1906: The Rebuild of a Great City

April 25, 2017 | By | Reply More

Since relief measures are meant to be but temporary, the real test of San Francisco was to come with the emergence of the multiplicity of problems that were the city’s, when reconstruction was discussed.

How, in retrospect, did the city pass this test?

With the amassing of historical evidence to buttress the assertion, it is felt that San Francisco passed, and with flying colors, the tests that came with the rebuilding of the city from 1906 to 1909. (So much progress had been made in fact, that, in the latter year, the city decided to celebrate its rebirth and proceeded to do so quite successfully.)

It should be noted that the average San Franciscan never seemed to have entertained serious doubts as to whether his city would rise again.

Really, it was not a question of ”whether,” but rather one of ”when.”

However, there were quite serious and different problems and perplexities to be faced in a city whose heart including, notably, its business section, had been pretty well destroyed by fire. It was evident that some months would have to pass before there could be anything resembling “business as usual.”

Consequently, temporary steps were quickly taken for the orderly transfer of many business firms from downtown to the Western Addition as well as to the Mission district beyond 20th Street. Both became natural centers, then, of resurgence in the city; both became islands of rebirth as the first months went by after the disaster.

Van Ness Avenue quickly changed its character, at least in part, from residential to commercial as some old-time firms moved there on a temporary basis.

Such large stores as the White House, the City of Paris, and Shreve moved west to Van Ness; also such well-established firms as W. and J. Sloane, Nathan-Dohrmann, and S. and G. Gump found new locations along Van Ness Avenue.

A quotable example of the spirit that animated Raphael Weill of the White House appeared as follows in the San Francisco Call on August 5, 1906:

The best sermon that a businessman of SF may give to the people of this city at this time must be framed, not in words but in actions. The duty of the hour is not speech but deeds. Let us all in our own field do the best that is in him to rebuild SF, to place her not where she was. … We are building a city that must be among the greatest in the US. … We must profit by one of the costliest lessons ever given to a modern civilized community, and then we may go forward in confidence to the building of a city that will be splendid in its beauty and prosperity.

Soon some of the better known San Francisco restaurants, such as the Old Poodle Dog and Techau Tavern, moved to new sites.

Most of these transfers were made within several months after the great catastrophe. Other firms, like Livingston’s, went even farther west-“all the way out” to Fillmore Street; what was formerly a minor shopping district soon had some famous commercial enterprises relocated along its main and subsidiary thoroughfares.

Also, many private homes in the unburned areas soon had commercial signs outside as smaller firms sought likewise to open for business. So it was that the prognostications made by occasional pessimists with regard to San Francisco’s future were rendered false.

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Category: Fog City - City of Fog, History

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