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All photos courtesy of UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library

A tour of the Great Quake of 1906

Step back 113 years to San Francisco's darkest hour

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All photos courtesy of UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library

One hundred and fourteen years ago on Saturday, a 7.8-magnitude quake changed San Francisco forever—by erasing most of it from the map.

Take a look at what was happening around town on that fateful day in 1906 (plus the occasional gander at the week after) in these historical photos, for a glimpse of just how resilient our forebears were in the face of total devastation.

To see how survivors lived in the days, weeks, and months following the quake, check out our look at earthquake shacks, San Francisco’s original tiny homes. Or for a historic yet chilling look at the city prior to the great 1906 earthquake, these rare photos show San Francisco just days before it struck.

A reminder: If you don’t have your earthquake kit prepared, do it now. Here’s how.

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1. San Rafael

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An eerie sight: The nighttime fire as seen from the old Yacht Club in San Rafael.

2. View From the Bay

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Treasure Island
San Francisco, CA

This photograph is titled simply “Burning of San Francisco,” with a note that it’s taken from the bay. Note the Ferry Building left of center to find your bearings. Most of these images taken from the water come by way of the Navy, though some were taken by ferry riders or commercial ships.

3. Embarcadero

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Battery St & San Francisco Bicycle Rte 5
San Francisco, CA 94111

Battery and East (today Embarcadero). Notice the body of a looter in the street, shot by Presidio soldiers. Other historic photos show soldiers helping themselves to some looting of their own.

4. Washington Square

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Washington Square Park
San Francisco, CA 94133

Some 600 refugees lived in Washington Square Park for over a year. Here we see what appear to be graves in a makeshift cemetery.

5. Presidio Main Post

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Main Post
San Francisco, CA 94129

Sixth from the left: General Frederick Funston, in command of the Presidio at the time. Funston declared martial law in the city and attempted to fight the fires by demolishing buildings in a bid to create firebreaks, but this generally just made things worse.

6. Presidio Refugee Camp

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Lincoln Blvd
San Francisco, CA 94129

A bread line in the Presidio.

7. Emergency Forward Hospital

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Presidio
San Francisco, CA

Yep, we were a pretty scrappy bunch back then.

8. Chinatown

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Broadway & Grant Ave
San Francisco, CA 94133

Broadway and Grant (then Dupont), looking in the direction of Chinatown. City aldermen schemed to use the quake to rid the city of Chinatown by relocating the immigrant hub to the southeast side, but Chinatown turned out to be quite stubborn about staying put.

9. Octagon House

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2645 Gough St
San Francisco, CA 94123
(415) 441-7512
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These days known as the McElroy Octagon House, at the time this was the home of wine merchant Fiorenzo Cavagnaro. Displaced neighborhood families camped in a nearby vacant lot for a few nights after the quake, including one evening when a gas main exploded nearby.

10. Columbus Tower

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Columbus Tower, 900 Kearny St
San Francisco, CA 94133

Not in ruins, but under construction

11. Ferry Building

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San Francisco Ferry Bldg, 1 Sausalito - San Francisco Ferry Bldg
San Francisco, CA 94111

The view from the top of the Ferry Building at what is today Embarcadero Plaza. This was probably taken a day or two after the quake.

12. Merchant Street

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Merchant St
San Francisco, CA 94111

A horse is the most visible victim of building collapse here. The quake killed far more horses than people, if we factor in the tens of thousands of the animals worked to death during the cleanup.

13. Hall of Justice

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Portsmouth Square Plaza, 733 Kearny St
San Francisco, CA 94108

The old Hall of Justice, just across the street from Portsmouth Square. The roof is gone and the cells destroyed, but one SFPD cop is still patiently finishing his shift on guard duty.

14. Red Cross, Pac Heights

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Here we see a bread line at a Red Cross Station in Pac Heights, stretching around the block in the days after the quake.

15. Fairmont Hotel

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950 Mason St
San Francisco, CA 94108

Most of the great mansions on Nob Hill were destroyed, but the Fairmont Hotel (only days away from opening) survived, albeit with considerable fire damage.

16. Franklin and Clay

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Franklin St & Clay St
San Francisco, CA 94109

The corner of Franklin and Clay streets, one of the places the fire was eventually turned back.

17. Mills Building

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220 Montgomery St
San Francisco, CA 94104

A buckled girder in the Mills Building, warped but still standing.

18. Alta Plaza Park

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Alta Plaza Park, Jackson St & Steiner St.
San Francisco, CA 94115

The fire by night, as seen from Alta Plaza Park.

19. California Cable Car

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California St & Hyde St
San Francisco, CA 94109

Everything flammable on these onetime cable cars at California and Hyde had been burned away, leaving the twisted metallic remains frozen on the tracks.

20. Sutter & Webster

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1881 Webster St
San Francisco, CA 94115

Suddenly homeless families moved into the stalled streetcars and simply made do.

21. Union Square

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Union Square
San Francisco, CA 94108

The ruins of Union Square, facing Stockton Street.

22. Palace Hotel

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2 New Montgomery St
San Francisco, CA 94105

The Palace survived the quake itself, but was consumed by the fire later that afternoon, to the consternation of famous Italian tenor Enrico Caruso, who was in town with a production of "Carmen" at the time and staying at the Palace.

23. Hearst Building

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5 3rd St
San Francisco, CA 94103

Newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst had the Nucleus Hotel on Third Street demolished to build his own Hearst Building on the site, adding two stories onto the Nucleus’ then city record of five. Then eight years later Mother Nature simply demolished Hearst’s building too, although the rebuilt structure stands to this day.

