Learn more about what happened in San Francisco after the 1906 disaster

In April 1906, souls were lost, hearts were broken, and dreams were shattered. While Blossom explores this time period, it does so with fictional characters and creative license. For the men, women and children who experienced and survived the quake, aftershocks and fires in real life, it likely stayed in their memory banks throughout their lifetimes. One survivor likened the quake to a bulldog, with the city “a rat, shaken in the grinding teeth.”

In looking at the facts, here are a few things to keep in mind about this disaster that included a destructive blaze that surpassed even the Chicago fire of 1871:

  • Lasting less than one minute, the main quake—with an equivalent to 8.3 on the Richter scale (though some have revised it downward to 7.8)—struck at 5:12 a.m. on Wednesday, April 18, 1906, along the San Andres Fault, which runs the length of California. The Pacific and North American tectonic plates lurched past each other by as much as 21 feet in some places.
  • Beyond the major quake and the additional 26 aftershocks, uncontrollable fires destroyed much of the city during the next three days. Ruptured gas mains, fallen lanterns, crossed electric wires, dynamiting and lighting fire breaks contributed to the blaze, while broken water mains crippled efforts to extinguish the inferno. Some of the fires were estimated to be as hot as 2,700 degrees, making the firestorm more catastrophic than the earthquake itself. An estimated 28,000 buildings were destroyed by fire.
  • It’s reported that someone cooking breakfast on a stove whose chimney was damaged during the quake started the 24-hour-long “Ham and Eggs Fire” that was responsible for the destruction of a 30-block area, including parts of City Hall and Market Street.
  • The death toll resulting from the disaster is estimated above 3,000, though hundreds of casualties in Chinatown went ignored and unrecorded.
  • As much as 80 percent of San Francisco was estimated to be destroyed by the quake and fire.
  • Around 300,000 people were left homeless, which was about 75 percent of the area’s population. Refugee camps along the coast were still in operation two years after the quake. Two refugee cottages still exist in the Presidio.
  • The cost of the damage from the disaster was estimated at the time to be around $400 million, which is more than $9 billion in today’s money.
  • Even with an official order to shoot and kill looters, as many as 100 people died in looting situations. Significant looting by civilians and military personnel was reported in Chinatown.
  • To obtain its valuable real estate, there was an unsuccessful attempt by San Francisco leaders to permanently relocate Chinatown.
  • While San Francisco takes top billing when the 1906 quake is discussed, significant damage also was done to Alameda, Berkeley, San Jose and Santa Rosa. People in locations as far away as Southern California, Nevada and Oregon reported feeling the earth tremble.
  • In a move to protect the region’s economy, local papers downplayed the devastation and warned people not to send souvenir photos to out-of-towners. There were claims by the Southern Pacific Railroad that newspapers around the country exaggerated the devastation.
  • The quake is considered the first major natural disaster to have its effects widely recorded by photography.
  • While thousands of before-and-after photographs exist, little film footage survived that captured life in motion before the quake. To get a real sense of the energy and atmosphere of the city just days before the disaster, take a few minutes to watch the film at http://www.cbsnews/video/watch/?id=6964752n.html. It’s moving and fascinating when you consider how everyone who’s captured in their daily lives is about to be forever changed by Mother Nature’s fury. In Blossom , when Austin describes the filmmakers on the cable car, he’s describing the real Miles brothers who recorded a ride that was the length of Market Street. Within a few minutes of silent observation, you’ll visit the heart of San Francisco in 1906 and get a glimpse of a joyous city on the brink of disaster.
  • In 2011, history buffs could view the devastation of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake in living color photographs taken by photography pioneering Frederick Ives in October 1906. Six months after the disaster, the devastation that left a majority of the city’s population homeless is still clearly evident. The Smithsonian Institution uncovered a set of six photos taken after the quake that appear to be not only the first color photos of the ruins, but the first color photographs ever taken of San Francisco. Unlike colorless photos that have been “colorized” at the time, these are in fact color photos. Color photography was invented in 1861 by Thomas Sutton, so it was actually old technology by 1906.
  • Will Irwin wrote a eulogy for San Francisco in the New York Sun called “The City That Was.” It began, “The old San Francisco is dead. The gayest, lightest hearted, most pleasure-loving city of this continent, and in many ways the most interesting and romantic, is a horde of huddled refugees living among ruins.”
  • But even as the ashes smoldered, the city’s boldest and brightest people were hatching plans for the city’s future. They—along with their city—had beaten disasters before, and they’ll likely have to do it again. One of the major milestones in the city’s recovery occurred less than a decade later. San Francisco hosted an “open house” in 1915 known as the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. With a bejeweled tower and Beaux Arts palaces and monuments, it was opulent, artistic and impressive. It accomplished the goal of proving to the world that San Francisco had bounced back with brilliance and self-confidence. You can visit the picturesque Palace of Fine Arts that stands proudly today as a reminder of one of San Francisco’s finest hours.
  • As for Nob Hill, the New York-style brownstone Flood mansion was one of the only grand houses that survived the disaster. Once the home of James C. Flood, a house-proud hill-dweller who made a fortune in mining, it’s the Pacific-Union Club today, an exclusive men’s club that dates back to 1852.
  • A rebuilt Chinatown is as colorful and bustling as ever. If you ask the right person, you can visit the backroom of a bakery and meet women who make fortune cookies, one at a time. Like Blossom , it’s within their power to grant wishes and offer warnings with small slips of paper tucked just so in the warm dough of the cookies. However, it’s up to you to select the cookie…and your fortune!