor at 5:13 o’clock yesterday morning, the shock lasting 48 seconds, and scourged by flames that raged diametrically in all directions, the city is a mass of smoldering ruins.

At six o’clock last evening, the flames seemingly playing with increased vigor, threatened to destroy such sections as their fury had spared during the earlier portion of the day.

Building their path in a triangular circuit from the start in the early morning, they jockeyed as the day waned, left the business section, which they had entirely devastated, and skipped in a dozen directions to the residence portions.

As night fell, they had made their way over into the North Beach section and springing anew to the south, they reached out along the shipping section down the bay shore, over the hills and across toward Third and Townsend streets.

Spectators sitting on hillside watching fires consume the city after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake

Scenes from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake

Warehouses, wholesale houses and manufacturing concerns fell in their path. This completed the destruction of the entire district known as the “South of Market Street.” How far they are reaching to the south across the channel cannot be told as this part of the city is shut off from San Francisco papers.

After darkness, thousands of the homeless were making their way with their blankets and scant provisions to Golden Gate Park and the beach to find shelter.

Those in the homes on the hills just north of the Hayes Valley wrecked section piled their belongings in the streets and express wagons and automobiles were hauling the things away to the sparsely settled sections. Everybody in San Francisco is prepared to leave the city, for the belief is firm that San Francisco will be totally destroyed.

DON’T MISS: Old San Francisco, just before the 1906 earthquake: See vintage film footage from weeks before the disaster

Downtown everything is ruin. Not a business house stands. Theaters are crumbled into heaps. Factories and commission houses lie smoldering on their former sites.

All of the newspaper plants have been rendered useless, the “Call” and the “Examiner” buildings, excluding the “Call’s” editorial rooms on Stevenson Street, being entirely destroyed.

It is estimated that the loss in San Francisco will reach from $150,000,000 to $200,000,000. These figures are in the rough and nothing can be told until partial accounting is taken.

On every side there was death and suffering yesterday. Hundreds were injured, either burned, crushed or struck by falling pieces from the buildings, and one died while on the operating table at Mechanics’ Pavilion, improvised as a hospital for the comfort and care of 300 of the injured.

The number of dead is not known, but it is estimated that at least 500 met their death in the horror.

At nine o’clock, under a special message from President Roosevelt, the city was placed under martial law. Hundreds of troops patrolled the streets and drove the crowds back, while hundreds more were set at work assisting the fire and police departments. The strictest orders were issued, and in true military spirit, the soldiers obeyed.

During the afternoon, three thieves met their death by rifle bullets while at work in the ruins. The curious were driven back at the breasts of the horses that the cavalrymen rode and all the crowds were forced from the level district to the hilly section beyond to the north.

The water supply was entirely cut off, and may be it was just as well, for the lines of fire department would have been absolutely useless at any stage.

Assistant Chief Dougherty supervised the work of his men and early in the morning it was seen that the only possible chance to save the city lay in effort to check the flames by use of dynamite. During the day, a blast could be heard in any section at intervals of only a few minutes, and buildings not destroyed by fire were blown to atoms.

But through the gaps made the flames jumped and although the failures of the heroic efforts of the police firemen and soldiers were at times sickening, the work was continued with a desperation that will live as one of the features of the terrible disaster. Men worked like fiends to combat the laughing, roaring, onrushing fire demon.

First chaotic news reports from the devastating 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire (2)

No hope left for safety of any buildings

San Francisco seems doomed to entire destruction. With a lapse in the raging of the flames just before dark, the hope was raised that with the use of the tons of dynamite the course of the fire might be checked and confined to the triangular sections it had cut out for its path.

But on the Barbary Coast, the fire broke out anew and as night closed in, the flames were eating their way into parts untouched in their ravages during the day. To the south and the north they spread; down to the docks and out into the resident section, in and to the north of Hayes Valley. By six o’clock, practically all of St. Ignatius’ great buildings were no more. They had been leveled to the fiery heap that marked what was once the metropolis of the West.

The first of the big structures to go to ruin was the Call Building, the famous skyscraper. At eleven o’clock, the big 18-story building was a furnace. Flames leaped from every window and shot skyward from the circular windows in the dome. In less than two hours, nothing remained but the tall skeleton.

By five o’clock, the Palace Hotel was in ruins. The old hostelry, famous the world over, withstood the seige until the last and although dynamite was used in frequent blasts to drive the fire away from the swept section toward Mission street, they made their way to the point of the hotel until the old place began to crumble away in the blaze.

The City Hall is a complete wreck. The entire part of the building, from Larkin street down City Hall avenue to Leavenworth, down from top of dome to the steps is ruined. The colossal pillars — supporting the arches at the entrance — fell into the avenue far out across the car tracks and the thousands of tons of bricks and debris that followed them piled into a mountainous heap.

The west wing sagged and crumbled, caving into a shapeless mass. At the last every vestige of stone was swept sway by the shock and the building laid bare nearly to its McAllister street side. Only a shell remained to the north, and the huge steel frame stood gaping until the fire that swept from the Hayes Valley set the debris ablaze and hid the structure in a cloud of smoke. Every document of the City government is destroyed.

Nothing remains but a ghastly past of the once beautiful structure. It will be necessary to entirely rebuild the Hall.

Mechanics’ Pavilion, covering an entire block, went before the flames in a quarter of an hour. The big wooden structure burned like tinder and in less time than it takes to write it was flat upon, the ground.

The flames had come from the west, this time fanned by a lively wind. Down from Hayes Valley they swooped, destroying residences in entire rows, sending to cinders the business houses and leaping the gaps caused by the dynamiting of homes.

Fire partially under control - 3rd day. RG 46, Records of the United States Senate, National Archives

After the 1906 San Francisco earthquake

They had stolen their way out from the Mission while a dense crowd blocked that street. So quickly did they make their way to the north of Market that their approach was not noticed. When it was realized that the danger had come to this particular residence section, the police and the cavalry drove the crowd back in haste to the north and out of harm’s way.

