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[TIMELINE] 1906 Earthquake's Effects on Chinatown

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  • madchinaman
    Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906: Its Effects on Chinatown http://www.chsa.org/publications/docs/1906quakeFAQ.pdf What was the great San Francisco earthquake
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 24, 2006
      Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906: Its Effects on Chinatown

      What was the great San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906?
      The California earthquake of April 18, 1906 ranks as one of the most
      significant earthquakes of all time. Deaths: > 3,000 Injuries:
      ~225,000 Property Damage: $ 400,000,000 in 1906

      At almost precisely 5:12 a.m., local time, a foreshock occurred with
      sufficient force to be felt widely throughout the San Francisco Bay
      area. The great earthquake broke loose some 20 to 25 seconds later,
      with an epicenter near San Francisco. Violent shocks punctuated the
      strong shaking, which lasted some 45 to 60 seconds. The earthquake
      then spawned a fire that burned for four days.

      What were some of the major events of the earthquake and fire?
      April 18, 1906
      San Francisco was wrecked by a Great Earthquake at 5:13 a.m., and
      then destroyed by the seventh Great Fire that burned for four days.
      South-of-Market tenements collapsed as the ground liquefied beneath
      them. Most of those buildings immediately caught fire, and trapped
      victims could not be rescued.

      U.S. Post Office at Seventh and Mission Streets was damaged by the
      earthquake. All telephone and telegraph communications stopped
      within the city. A major aftershock struck at 8:14 a.m., and caused
      the collapse of many damaged buildings. Another fire broke on the
      southwest corner of Hayes and Gough.

      It would become known as the "Ham and Egg" fire, and would destroy
      part of the Western Addition, the Mechanics' Pavilion, City Hall and
      then jump Market Street at Ninth. At nine o'clock, under a special
      message from President Roosevelt, the city was placed under martial

      Two earthquakes hit Los Angeles just before noon, about ten minutes
      apart. Hearst Building at Third and Market streets caught fire at
      noon. Entire area in the Financial District, behind the Hall of
      Justice, was on fire by 1 p.m. Postal Telegraph operators
      transmitted their last message to the outside world as army troops
      ordered them from the building at Market and Second Streets at 2:20
      p.m. because of the approaching fire. Dynamiting of buildings around
      the U.S. Mint at Fifth and Mission streets began at 2:30 p.m. Fire
      swept up Nob Hill at 9pm.

      Mayor Schmitz appointed the Committee of Fifty at 3 p.m. at the Hall
      of Justice, and gives "shoot to kill" order: "Let itÂ…be understood
      that the order has been given to all soldiers and policemen to
      [shoot down] without hesitation in the cases of any and all
      miscreants who may seek to take advantage of the city's awful

      April 19, 1906
      Governor Pardee arrived in Oakland at 2 a.m. St. Francis Hotel at
      Union Square caught fire at 2:30 a.m. Secretary of War Taft at 4
      a.m. ordered 200,000 rations and hospital, wall and conical tents
      sent to San Francisco from San Antonio, Monterey and
      Vancouver. "Call," "Chronicle" and "Examiner" printed a combined
      newspaper today on the presses of the "Oakland Herald."
      The Great Fire reached Van Ness Avenue during the evening. The army
      dynamited mansions along the street in an attempt to build a fire

      April 20, 1906
      The fire burned as far as Franklin St. by 5 a.m., then attempted to
      circle south. Gen. Funston wired War Department at 8:30 p.m. on
      status of the fire. His telegram said most casualties are in the
      poorer districts, South of Market St.

      April 21, 1906
      The fire that swept the Mission District was stopped at 20th and
      Dolores Streets by three- thousand volunteers and a few firemen.

      April 22, 1906
      Father Ricard at the University of Santa Clara wrote to the San Jose
      Mercury: "The earthquake period is gone. People should fearlessly go
      to work and repair mischief done and sleep quietly at night anywhere
      at all."

      April 23, 1906
      Imperial decree on the 30th Day of the Third Moon from Empress
      Dowager of China to send 100,000 taels as a personal contribution to
      the relief of the San Francisco sufferers.
      President Theodore Roosevelt declined the offer, as well as
      donations from other foreign governments.

      How did the earthquake affect Chinatown and the Chinese American
      residents of San Francisco?

