“All around me buildings were rocking and flames shooting. As I ran people on all sides were crying, praying and calling for help. I thought the end of the world had come,” said eyewitness G.A. Raymond after the great earthquake and fire of 1906.
The Ferry Building in North Beach, Fisherman’s Wharf and the Marina were hit hardest by the earthquake. But that was only the start. The fire, fed by gas pipes ruptured in the earthquake and with firefighters unable to find water in the broken mains, raged for almost four days, destroying more than three-quarters of the city. Some 220,000 were injured and 300,000 left homeless out of a population of 410,000. Neighborhoods like the Mission took more damage from the fires that the earthquake itself.
Yet the city’s energy was undimmed. Without waiting for the planners to implement their dreams of grand boulevards, the citizens got to work on a compacted timescale that gives the architecture its homogeneous character. By 1909, 20,000 new buildings had been erected, albeit with the help of lax building regulations that still plague San Francisco today. Among them the “New” Palace Hotel which replaced the razed original 1875 Palace Hotel, a landmark building of downtown San Francisco.
By 1915, when the International Exposition opened, standing on landfill made from earthquake rubble, the city was reborn. Besides art, the exposition also introduced the public to radio and airplanes, an automobile factory, and the first transcontinental telephone call. Seeds were being sown. Only 20 years later, what was then the world’s longest bridge opened to span the Golden Gate and the rest, as they say, is still making history.