Down Hayes street, playing the cross streets coming on like a demon, the fire swept over St. Ignacious Church, leveled barns and houses, and, as if accomplishing a purpose long desired, blazed down to the front of Mechanics’ Pavilion. Only shortly before the patients in this crude hospital had been removed to other hospitals in outlying districts.

From the big shed the names spread to the north, east, south and west, everywhere. Confusion reigned. Women fainted and men fought their way into the adjoining apartment houses to rescue something from destruction — anything, if only enough to cover their wives and their babies when the cold of the night came on. There was a scene that made big, brave men cry.

There were the weeping tots in their mothers’ arms wailing with fear of the awful calamity; salesmen and soldiers fighting to get the women out of harm’s way through the crowd; heroic dashes in the ambulances and the patrol wagons after the sick and injured and willing men, powerless as the mouse in the clutch of the lion, ready to fight the destroyer, but driven back step by step while their homes went down before them.

It was when the terrible shock of the first big rumbler was passing off, that San Franciscans, sent scurrying into the streets in their nightclothes, turned to the east and south and first saw the pillars of flame that have bred such wicked destruction.

Down in the wholesale district south of the cable and along through the section facing the city’s front, the flames appeared. Fire shot into the air from every corner. Before the first alarm was sent in, the fire was beyond control. The city was beyond saving from the time that the first blaze broke toward the heavens.

Gradually the flames stole along Mission and Howard streets, and then rapidly they made their way from building to building until Seventh street was reached.

Out into the warehouse district, bounded by Sansome on the west and the bay on the north and east, they went, and such structures as the Wellman Peck Building and the Tillman Bendel building were made into whitened wills, left tottering in the breeze that was blowing.

Everywhere were scenes of horror. People rushed frantically through the streets looking for missing relatives, and rescue parties were formed to go into the burning blocks to save life.

Here and there, the grim-faced men dug out the unfortunates who had gone down into the shapeless piles of debris when the big shock came. Man fought to save man, and many times did the sickened crowds turn away as they saw the rescuers driven back by the flames that reached down through the ruins to claim their victims.

Aftermath of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire (2)

The business districts after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake & fire

Steadily the fire found its way into the uptown retail districts. From the south and east, the south side of Market was attacked. One by one the familiar buildings went down. Levi Strauss and Company, Zellerbach and Company, Holbrook, Merrill and Stetson, Hicks-Judd Company, D. N. and E. Walters, W. W. Montague the Donohoe estate building, Uhl Brothers, the Bancroft Building — all the places that have made the San Francisco business district.

Every one of them went. They can’t be enumerated. The work of the fire demon was too complete to make that necessary. From Mission to Market and east to Ninth, the many-storied structures were gutted. True, many of these places had crumbled when the earth shook, but evidence of this was removed in the path of the flames.

From Second to Third streets, Market street held its own until late in the afternoon. The Call Building was ablaze, but the Examiner Building, the Palace Hotel, the Grand, and the other structures toward Second street stood. Two attempts were made to dynamite the new Monadnock Building when it was seen that the Hearst structure was doomed.

And slowly came the blaze from Mission street just below Third, sweeping everything before it and igniting the Examiner Annex.

Then the main building took fire, and by two o’clock only the Third street wall was standing. Later the Palace took fire in the rear and the flames made quick progress to Market street. By five o’clock, Colonel Kirkpatrick’s famous hotel was no more.

The Grand went at the same time, and in a few minutes, the flames had Market street again. At Sansome, they combined, with the fire on the north side of the street, but the changeable winds kept the fire back from the buildings extending from this point to Kearney street.

At seven o’clock, the entire region lying just back of the Hall of Justice was on fire. The dynamite did no good. From the Fairmont Hotel now could be seen the gigantic semicircle of flame extending from the Mission at about Thirteenth street down through the entire southern end of the city proper, along the channel, over the hill, along the waterfront, through the wholesale district and over onto Barbary Coast.

At nine o’clock, the Crocker-Woolworth Bank Building was on fire at the gore. Across from it is the railroad building and Masonic Temple. Only a row of small buildings separate it from the Chronicle Building.

Then the firefighters prepared for the thing they hoped would not happen. It was certain that the fire would spread northward and join the inferno near the Hall of Justice. Dynamite was placed in the Hall of Justice to be sent into the air at the signal.

The flames on lower Kearny street had gained the office buildings on the west side of the street. This means the doom of Chinatown. Thousands on thousands of Celestials scurried over Nob Hill to safety.

Fire engine and sailors in front of Harbor Emergency Hospital following San Francisco earthquake

Blow buildings up to check flames

The dynamiting of buildings in the track of the fire, to stay the progress of the flames, was in charge of John Bermingham, Jr., a superintendent of the California Powder Works.

Several experienced men from the powder works, assisted by policemen and members of the fire department, did the hazardous work of blowing up the buildings. They were razed in sets of threes, but the open spaces where the shattered buildings fell were quickly turned into holocausts of flame. The work was most effective in the business blocks east of Kearny street.

Whole city is ablaze

At 10 o’clock last night, the Occidental Hotel, was destroyed by the flames which swept unchecked across Montgomery street and attacked the block bounded by Montgomery, Sutter, Bush and Kearny. Ths new Merchants’ Exchange bidding was a mass of flames from basement to tower.

The Union Trust building and Crocker-Woolworth Bank were both ablaze and the Chronicle building and other buildings in that block were threatened by the flames.

Shortly after 10 o’clock, the fire had eaten its way southward from Portsmouth Square to Kearny and California streets. The entire section fronting on the west side of Kearny street seemed doomed.

All the buildings adjoining the Hall of Justice were ablaze and the firemen were striving to save the structure by using dynamite. It is almost a certainty that every building contained in the section bounded by Clay, Kearny, Market and East streets will be consumed.

