The Rebuild of San Francisco in 1906

April 21, 2017 | By | Reply More

Eugene E. Schmitz

It should be noted how fortunate San Francisco was in the person of its mayor, Eugene Schmitz, in its days of utmost crisis.

As an example of the firm administrative actions that marked his rule of the city at this time, I want to mention the incisive proclamation which he issued on the very day of the earthquake:


The Federal Troops, the members of the regular police force and all special police officers have been authorized to kill any and all persons found engaged in looting or in the commission of any other crime.
I have directed all the gas and electric lighting companies not to turn on gas or electricity until I order them to do so; you may therefore expect the city to remain in darkness for an indefinite time.
I request all citizens to remain at home from darkness until daylight of every night until order is restored.
I warn all citizens of the danger from fire from damaged or destroyed chimneys, broken or leaking gas pipes or fixtures or any other like cause.

Schmitz, Mayor

When he found the City Hall uninhabitable because of earthquake damage, Mayor Schmitz set up temporary headquarters in the Hall of Justice by Portsmouth Plaza. This served only a few hours, for it was not long before this structure lay directly in the path of the advancing flames.

A quick removal was made to the newly completed Fairmont Hotel, but this building also had to be abandoned as the flames advanced toward it; the hotel was gutted and later had to be extensively restored.

Franklin Hall, the Committee's final venue

Franklin Hall, the Committee’s final venue

Next, Franklin Hall at Fillmore Street near Hayes served as City Hall for several weeks, with yet another removal to the Whitcomb Hotel on Market Street which, until recent years, kept a remembrance of its several years’ service as the site of administration in the city with the two words ”City Hall” which were inscribed above its front entrance.

Another example of prompt action witnessed the appointment by the mayor of a ”Committee of Fifty” to aid him, and it is significant to note that he named former Mayor James D. Phelan, no political friend, to head it as chairman. (This and other like examples attest to the fact that tragedies and disasters have a way of bringing all concerned together; they are simply not times for ”politics as usual.”)

It was not long before the mayor, with the aid of his committee, formulated some early measures of relief. That commendable provision was quickly made in this direction is testified to by a memorandum that was signed under date of May 18, 1906, exactly a month after the earthquake, by Lieutenant Colonel Evans, commanding the Fifth Infantry.

One of the eleven housing camps

One of the eleven housing camps

He had been placed in charge of ”permanent camps,” those destined to be such until later devel0pments would render them unnecessary. Evans reported that during the month twelve permanent camps had come into being which housed 12,660 persons with room for 1,515 more.

As might be expected, too, a sympathetic nation sent immediate aid to the stricken city in the form of necessary foodstuffs. Three days after the ’quake, the House of Representatives appropriated another $1 million in addition to the first $1 million already voted almost immediately after word had been received of San Francisco’s hour of need.

This first sum had been designated for immediate relief to any and all distressed, while the second was programmed for medical supplies and the words of the resolution added that some of it might be used ”for steel frames.” President Theodore Roosevelt issued a proclamation asking that money be contributed to the American Red Cross for distribution in San Francisco. Secretary of the Treasury Leslie M. Shaw authorized the transfer of $10 million from the New York sub treasury to San Francisco’s own sub treasury.

Cash was deposited in New York where it was paid out on order of the San Francisco banks that were entitled to it. Cars and ships loaded with aid of all sorts were quickly on their way to the city; an interesting gesture, among many such, was that of five hundred Americans living in London who forwarded $12,500 to San Francisco for purposes of relief.

Two letters of Mayor Schmitz deserve partial quotation here. The first, dated three weeks after the fateful days, was addressed by him to ”My unfortunate fellow citizens living in tents” and reminded them,

“The United States Army is endeavoring in every possible way to provide proper accommodations for the housing and feeding of those who are destitute.”

Schmitz called attention to the fact that the decision had been made that it was necessary for people to come together in large camps rather than to continue to live outdoors in small family clusters with the resultant complications of sanitation and so forth.

“The large camps,” the mayor went on, ”such as Golden Gate Park, Presidio Reservation and those at the foot of Van Ness Avenue and at the Potrero, have the best of sanitary conditions and are arranged in such a manner as to give the best possible results. Therefore, those living in tents separated from the large camps are requested and directed to immediately move when ordered to do so and to take up their living quarters in one of those large camps supervised by the proper military authorities.”

Refugees leaving the city

Refugees leaving the city

Some stern words followed in which the mayor called attention to some who were hoarding supplies or obtaining more than they needed and ”for those committing this dastardly crime” the mayor threatened prompt prosecution upon their apprehension. Some final words of exhortation read as follows:

Again I say to those in need, keep up your spirits and determination to help the authorities in helping you, and let us upon all occasions extend to our brother man the same kind feeling and assistance that we should expect under like conditions extended to us.

E.E. Schmitz, Mayor.

In late May, a second letter went to President Roosevelt in Washington:

My Dear Mr. President:

The people of San Francisco have shown a remarkable courage in the hours of this great calamity, and the determination, which each one exhibits, to build a better and a greater San Francisco speaks well for the true American spirit centered in the breast of every Californian. Our people know not what it is to be discouraged and, with God’s help, Mr. President, within the next five years we will return to the nation her greatest seaport on her western shores. In the name of the brave people whom I am proud to represent, I extend to you my sincere gratitude for the prompt and loyal action that you have taken in endeavoring to help to relieve the suffering of our afflicted people. …I cannot speak in too high praise of the magnificent help given the municipal authorities by the US. troops stationed here and, l might say, the devoted assistants of Major General Greely and General Funston, Mr. President, as an Amara an citizen, I am proud to be able to be able to certify their work, and I am proud that we have men of such caliber in the rains of the United States Army.

 Eugene E. Schmitz,
To the President of the United States,

Theodore Roosevelt.

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Category: Fog City - City of Fog, History

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