Earthquake Walk Urban Explorations SOMA Home

• Palace Hotel
• US Court of Appeals Exhibit
• Sites of destruction

1-2 hours

Experience the 1865 and 1906 earthquakes, retracing the steps of historical personalities and other eyewitness accounts.

Printable Map (pdf file)

Quake Resources

Recent Earthquakes
Check out a real-time record of all Bay Area earthquakes within the last week at the USGS Berkeley site.

Museum of the City of S.F.
The museum's online exhibit includes historical information about San Francisco earthquakes.

"Disaster! The Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1906," by Dan Kurzman; William Morrow & Co.
-- story told through the human drama aspect with eyewitness accounts

Updated 11/13/01


The 1906 Earthquake and Fire
Lotta's Fountain
Start at the intersection of Kearny, Market and Third Streets.
Lotta Crabtree, a child actress who entertained the miners during Gold Rush Days, became an international star of the stage in the second half of the 19th Century. In 1875, Lotta presented this Fountain as a gift to the people of San Francisco. During the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake and fire, it was reputedly used as a place for posting information to reunite friends and families.
• Facing the ferry building at the eastern end of Market Street, walk 1 block to New Montgomery.

The Palace Hotel

Corner of Market and New Montgomery (2 New Montgomery Street).
April 18, 1906. Magnitude: 8.25 (estimate). An estimated 3,000 people perished.
Since 1875, sophisticated travelers from around the world have stayed at the exclusive Palace Hotel. The great tenor Enrico Caruso, who had sung "Carmen" in San Francisco’s Grand Opera House the night before the earthquake, was shaken from his bed in the Hotel and ran into the street, his nightshirt flapping behind him. The Palace had been built with a special fire sprinkling system and was thought to be able to withstand any assault by flames, but at 3:30 p.m. the Palace caught fire when the sprinklers went dry. Just before the hotel was abandoned, bartenders gave away bottles of fine wine. This magnificent hotel (check out the ornate dining room) was rebuilt after the fire.

• Right on New Montgomery Street and go 1 block.
• Right on Mission Street.

California Historical Society
678 Mission Street -- (415) 357-1848. Tu-Sat 11 am-5 pm. $3 adults/kids over 5, $1 students/seniors.
Housed in a newly renovated turn-of-the-century building, the Society offers exhibits and photographs.
• Continue on Mission to 3rd Street.

Corner of 3rd and Mission
From a 1906 police report following the earthquake: "On Third street near Mission, a building collapsed in such a manner as to pinion an unknown man to the ground. His cries attracted people on the street, who attempted to rescue him, but at that time the fire had reached the rear end of the building. Realizing that he would soon be burned to death he begged the bystanders to kill him. After some hesitancy, a large, middle-aged man stepped forward, and after a few words with the unfortunate prisoner, he whipped out a revolver and shot him through the head, killing him instantly. He then requested the witnesses to accompany him to the Hall of Justice, where the Mayor, who after hearing the circumstances and seeing the man's distressed appearance, commended him for his humane act."

• Continue on Mission 1/2 block.
St. Patrick's Church
756 Mission Street.
Built in 1872, thist was the largest of four Catholic churches in the neighborhood that served the local Irish population, many of whom were immigrants coming to work in the South of Market factories. The church had to be reconstructed due to extensive damage from the 1906 earthquake and fire. Inside are a beautiful tiffany celestory window and marble columns.
• Continue on Mission to 4th Street.

Site of Bacigalupi & Sons Store
Corner of Mission and 4th.

Bacigalupi & Sons ran a prominent business with three locations that sold phonographs, pianos and slot machines. Peter Bacigalupi wrote: "There were also a great many comical sights such as a woman carrying ironing boards and an iron. One woman carried a parrot’s cage in one hand, while in the other was a bundle of clothes, hurriedly gathered together. I noticed that the bottom of the cage was gone, having doubtlessly dropped out on the way without being missed…On reaching 7th street, I noted that Mission street, one block from Market, the street on which I was walking, was in flames. I again hurried on, and reaching 6th street, still saw a massive wall of flame eating up that section of the town. Seeing this I broke into a run and continued running over bricks on the sidewalk, and dodging automobiles, which were doing ambulance duty until I reached my store on 4th and Mission streets." The site of the 786 Mission Street store (now occupied by The Metreon) was the precise spot where the South-of-Market fires converged with the blaze spreading from the San Francisco Gas and Electric plant.
• Continue on Mission Street to 5th Street.
Old Mint
Corner of Mission and 5th. Currently closed.
Built in 1874, the Old U.S. Mint survived the 1906 earthquake, but barely made it through the ensuing firestorm. With the help of soldiers, 15 workers waged a heroic seven-hour battle to protect the mint and the $200 million in gold stored in its vaults. As the fire advanced, prostitutes and pimps took refuge on the building's steps, drinking, dancing and fighting in a doomsday bacchanalia. When the fire finally moved on, the Mint's workers emerged to a smoldering downtown in ruins. Since all the banks had burned down, the Old Mint was drafted into service, allowing citizens access to their money and providing much-needed funds for survival and rebuilding.