The flames had eaten their way westward in the residence section as far as Gough street. There, by dynamiting blocks after blocks, the firemen succeeded in choking this devouring element.

Church of Saint Ignatius is destroyed

The magnificent church and College of St. Ignatius, on the northwest corner of Van Ness Avenue and Hayes street, represents in its destruction a material loss of over $1,000,000.

The actual cost of the great building was over $900,000, but during the years which have elapsed since its erection, the church has been enriched by paintings and frescoes, which were priceless. Some of them were works of art which can never be replaced, however willing those interested in the church might be to meet any expense in the effort.

1906 earthquake - people standing on Sacramento Street watching the fire in the distance

Mayor confers with military and citizens

At 1 o’clock yesterday afternoon, 50 representative citizens of San Francisco met the Mayor, the Chief of Police and the United States Military authorities in the police office in the basement of the Hall of Justice.

They had been summoned thither by May or Schmitz early in the forenoon, the fearful possibilities of the situation having forced themselves upon him immediately after the shock of earthquake in the morning, and the news which at once reached him of the completeness of the disaster. He lost no time in making out a list of citizens from whom to seek advice and assistance, and in summoning them, to the conference.

It was called at the Hall of Justice, as virtually the first news which reached the Mayor regarding the extent of the disaster was that of the ruin of the City Hall. He did not realize that even while the conference was to be going on, cornices would be crashing down and windows falling in fragments in the Hall of Justice also; and that before sunset, desperate efforts would be made to blow the structure up in the vain endeavor by this means to check the advance of the flames in the northern section of the downtown district.

All, or nearly all the citizens summoned to the conference responded.

Among those promptly on hand were Hartley and Herbert Law, capitalists, the brothers Magee of Thomas Magee & Sons, real estate men; J. Downey Harvey, of the Ocean Shore Railway Company; ex-Mayor James D. Phelan, Garrett McEnerney, the prominent attorney; ex-Judge C. W. Slack, W. H. Leary, manager of the Tivoli Opera House; J. T. Howell, of Baldwin & Howell, real estate men; former City Attorney Franklin K. Lane, also many others.

Aftermath of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire (1)

No time was lost at the meeting, and almost the first words spoken by the Mayor breathed strongly of the grimness of the disaster and its accompaniments.

“Let it be given out,” said the Mayor, sternly, “that three men have already been shot down without mercy for looting. Let it be also understood that the order has been given to all soldiers and policemen to do likewise without hesitation in the cases of any and all miscreants who may seek to take advantage of the city’s awful misfortune. I will ask the Chief of Police and the representatives of the Federal military authorities here present if I do not echo their sentiments in this.

The uniformed officials to whom the Mayor turned as he spoke signified their acquiescence, and Chief Dirran stated also he would undertake the distribution throughout the cry of printed proclamations making public the order.

Then the Mayor told those present of what had already been done to lighten the effects of the disaster. For one thing, he had secured 2400 tents which were already in process of erection in Jefferson Square, Golden Gate Park and on the Presidio grounds, for the accommodation of the homeless.

Garrett McEnerney moved, and the large number of other prominent citizens present unanimously voted, that the Mayor be authorized to draw checks for any amount for the relief of the suffering, all of the gentlemen present pledging themselves to make such checks good. Ex-Mayor Phelan was appointed chairman of a Relief Finance Committee with full authority to select his associates.

The Mayor announced that orders had already been given forbidding the burning of either gas or electric currents, even where possible. During the fire, citizens must get along with other light, as no chances could be taken of a renewed outbreak of flames. Police Chief Dinan stated that he had also instructed his men to announce all over the city that no fires were to be lighted in stoves or grates anywhere lest the chimneys should be defective as the result of the earthquake.

Then the statement was made that expressmen were charging $30 a load to haul goods — a rate which was prohibitive to poor people. The announcement provoked great indignation, and an immediate order from Mayor Schmitz, in which Dinan heartily concurred.

“Tell your men,” said the Mayor, “to seize the wagons of all such would-be extortionists, and make use of them for the public good. The question of recompense will be seen to later.”

Then a further notice was ordered distributed as widely as possible throughout the city, instructing all householders to remain at home at night for the protection of their families and property during the continuance of the trouble and excitement.

It was at this point that the explosion of a heavy charge of dynamite used in blowing up a building a block away brought glass and cornice work in the Hall of Justice crashing down. At once, W. H. Leary and J. Downey Harvey urged that the Mayor at least immediately remove from the building. “Your life is too valuable, Mayor,” said Mr. Harvey, “at this dreadful juncture for any unnecessary risk to be taken.”

To this all present conceded, and a few moments later an adjournment was taken to the center of Portsmouth Square, across Kearney street. There, in close and dangerous proximity to a great pile of dynamite, brought thither to be used for the necessary destruction of buildings, the Mayor and his officials continued for some time longer to discuss the situation. When they finally separated, it was with the agreement to meet again this morning at the Fairmont.

ALSO SEE: Old San Francisco, just before the 1906 earthquake: See vintage film footage from weeks before the disaster

1906 San Francisco earthquake newspaper: At least 500 are dead

Aftermath of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire (3)

Pardee issues proclamation

OAKLAND, April 18 — Governor Pardee tonight issued a proclamation declaring tomorrow, Thursday, a legal holiday, and that all business be suspended throughout the State. This followed a conference held by the Governor with Mayor Mott, Lieutenant J. Anderson, of the Adjutant General’s staff, and Judge Henry A. Melvin at the Mayor’s office.

Governor Pardee said he had sent Lieutenant Anderson to San Francisco to investigate conditions. The Governor came to Oakland as quickly as possible in order to be in touch at the nearest point with which he could keep in communication with San Francisco.

Buildings are all ruined

Fire Chief Nick Ball and Fire Warden MacDonald, are making a tour of the City of Oakland condemning all buildings gs damaged by the earthquake and left in a menacing condition. The tower of the First Baptist church has been ordered torn down, and other structures throughout the city have also been placed under the official ban.

