San Francisco Through Earthquake and Fire

by david on 18 April 2017

Cover of "San Francisco Through Earthquake and Fire"

Cover of “San Francisco Through Earthquake and Fire”

One hundred and eleven years ago today, at 5:12 am local time, the great San Francisco earthquake struck. It lasted for 45 seconds, had an estimated magnitude of 7.8, and caused a great deal of damage, not only in San Francisco but up and down the California coast. In San Francisco, however, fire was greater evil. Several small fires, burning uncontrollably due to ruptured water mains, gradually merged, and over the course of three days destroyed about 80% of the city. Almost everything east of Van Ness Avenue was lost. San Francisco had suffered many fires in its history, but this was the Great Calamity, the dividing line between Old San Francisco and New San Francisco.

The earthquake and fire was one of the first large-scale disasters covered thoroughly by photographers, and a large number of books were rushed to print soon afterwards. Paul Elder published only two: The Vanished Ruin Era, and Charles Keeler’s San Francisco Through Earthquake and Fire (1906). Keeler writes in his usual florid style, including a moving dedication that dreams of a quick renaissance: “Hail, city of yesterday and tomorrow! I salute thee reborn, rejuvenated, casting the slough that unworthily envisaged thee, rising out of thy burned self to a more fair, more glorious realization of thy promise and thy destiny!” By 1909, the downtown area was mostly rebuilt, and Paul Elder had reopened a bookstore around the corner from his original location.

Title page of "San Francisco Through Earthquake and Fire"

Title page of “San Francisco Through Earthquake and Fire”

The book was published in brown wraps with an uncredited illustration of downtown San Francisco. The viewer is looking south on Kearny towards the intersection of Market Street. The Call Building (which survived, and is now called the Central Tower) is in white, at the corner of Market and Third.

The fold-out frontispiece showing the fire at its height

The fold-out frontispiece showing the fire at its height

Dedication

Dedication

Page 1

Page 1, “The Earthquake”

Plate X: The Old Palace Hotel succumbs to the fire

The Old Palace Hotel succumbs to the fire

Ruins of City Hall

Ruins of City Hall

Page 7

Page 7, “The First Day of the Fire”

Page 36

Page 36, “The Refugees”

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