• Continue on Mission Street 1 block to 6th Street.
Site of Nevada House
Corner of Mission and 6th, looking down to 132 6th.
Look to your left down 6th Street along the righthand side of the block. This block was once lined with large rooming houses such as the Nevada House, which collapsed during the 1906 earthquake, creating a domino effect that knocked down each building along the entire block. Survivor William F. Stehr ran to the door of his room in the Nevada House only to find it had jammed, and recounted this story: "As I was tugging at it, I felt the floor tilting and sinking under me, and I knew the house was going down like the others. So I hung on instinctively to the door handle while the whole floor dropped. As it sank, I felt three distinct bumps as the lower floor collapsed in turn under the weight of the roof and the top story. With each bump came a frightful crash and cracking of timbers and glass and the cries of other people in the house who were being destroyed."
• Continue on Mission Street 1 block to 7th Street.
Old U.S. Court of Appeals
Corner of Mission and 7th (entrance at 99 7th Street). Museum and exhibit on the first floor are open
M-F, 8:30 am -5 pm.

Completed in 1905 to house the U.S. Courts and San Francisco's main Post Office, the building was used exclusively by these two occupants until the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake. Although it was one of the few structures South of Market to survive the 1906 fire, it was heavily damaged by the earthquake. Assistant to the Postmaster Burke said, "walls had been thrown into the middle of various rooms, destroying furniture and covering everything with dust. In the main corridors the marble was split and cracked, while the mosaics were shattered and had come rattling down upon the floor. Chandeliers were rent and twisted by falling arches and ceilings." It is one of only four remaining U.S. Court of Appeals buildings from the turn of the century.
• Left at 7th Street and go 1 block to Howard Street.
Corner of 7th and Howard
Much of the South of Market area was constructed on sand and bay fill which proved highly unstable during the earthquake and resulted in extensive destruction. Survivor Edward Graff recorded in his diary: "We learn of the collapse of a lodging house on Seventh and Howard Streets with about seventy-five occupants...So complete is the wreck, so inextricable the mass, that an attempt to be of assistance is useless. As though this is not horror enough, fire breaks out among the wreckage to roast the poor wretches who are still alive."

• Left at Howard Street and go 1 block to 6th.
Site of Boarding House
Corner of Howard and 6th.
On the northwest corner of this intersection sat a large boarding house that fell with the other buildings such as the Nevada House that lined the block. One tragic tale concerns a gentleman and his fiancee who were staying here, planning to wed the day the earthquake struck. At the first tremor, the man ran down the hall to his fiancee's room and was within a few feet of her when the building collapsed and he vanished in the rubble. She survived, but a fire broke out before many trapped survivors could be rescued.
"Earthquake" House
Corner of Howard and 6th.
Cross 6th Street, then look back at the abandoned building on the southwest corner, which has been turned into an art project. Items of furniture leap from the side of the building as if expelled by an earthquake.
• Continue on Howard 3 blocks to 3rd.

Site of Chinese Laundry

Corner of 3rd and Howard.
The 1906 earthquake triggered multiple fires that swept through South of Market's wooden tenements and factories. One of the major fires started from a stove in the collapsed Chinese Laundry building on Howard Street near the corner of 3rd. Jack London described the scene for Collier's: "On Wednesday morning at a quarter past five came the earthquake. A minute later the flames were leaping upward. In a dozen different quarters south of Market Street, in the working-class ghetto, and in the factories, fires started. There was no opposing the flames." The fires, which raged for 3 days, covered 2,831 acres, or 490 blocks, including virtually every building South of Market. It remains the largest urban fire in human history, 6 times the size of London's 1666 fire and 1.5 times the size of the 1871 Chicago fire.
• Left at 3rd Street and go 1 block to Mission.

The "Great" 1865 Earthquake
Corner of Mission and 3rd.
October 8, 1865. Magnitude: 6.3 (estimate).
Mark Twain was in San Francisco and experienced the 1865 earthquake. He later recounted the experience in Roughing It: "It was just after noon, on a bright October day. I was coming down Third street. The only objects in motion anywhere in sight in that thickly built and populous quarter, were a man in a buggy behind me, and a street car wending slowly up the cross street. Otherwise, all was solitude and a Sabbath stillness. As I turned the corner, around a frame house, there was a great rattle and jar, and it occurred to me that here was an item!–no doubt a fight in that house. Before I could turn and seek the door, there came a really terrific shock; the ground seemed to roll under me in waves, interrupted by a violent joggling up and down, and there was a heavy grinding noise as of brick houses rubbing together. I fell up against the frame house and hurt my elbow. I knew what it was, now, and from mere reportorial instinct, nothing else, took out my watch and noted the time of day; at that moment a third and still severer shock came, and as I reeled about on the pavement trying to keep my footing, I saw a sight! The entire front of a tall four-story brick building in Third street sprung outward like a door and fell sprawling across the street, raising a dust like a great volume of smoke!" The building that collapsed stood on the southeast corner of the intersection.
• Continue on 3rd Street 1 block to Market Street and the starting point for the walk.