Effects heroic rescue

The disaster brought forth hundreds of heroic deeds. About the only persons in the awoke when the tremblor occurred were the mechanical workers of the newspapers, policemen and saloonmen. Among the heroes were Emile Dengel, foreman of “The Examiner” stereotyping department, and several of his men.

After the first crash, and upon their escape from the building they were passing Krumm’s cafe when they heard cries for help coming from beneath the debris of the place. Dengel rushed out to a passing hose cart, seized an axe, and with his great strength began chopping a hole through the structure to release its captive inmates.

A woman’s voice kept saying from beneath the ruins, “I’m all right, hurry and get me out.”

The imprisoned people — Krumm, the proprietor, his wife and a waiter — were finally released, but none too soon, for 20 minutes later flames consumed the fallen structure.

Later Dengel caught a vandal looting the body of a dead man, and upon Dengel seizing him, the fellow turned and made a vicious cut at Dengel with a key-hole saw. He was finally overpowered and arrested by the police.
First chaotic news reports from the devastating 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire (1)


The Examiner and Call buildings gave the inferno of flame that swept up from the district south of Market street a stubborn fight and prevented the fire from sweeping up Kearny street. The two buildings burned slowly, and held out for hours, only to be finally gutted.

When the Winchester Hotel crumbled into ruins at 11 o’clock, the cafe in the top of the twenty-story Call building began spouting fire. At that time, Market street, as far as Seventh street, was burning as a single block from the Bohemian Cafe.

As the fire burned out in the top stories of the Call, it descended and turned the building into a fountain of flame.

At 12 o’clock, the annex of the Hearst building took fire, and a half an hour later the rear wall fell. Shortly afterward, the fire appeared through the frieze on the seventh floor, where the editorial rooms were located, but it was 3 o’clock before the windows of the lower floors began to belch flames. The fire burned out gradually, and the building remained standing, completely gutted.

At 4 o’clock. the ground floor of the Call building began to burn again with redoubled fury, but the building stood amid the surrounding ruins, a denuded frame of blackened stone.

NOW SEE THIS: See San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake & fire

First chaotic news reports from the devastating 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire (3)

1906 San Francisco earthquake newspaper headlines

Entire city of San Francisco in danger of being annihilated

Big Business Buildings Already Consumed by Fire and Dynamite

30,000 Smaller Structures Swept Out and Remainder Are Doomed

Panic-stricken people flee

SAN FRANCISCO. April 18. — This city lies in smoldering ruins and total annihilation seems to be its fate. The magnificent business district lying between the water’s edge and Tenth street and even still farther west is destroyed, and there is scarcely any hope of saving but a few of the magnificent skyscrapers that have been erected during the last ten years.

Thirty thousand houses were either partially or wholly destroyed by earthquake, and the subsequent fire which started in 100 different places simultaneously has swept the city from one end. to the other. Hundreds of buildings are burning without any effort being made to check the fire. By tonight, it is estimated that there will be 150,000 homeless people.


The number of the dead cannot be roughly estimated. One hundred bodies about have been recovered, but hundreds perished miserably in the broken down wooden houses along the water front, in the Mission and along Market Street.

Falling walls pinned many victims fast and they were compelled to suffer untold agonies while the fiery flames crept toward them. Some believe that the number of deaths will reach the appalling figure of 5000, but from the number of bodies thus far recovered the figure may be excessive.

Aftermath of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire (4)


The entire city presents a scene of indescribable confusion. The fire zone is so large that it takes two and one-half hours to go around it. Every automobile, vehicle and wagon in the city was pressed into service as ambulances.

Mayor Schmidt appointed 3000 or more special policemen. It is estimated that aside from the regular fire department, there were 25,000 firefighters. Marvelous deeds of heroism are reported on all sides.

There were many thrilling rescues. The deeds of valor performed by the firemen and police would fill a volume.

MORE: Take a look back at old downtown San Francisco in the 1970s


The Mechanics Pavilion was early this morning turned into a hospital for the city injured, and a resting place for the unfortunate dead. Every physician and nurse in the city volunteered their services.

Shortly after noon, the flames hedged the Pavilion about and the injured and dead were removed in wagons, automobiles to the Presidio, the Children’s and other hospitals which to go to the front and assist the police in maintaining order.

Market street at the two extremes of the fire and all the intervening streets are practically under martial law.

Mayor Schmitz, to prevent disorder, ordered all of the saloons closed. There were but few cases of theft reported.

The Call building is already destroyed utterly and it is probable that the Examiner building and the Chronicle building will also be destroyed.

The Emporium is reduced to ashes as is the Flood building. The magnificent new store of Hale Brothers was dynamited in an effort to stop the progress of the flames which burned with the same uncontrollable intensity that was manifested in the Baltimore fire.

Ruins after San Francisco earthquake, 1906 Genthe


The City Hall is a grand mass of ruins. It is totally destroyed. The surrounding streets are choked with the debris. Several other buildings were destroyed as the huge building tottered to its destruction. In all, 150 of San Francisco’s best buildings have been destroyed and probably 20,0000 others.


The earthquake which did such terrific damage occurred at 5:16 o’clock precisely. The clock on the dome of the Ferry building stopped precisely at that time. The Ferry building itself was cracked and split, but is still in a safe condition. Twenty or more wharves and the buildings on them collapsed utterly along the waterfront.


The steamer San Pablo was struck and sunk, by a huge girder which fell on it. How many lives were lost is not known.

Some of the crew are missing, but owing to the great confusion, nothing definite could be ascertained. Another vessel is reported to have been sunk by the walls of a building falling on it. The name of the vessel is not known.

After the work of demolition had been accomplished by the earthquake, fires in twenty places started up along the waterfront.

It is assumed that the twistings and turnings of the earth broke the electric wires and caused the fires to break out.