24. St Dominic's Church

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2390 Bush St
San Francisco, CA 94115

Parishioners held mass outdoors for six months after the quake, until a smaller relief chapel opened near Pierce Street. Meant to be temporary, it remained in place until the '60s, serving one capacity or another.

25. Maria Kip Orphanage

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7th Ave & Lake St
San Francisco, CA 94118

Built in 1896, the orphanage provided "for the care and training of orphan, half-orphan and abandoned girls." Newspapers reported the building a "complete ruin," with "the entire front of the building collapsed and now [covering] the once-beautiful flower garden surrounding the house," although it doesn't look quite so bad as that here. Over 100 children were asleep when the quake hit, but no one was seriously hurt despite the building damage.

26. Jefferson Square

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Jefferson Square Park, Gough St
San Francisco, CA 94102

Quake refugees set up businesses in the camps. Here we see the "Two Orphans," a barpershop, "The House of Mirth," possibly a restaurant or bar, and "The Whole Dam Family," which is anybody's guess.

27. Howard Street

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Howard St
San Francisco, CA

Citizens examine the damage to rail tracks on Howard Street (cross street unknown).

28. Howard Street

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Howard St
San Francisco, CA

The caption: "When people walk uphill, they go across the room."

29. Odd Fellows Building

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Mission St & 7th St
San Francisco, CA 94103

The haziness in this photo is because officials just dynamited the Odd Fellows Building on Seventh Street in a fruitless effort at making a firebreak. Many of these demolitions simply started new fires of their own.

30. City Hall

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100 Larkin St
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 557-4400
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The remains of the old City Hall, still stately in spite of the ruination. It was nine years until the present building opened a few blocks away.

31. Cliff House

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Golden Gate National Recreation Area, 1090 Point Lobos Ave
San Francisco, CA 94121

Not every place in the city was devastated that morning. The Cliff House weathered the quake without much trouble, for example (although it burned down a year and a half later anyway). The rebuilt Cliff House opened in 1909 and of course is still there, although most of the gothic style of the original has been lost over the years.

32. Alamo Square

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Alamo Square
San Francisco, CA

Notice the gentleman who was lucky or resourceful enough to grab his bike, which was suddenly the only really practical way to get around town, between the destruction of the streets and rail lines and the hazard for horses.

33. Fell & Laguna

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Fell St & Laguna St
San Francisco, CA 94102

The remains of City Hall are also visible at the building’s original location in the background of this photo of San Franciscans taking stock of the destruction on Fell Street.

34. Page Street Kitchens

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Gough St & Page St
San Francisco, CA 94102

Makeshift kitchens appeared on the streets in front of damaged homes so that people could continue trying to keep their families fed.

35. Market & Guerrero

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16 Guerrero St
San Francisco, CA 94103

The photo's caption: "Fighting the fire at Market & Guerrero Sts. on the aft. of the second day, Apr. 19th, '06."

36. Buchanan Street

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This photo is labeled “The Last of the Fire,” as seen from Market and Buchanan.

37. Hormel Mansion

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181 Buena Vista Ave E
San Francisco, CA 94117

That’s the Hormel Mansion at the far left, named after James C. Hormel, heir to the canned meat company, US Ambassador to Luxembourg, and early LGBT activist.

38. Golden Gate Park

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Golden Gate Park
San Francisco, CA

Refugees stream into a camp in Golden Gate Park. This photo was probably snapped a day or two after the quake. The sparsely populated western neighborhoods were mostly spared quake damage and made handy sites for refugee camps.

39. Mission Dolores

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3321 16th St
San Francisco, CA 94114

Mission Dolores itself survived with minimal damage, but the quake did upset the cemetery a bit and destroyed the adjacent church.

40. Lake McCoppin Site

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Dolores St & 17th St
San Francisco, CA 94110

Lake McCoppin once sat in the middle of the Mission, but was drained and filled in over the years. When the quake hit, many buildings on the old lake site sank.

41. Valencia Hotel

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718 Valencia St
San Francisco, CA 94110

Searching for survivors of the hotel disaster. The hotel was built on landfill over an old creek, leading to liquefaction, just like in the Marina 83 years later.

42. Dolores Park

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Dolores St & 19th St
San Francisco, CA 94114
(415) 554-9521
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Curators label this image “View of City looking from Red Rock Hill ,[...] now Mission Dolores Park,” though this is confusing since the modern Red Rock Hill is in Diamond Heights.

43. Union Iron Works

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70 Pier
San Francisco, CA 94107

The SS Columbia was thrown into the docks at the old Union Iron Works and took on water. The circa 1880 steamship was eventually repaired, but sank the following year on a voyage to Portland.

44. 501 Capp

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501 Capp St
San Francisco, CA 94110

People still had each other, but seemingly not much else. The caption here reads: "Our first stove in the street."

45. Twin Peaks

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Twin Peaks
San Francisco, CA

Then as now, there’s few better places to take in the sights than Twin Peaks, meaning few spots provided a better vantage of the fire. Note the sun overhead, smothered by smoke.

46. 1129 Church Street

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1129 Church St
San Francisco, CA 94114

Written in the margin of the photo: "Fire was coming close, I made a cart to take a few things to a hill. We stayed one night, then back." Apparently the fire wasn't close enough that they didn't have time to pose for the picture.

47. Great Highway

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Great Hwy
San Francisco, CA

Cracks in the Great Highway, then a much more widely trafficked thoroughfare than it is today.

48. Precita Park

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Precita Park, 3200 Folsom St
San Francisco, CA 94110

After the quake, relief work filled the city's parks with emergency housing for quake refugees.