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Metropolis in Ruins: 1906

"Panorama from roof of Ferry P.O., San Francisco." Aftermath of the April 1906 earthquake and fire. 8x10 glass negative, Detroit Publishing Co. View full size.

"Panorama from roof of Ferry P.O., San Francisco." Aftermath of the April 1906 earthquake and fire. 8x10 glass negative, Detroit Publishing Co. View full size.


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What a difference six months makes!

BTW, here's the scene a block to the right six months later. Note that the U.S. Commissary building is still standing, but the other blocks have already been cleared and replaced by new low-rise structures.

Quake survivors

Some relics of the earthquake and fire survive to this day, thanks to them having sunk below the surface; see this story.

Much more high-rent now

The location of the photo (between Market and Mission, Steuart and Spear) got a lot more high-rent after the earthquake; this became the site of the Southern Pacific's headquarters building (now known as 1 Market St.). SP had some grand plans to build a great train station behind the building and across the center of this photo, but never quite had the money to get the main line tracks over here. A pair of high-rises eventually ended up behind 1 Market St.; now, it's the home of

Inflammable Neighborhoods

The Ferry Post Office was just south of the Ferry Building along the Embarcadero; the building was built in 1900-1901, and rebuilt at the same site in 1915; the 1915 building still exists. Based on that location, the photo is looking over the Embarcadero; the street is Steuart Street, with Spear behind. Market Street would be just to the right of the photo, Mission Street to the left.

A 1898-era Sanborn map shows that the ruins with the steel columns on the facade was probably the Seaman's Institute; the near side of the building would have been a ship's chandlery. The pipes across the street match the location of a pipe storage yard that would have been behind "lodgings"; the building to the left with the big gear/pulley would also have been a ship's chandler, suggesting the big machinery was a ship's windlass. The four story building one street back that looks intact would have been the U.S. Commissary Department at Spear and Mission.

This area would have burned well thanks to all the industries catering to the shipping trade. Spear was lined with Allen and Higgins Hardwood Lumber, California Mills Lumber House, and the California Planing Mill. On the near side of Spear, there were multiple hay lofts and a lumber yard.

Along the street we can see, we would ave had a row of lodgings, and on the near side, ships chandleries, saloons, stores, etc.

Sanborn San Francisco 1899-1900, vol. 2, sheet 126.

Re: Machinery

I see gears and what looks like a flat pulley for a belt possibly parts of an Elevator system?


What is that monstrous piece of machinery behind the leftmost walking man?

Enormous scale

There are a few men and one horse cart visible on the dirt road in about the middle of the photo. We have no idea what massive destruction resulted from this earthquake.

Today, we'd have all types of cars and developed structures broken and twisted, but these are millions upon millions of bricks and blocks and simple wood pieces, throw around like toothpicks.

I've never thought the few SF earthquake photos I've seen have shown the intensity that resulted. Those tiny people amid all that mayhem prove that's true.

[The subsequent fire rather than the earthquake itself is by far the greater cause of the destruction seen here. -tterrace]

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