In twenty minutes’ time, alarms to the number of several hundred had been turned in.

The fire department responded, but the extent of the conflagration made the streams of water poured on them seem like toy streams.

On the waterfront, the hose was connected with the bay and a fair showing made.

Owing to the fact that the mains of the Spring Valley Water Company were broken by the earthquake during the early progress of the fire, nothing could be done to stay the hungry blaze.


More than 100 buildings were dynamited with hope that the fire could be kept within a certain district.

In the business district, at Sansome and Bush streets, the flames are supposed to be under control. Twenty buildings were dynamited in this district.

One of the particularly sad features of the catastrophe was the drowning of a score or more persons in the Mission. Apparently, the earthquake was more violent at this point than anywhere else in the city. Depressions of ten feet were made.


The mains of the Spring Valley were broken at this point and flooded the tenements. Many of the victims were pinned in the basements by falling walls and had no recourse but to await their fate by drowning.

DON’T MISS: San Francisco’s Victorian marvel: The huge swimming pools at Sutro Baths

750 are treated

SAN FRANCISCO. April 18. — Up to half-past two this afternoon, more than 780 persons who were seriously injured by the earthquake and the fire, had been treated. at the various hospitals throughout of the city. The proportion of dead is not as large as it might be expected. Only twenty of those admitted to the hospitals have died since their admission.

Dead in street

SAN FRANCISCO. April 18. — The front of the Bailey and La Coste building on Clay near Montgomery fell in. Three men and seven horses were killed and were still lying there at 9 o’clock.

Captain Gleason of the Police Department was seriously injured at noon today by the falling of tiling.

Big fire in Mission

SAN FRANCISCO. April 18. — A great fire is raging in the Mission district and is utterly beyond control. Before night, it is estimated, that in this particular section of the city, 50,000 persons will be homeless.

1906 San Francisco Earthquake - Francis Hotel, Fairmont Hotel in distance showing clean sweep of fire in business sections
1906 San Francisco Earthquake – Francis Hotel, Fairmont Hotel in distance showing clean sweep of fire in business sections
Residences burning

SAN FRANCISCO. April 18. — An intense fire broke out late this afternoon immediately west of the Mechanics’ Pavilion, threatening to destroy one of the most thickly populated residence districts’ of the city. As there were no fire apparatus on hand, the flames are raging unchecked.

Ruins 20 companies

SAN FRANCISCO. April 18. — From the present appearance of things, it is probable that twenty or more insurance companies will be ruined. The managers of the larger companies are of the opinion that they will be able to meet the losses. In any event, all of the insurance companies doing business in this city have been hit a staggering blow, from the effects of which many will never recover.

SAN FRANCISCO. April 18. — The United States bonded warehouse where liquor is stored before the duties are collected is destroyed.

Emporium in ruins

SAN FRANCISCO. April 18. — The Emporium is a mass of ruins, with nothing but the walls of this magnificent store standing. The buildings immediately adjoining it are doomed to destruction.

Dynamite buildings

SAN FRANCISCO. April 18. — At 2:30 o’clock this afternoon, the firemen are dynamiting one of the most imposing structures on Market street.

Buildings in the vicinity of the United States Mint and the United States Post office were blown up in the hope that they would be saved. Both of them are in grave danger, and while standing the shock of the earthquake, will probably fall victims of the uncontrollable conflagration raging in that vicinity.

ALSO SEE: San Francisco’s Cliff House through the years

Doctor’s bravery

SAN FRANCISCO. April 18. — Dr. McGinty of the Central Emergency Hospital, while attempting to rescue some persons who had been buried by the falling wall, was himself pinned to the ground by additional debris that fell. He was rescued and insisted on resuming his duties of attending the wounded and injured.

Fateful building

SAN FRANCISCO. April 18. — The scene at the Mechanics’ Pavilion during the early hours of the morning and up until noon, when all the injured and dead were removed because of the threatened destruction of the building by fire, was one of indescribable sadness. Sisters, brothers, wives and sweethearts searched eagerly for some missing dear ones. Thousands of persons hurriedly went through the building inspecting the cots on which the sufferers lay in the hope that they would locate some loved one that was missing.

The dead were placed in one portion of the building, and the remainder was devoted to hospital purposes. After the fire forced the nurses in positions to desert the building, the eager crowds followed them to the Presidio and Children’s Hospital, where they renewed their search for missing relatives.

Without a newspaper

SAN FRANCISCO. April 18. — The buildings occupied by the San Francisco Post and the San Francisco Bulletin are threatened with fire and may be consumed. This will leave the city without a single daily newspaper.

Damage a billion

SAN FRANCISCO. April 18. — Market Street, which has been the pride of San Francisco since 1849, is simply one black mass of ruin.

It is estimated that up to the present time, the fire and earthquake have done at least $150,000,000. worth of damage to this thoroughfare alone. The damage to the entire city will probably aggregate $1,000,000,000. There is, however, no accurate means whereby the loss can be ascertained.

Call building gutted by San Francisco earthquake in 1906

Theaters ruined

All of San Francisco’s best playhouses, including the Majestic, Columbia and Grand Opera House, are a mass of ruins. The earthquake demolished them for all practical purposes, and at the present time, it appears the fire will complete the work of demolition. The Rialto and Casserly buildings were burned to the ground, as was everything in that district.

The Terminal Hotel at the foot of Market Street fell this morning and buried twenty persons under the debris. These were incinerated, and there is no possibility of learning their identity.

Narrow escape

SAN FRANCISCO. April 18. — The stereotypers and pressmen of the Examiner and Call, as soon as the temblor was felt, rushed out of their buildings and found that the coffee house at Stevenson and Third street had collapsed.

They immediately set to work with axes and anything in the way of an implement they could arm themselves with and set to rescue Mr and Mrs Krumm, the proprietor and his wife, and a waiter whose name is unknown, were rescued from the building and taken from under the debris unharmed.

SAN FRANCISCO. April 18. — Every government conveyance is pressed into service and is used in hauling explosives from the Presidio for the blowing up of buildings in the center of the city.

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The immense Mechanics’ Pavilion, the former scene of many pleasures and sports, was utilized as a huge morgue and hospital, and soon its space was filled with dead, dying and injured and its vaulted ceiling echoed their cries and groans. Fully 300 persons were treated.

Doctors and nurses by the score hurried to the scene and volunteered their much-needed aid. Drug stores were broken into for medical supplies, and the department stores ransacked for pillows and mattresses for the injured.

The scenes and cries were fearful to behold and hear. The operating tables were filled all the time. Infants were brought in in their mothers’ arms, burned and bleeding. Men and women had been caught by falling walls and horribly mangled, in many cases the broken bones protruding through the flesh.

At 1 o’clock in the afternoon the flames, which had been gradually creeping nearer and nearer to this improvised hospital, finally reached it.

Dr. Charles Millar, chief surgeon of the Emergency Hospital, immediately ordered all patients removed.

Every sort of vehicle was pressed into service and the dead and injured removed. The wounded were taken to Golden Gate Park, for there was no other haven of refuge not in the danger zone, and laid upon the grass. Many were taken into nearby houses by kind-hearted people and cared for.

View of the ruined tower of the City Hall. Damage due to earthquake alone - US Archives
View of the ruined tower of the City Hall. Damage due to earthquake alone – US Archives

At the Harbor Hospital fully 100 injured persons had been treated up to 10 o’clock in the morning.

Upon receipt of the news of the disaster torpedo boats and tugs loaded with navy and army doctors, nurses and sailors, were dispatched from the Mare Island Navy Yard and Goat Island and rendered great aid to the injured in the Harbor hospital.

Never was there such a scene in San Francisco as was there in Mechanics’ Pavilion yesterday. There, work was beyond praise. As assistants to Dr. Millar, Doctors Pinkham, Herzog, Tillman, Roche, Goodale and fifty or more volunteers performed the surgical work.

And the nurses. Well, their efforts will long be remembered. Young women from the hospitals, graduates in the nurses’ homes, neighbor women and those who drove to the door of Mechanics’ Pavilion in their private automobiles, all took a hand in the work. Catholic sisters worked by the side of Salvation Army lasses, and the priests and ministers made their way among the cots, giving the comfort of their cloth.

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The following message was sent last evening to Mayor Schmitz by Mayor Frank K. Mott, of Oakland:

Oakland, April 18th.

Hon. E. E. Schmitz:
Mayor of San Francisco:

Large committee formed tonight ready to go to San Francisco and render whatever assistance you need in caring for the injured and helpless. Los Angeles has wired me offering similar help. Let me know at once, and will act immediately.



OAKLAND, April 18. — The earthquake shock began in Oakland at 5:14 a. m., lasting* twenty-eight seconds, in which time nearly all the principal business buildings were badly damaged, five people were hurled to death in the ruins of the Empire Theater building, and scarcely a residence in the city escaped without more or less damage.

Those who met death amid the ruins of the theater were Otto Witcher, 45 years of age; Amelia Witcher, 13 years of age; Louis Marney, 25 years old; and his wife, aged 25 years; and an unidentified man. J. P. Judge, a locomotive engineer, died from heart failure caused by shock and excitement.

All were caught by the falling walls of the building, and were buried beneath tons of brick and broken timbers, the bodies were removed from the ruins by the firemen, and were removed to the Morgue.

Oakland Tribune April 19 1906 - Day after San Francisco earthquake

The buildings which suffered most from the terrific shock were the Physicians’ Building on Washington Street, between Twelfth and Thirteenth streets, the entire front of the upper floor being torn away and hurled into the street below; the Central Bank Building, the walls of both corners fronting on Broadway being wrecked; the First Baptist Church, a handsome stone building at Telegraph Avenue and Hobart street, was so badly wrecked that it will have to be torn down; a three-story building on Thirteenth Street between Broadway and Washington streets, a complete wreck; the building occupied by the Crane Company, at Thirteenth and Webster streets; St. Francis de Sales church, one wall of which was torn loose from the building; St. Mary’s College, and the First Unitarian church. Not a brick or stone building in the city escaped damage, in most cases a part of the walls of the upper stories being torn away arid thrown into the streets. At the corner of Eleventh and Clay streets, a bakery wagon was caught by the falling debris, being reduced to kindling wood, and the horse killed.

Awful as is the damage to this city, however, it is nothing compared to the appalling calamity which has overtaken San Francisco, and the people of Oakland are thankful that the horrors of fire were not added to those of the earthquake.

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1906 earthquake - people standing on Sacramento Street watching the fire in the distance
1906 earthquake – people standing on Sacramento Street watching the fire in the distance

Owing to the fact that the entire telephone and telegraph system has been rendered temporarily useless, it is impossible to secure details as to the amount of damage done in the interior of the county. The newly erected magnesite plant at Fruitvale have been entirely wrecked, and a number of other buildings more or less damaged.

Among the Oakland and East Oakland waterfront, a number of warehouses and wharves have been partly demolished and will have to be rebuilt.

At Niles, large boulders dislodged from the hill and crashed through the pipeline of the Spring, Valley Water Company, and the flood of water released from the big main washed out the tracks of the Southern Pacific Company, delaying trains for several hours, and helping to cripple the water supply of stricken San Francisco. A number of buildings in Niles were badly damaged.

At Centerville, the entire front wall of the Centerville Bank collapsed, and other buildings were damaged.

Berkeley escaped with little damage, a few chimnies being thrown down and the walls of some of the brick buildings slightly damaged. Not one of the buildings of the University of California was affected by the shock.

The Southern Pacific sheds, and the coal bunkers at Long Wharf collapsed into the bay, carrying with them thousands of tons of coal.

Another heavy shock was felt at Martinez at 6 o’clock tonight, which still further wrecked the already tottering buildings, and should there be any further disturbance, many of them will collapse. The damage already done by the earthquake is estimated at $50,000.


After a conference between Schmitz and Chief of Police Dinan, San Francisco was placed under martial law at 9 o’clock yesterday morning.

All the troops at the Presidio were rushed to the city and mounted couriers were sent out to notify commanding officers of nearby garrisons that the Federal troops were needed in they stricken city.

In less than an hour, more than 2000 regular soldiers were patrolling the streets under orders to shoot thieves and vandals on Mounted men drove back the frantic crowds by riding into the press of people, and many were injured in trying to escape from the riders.

From the hilltop site of the Fairmont Hotel showing ruins after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake
From the hilltop site of the Fairmont Hotel showing ruins after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake

Disorderly throngs rushing over the fire lines called for quick and effective methods in handling the jam of people.

Many acts of vandalism were committed, and during the excitement, crooks looted countless damaged stores and office buildings.

Colonel Morris commanding officer of the Presidio, is in command of the troops guarding the city, and Major Brown is in command of the artillery division, comprising the First, Ninth and Twenty-fourth Light Batteries, mounted troops and five companies of heavy artillery, dismounted.

One troop of the Fourteenth Cavalry is acting as mounted couriers.

The Twenty-second Infantry arrived at noon from Fort McDowell.

Drafts of troops were sent from Alcatraz and Angel Islands. More than 5000 regular soldiers in addition to the militia, police and special officers kept order in the city last night.


Passengers arriving on trains from other cities in California bring tales of death and disaster from nearly all of them. The loss of life and property in San Jose was great, it being estimated that nearly 50 people were killed and many more injured. The Vendome Hotel Annex was badly wrecked, between 10 and 15 people being killed there.

The St. Francis Hotel there was badly damaged, one aged woman being killed. Hiram Bailey sustained internal injuries. Dr. DeCrow was killed and his wife badly injured. Every business building in the city was demolished to such an extent that nearly all will have to be torn down.

The building was half-demolished, the front of the new Courthouse fell into the street and the entire building is a wreck. The First Presbyterian Chuch is completely demolished. Martial law has been declared, the State militia guarding property together with 500 special deputies.

From Santa Cruz, Monterey, Gilroy and Hollister come reports that all of these cities have been completely wrecked, the damage at Hollister being greatest, even all of the frame residences at the place Jbeing razed to the ground. The death list at Santa Cruz is reported to be very large.

All of the Stanford University buildings at Palo Alto, with one exception, are reported demolished. No loss of life has been reported from there.

The State Insane Asylum at Agnew is reported demolished, the superintendent and his wife being killed and seventeen nurses injured. Two hundred inmates of the asylum escaped and are roaming over the countryside. The military academy at Warren was partly demolished and the students are making every effort to get away from there.

1906 San Francisco Earthquake - Francis Hotel, Fairmount Hotel in distance showing clean sweep of fire in business sections


OAKLAND, April 18. — Early this morning, Governor Pardee received the following message from President Roosevelt:

“It was difficult to credit the news of the calamity that had befallen San Francisco. I feel the greatest concern for you and the people, not only of San Francisco, but of California in the terrible disaster. You will let me know if there is anything that the government can do.


Governor Pardee also received telegrams of sympathy and offering help from the governors of Louisiana, Washington and Oregon.

The following message was sent by Governor Pardee to Mayor Schmitz of San Francisco:

“Am appalled and overwhelmed by the great calamity to San Francisco, only meager details of which have reached me. I extend sympathy and assurance of my earnest desire to help, those in distress in any manner in which I am able.



OAKLAND, April 18. — Thousands of refugees, rendered homeless by the terrible calamity which has overtaken San Francisco, have come to this city to escape from the terrors across the bay.

On learning of this, the Realty Syndicate at once offered Idora Park for the use of those left without shelter by the earthquake. The offer has been gratefully accepted by the Police and Fire Commissioners, and two hundred cots have been placed in the theater for the use of the refugees. Relief stations have also been established at the City Hall, and at the various public parks throughout the city.

Other relief stations have also been established in such of the churches throughout the city as are considered safe for use as such.

Mayor Frank K. Mott has issued the following appeal to the people of Oakland to aid the authorities in preserving peace and order:

“To the People of Oakland:

“The earthquake this morning visited upon our city a great calamity, yet it is a source of much satisfaction that we were spared from a conflagration and serious loss of life. The officials of the city have the situation well in hand, but I desire to appeal to the people to co-operate with the authorities in maintaining peace and order.

“As many buildings are in an unsafe condition the public are admonished to keep off the streets, and particularly warned against congregating in groups. It is also very essential that precaution be used in the building of fires until the chimneys have been inspected and repaired. Those who have not either gas or oil stoves are advised that danger may be avoided by moving their stoves out of door.

“FRANK K. MOTT, Mayor”

Chief N. A. Ball, of the Oakland Fire Department, has made the following suggestions to householders regarding fire. In houses the chimneys of which have fallen:

“Build no fires in coal stoves, grates or fireplaces until the interior of the chimneys has been inspected, cleaned out and put in repair. In many places where the chimneys appear to be all right, they may have cracks in the interior or may be stopped up with refuse, which might cause a blind fire.”

While the earthquake was at its height, the two smokestacks at the gas works at the foot of Grove street fell, crashing through the roof of the works, crushing the boiler and killing one of the firemen, whose identity has I not yet been learned.

The force of the earthquake has caused the Twelfth street dam, opposite the boathouses on Lake Merritt, to sink eighteen inches.

A report comes from Martinez that the Martinez Bank Building, one of the finest structures in the town, has been completely destroyed.

It is at present impossible to estimate the amount of damage to property in this city, owing to the fact that practically no inspection has been made of the buildings, except by Fire Warden George McDonald, and this only for the purpose of condemning those which are unsafe and must be torn down.

Many of the structures which from the outside show little apparent damage, on closer examination prove to have been so badly twisted and racked by the shock that it is feared they will have to be torn down.

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SANTA ROSA, April 18 — This city is a total wreck. There are 10,000 homeless men, women and children huddled -together. The loss of life is not to be estimated. It will probably reach the thousands.

As the last great seismic tremor spent its force in the earth, the whole business portion tumbled into ruins. The main street is piled many feet deep with the fallen buildings. Not one business building from the California Northwestern Pacific depot, in the extreme west end of the city, to the Atheneum on the east, is left intact.

This destruction includes all of the county buildings. The four-story courthouse, with its dome mounting high into the heavens, is merely a pile of broken masonry. Nothing is left.

Identification is impossible.

What was not destroyed by the earthquake has been swept by fire. Until the flames leaped into the heavens there was hope of saving the residence district. It was soon apparent that any such idea that might have been entertained was to be abandoned. This was appreciated by the citizens and they prepared to desert their homes. Not even their household, goods were taken. They made for the fields and hills, to watch the destruction of one of the most beautiful cities of the West.

The water system of the municipality was destroyed by the earthquake. Fire fighting, was not to be thought of. The city was at the mercy of the elements and crumbled and cracked as the gentle west breeze from the great Pacific blew from the hill to fan the flames to undestroyed localities. Thus the citizens watched from the Rincon hills their homes erased.

In a few cases, some attempted to return to the burning city to rescue valuables. Many of them who ventured too close were overcome by the. heat and smoke. They dropped, choked and fainting, in their tracks. In many instances, these foolish souls were left to their fate. There were too many injured and dying who needed attendance, and who had been injured in the first awful crash to allow those who had returned of their own free will to be cared for.

Later in the day, some water was pumped from Santa Rosa Creek. This was, comparatively, of no use, as the fire-fighting force of the city was limited.

Among other buildings ruined are the three leading hotels: Occidental, Saint Rose and Grand.

It was in these hostelries that the greatest number of deaths occurred. They were all brick structures, the Saint Rose having a steel frame. They fell as if constructed of playing cards, and in the heaps were buried the hundreds of lodgers.

1906 San Francisco earthquake newspaper headlines
First chaotic news reports from the devastating 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire (4)
First chaotic news reports from the devastating 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire

Relief was immediately dispatched from Petaluma. Carts and wagons loaded with provisions and clothing were brought in from the adjoining city during the day. These supplies were distributed among the homeless.

When the flames allowed, the ruins were searched for dead. The undertaking was far greater than had been imagined. It was found that besides the hotels, the many lodging houses and rooming quarters of the city contained dead.

With the limited number of men, and the mass of ruins, months must necessarily elapse before any kind of an appreciation of the fatalities can be learned. The mangled forms will be found as long as excavations are made.

On the north, conditions are fully as shocking as here. There is no communication by wire or railroad between here and Healdsburg. Besides, the wires all being on the ground, the bridges crossing the Russian River at that point are in the stream. This makes all communication by rail from the northern part of Sonoma county impossible.

Many have arrived, however, on horseback and in wagons.

These messengers bring the saddest tidings of the destruction of Healdsburg, Geyserville, Cloverdale, Hopland and Ukiah. This report takes in the country as far north to Mendocino and Lake counties, and as far west as the Pacific Ocean. These are frontier counties and have not as large towns as farther south.

In every case, the loss of life and property is as shocking as here. In the country, the farmers have converted their spacious homes and outhouses into dwellings for the people left without shelter in the cities. Every man of the country is working to relieve the suffering of their more unfortunate urban brethren.

That the beautiful old summer resort of Skaggs Hot Springs, the second oldest watering place of California, is in ruins was reported late this afternoon. This place is located far back in the coast range of mountains, and communication with it is cut off. The report carries, however, that many were injured who were registered at the hotel.

West of here seven miles the town of Sebastopol is no more. The bank building is the only structure left standing In the village. This hamlet is located in the most fertile locality and was noted for its prosperity.

Here, too, many have suffered death and injuries. As here they are being cared for by the country people. The shook, from the condition of the frame buildings at Sebastopol, was even more severe than here.

In most cases, homes constructed of wood withstood the twisting effect of the disturbance. In this country place buildings of wood were destroyed along with the brick and stone structures.

As the residences are all constructed of wood, the injured will number large. There are not, however, so many dead in the residence section as might be expected. They were saved. In many cases, by the peculiar way in which the buildings fell. The timbers did not give way entirely, and the occupants were able to crawl from the tangled mass.

Although the city of Petaluma lies but sixteen miles south of here, it escaped the more violent shock. But few buildings were totally destroyed. The injured and dead are small.

In view of their escape, the citizens of Petaluma are organizing relief parties that are being sent into the neighboring cities and towns. To the southeast of here, Sonoma, Glen Ellen and a dozen other small towns throughout the Sonoma Valley, are all reported in ruins. The country far and wide, from the meager reports received, by horsemen, must be in ruin.

How many are dead and suffering in these outlying districts cannot be ascertained at this writing. It seems that to say, “Some are alive,” is the easiest and most accurate report to send to the outside world.


Lieutenant Charles C. Pulls, commanding the Twenty-fourth Company of Light Artillery, was blown up by a charge of dynamite at Sixth and Jessie streets shortly before noon, and was fatally injured. He was taken to the Military Hospital at the Presidio. He had a fractured skull and several bones broken, and internal injuries. He will not recover.

Lieutenant Pulls placed a heavy charge of dynamite in a building on Sixth street. The fuse was imperfect and did not ignite the charge as soon as was expected. Pulis went into the building to re-light it and the charge exploded while he was in the building.

The injured officer is a graduate of the Artillery School at Fortress Monroe, Virginia. He is thirty years of age, single, and a native of Chicago.

NOW SEE THIS: See San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake & fire

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