      On Wednesday, April 18, 1906, Chinatown suffered damage from the
      initial shock of the earthquake. However, the actual destruction of
      Chinatown resulted later from the raging fires that spread rampant
      throughout the city. Many Chinese, like others all over the city,
      scrambled to gather belongings and flee the danger of the
      encroaching flames. Chinese refugees quickly flooded relief camps in
      San Francisco and Oakland.

      What were other effects of the earthquake and fire on the Chinese

      The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was still in effect. Although all
      Asians were affected, 97 percent of the immigrants processed through
      Angel Island were Chinese. After the earthquake and fire of 1906
      destroyed records that verified citizenship, many Chinese residents
      of California were able to claim citizenship for themselves and
      dozens of "paper children."

      How did the city of San Francisco respond to the needs of the city's
      Chinese American population after the 1906 earthquake and fire?
      As the Chinese exited Chinatown, city officials sought to prevent
      them from returning. In a poorly planned evacuation, Chinese
      refugees were shuttled to various relief camps all over the city.

      A temporary camp on Van Ness prompted relocation to the Presidio
      because city officials argued that the site would prove difficult to
      dismantle once the Chinese settled again in a location so close to
      the original Chinatown. The Chinese presence at the Presidio Golf
      Links greatly displeased neighbors "where the summer zephyrs would
      blow the odors of Chinatown into their front doors." The Chinese
      refugees were transferred, again, the next day to a more remote
      location on the Presidio near Fort Point.

      The earthquake and fire afforded a convenient excuse by city
      officials to claim Chinatown for profitable commercial development.
      Within six days of the Great Fire, a committee General Relief
      Committee was appointed to focus on relocating the Chinese
      permanently. They soon adopted a plan to move Chinatown to Hunters

      The idea was not new. Industrialist John Partridge proposed
      an "Oriental City" at Hunters Point before the earthquake, and it
      had the support of Mayor Schmitz. Telegrams sent by the War
      Department to General Funston, and the pending arrival of the
      Chinese consul-general from Washington, may have also been deciding
      factors in the quick establishment of a committee to "assist" the

      Who were the major players in the decision to relocate Chinatown?
      After the 1906 earthquake and fire, a committee comprised of
      Abraham "Abe" Ruef; James D. Phelan; Jeremiah Deneen; Dr. James W.
      Ward, president of the Health Commission, and Methodist minister Dr.
      Thomas Filben, chairman, was appointed to take charge of the
      question of the permanent location of the Chinese quarter.

      From a strictly political standpoint this was a remarkable committee
      because Abe Ruef and James D. Phelan were arch-enemies. Ex-Mayor
      Phelan had helped spark the graft investigation which would
      ultimately led to Ruef serving time at San Quentin State Prison.
      Ruef was the undisputed "boss" of California, and served as the
      Southern Pacific Railway's political point man in San Francisco.
      Their common ground was abiding racism and hatred for the Chinese.

      The Committee on the Location of Chinatown began, with the help of
      General Funston, to concentrate the few Chinese left in San
      Francisco in preparation of moving them to Hunters Point. But more
      politically astute members of the committee were concerned that San
      Francisco, ridding itself of the Chinese, would also lose its
      lucrative Oriental trade.

      How did the Chinese resist relocation?

      The relocation committee did not anticipate stiff resistance from
      the government of China. Chow-Tszchi, first secretary of the Chinese
      Legation at Washington arrived in Oakland within a few days of the
      earthquake and met with Chung Pao Hsi, China's consul-general in San
      Francisco. They, in turn, met with Governor Pardee in Oakland, and
      told him of the Empress-Dowager's displeasure with the relocation
      plan, and that the government of China would rebuild its San
      Francisco consulate in the heart of old Chinatown.

      "I have heard the report that the authorities intend to remove
      Chinatown, but I cannot believe it," the Chinese delegation
      stated. "America is a free country, and every man has a right to
      occupy land which he owns provided that he makes no nuisance. The
      Chinese Government owns the lot on which the Chinese Consulate of
      San Francisco formerly stood, and this site on Stockton street will
      be used again. It is the intention of our Government to build a new
      building on the property, paying strict attention to the new
      building regulations which may be framed."

      Governor Pardee was asked for letters to General Greely, General
      Funston and Mayor Schmitz, authorizing those officials to grant to
      the properly accredited Chinese representatives the right to enter
      the guarded section and care for the distressed Chinese as well as
      provide for the protection of their burned places of business. The
      letters were given them, and, armed with this authority, the party
      returned to San Francisco.

      What was the city's final decision on relocating Chinatown?

      Chinatown then, as today, occupied some of the most valuable real
      estate in San Francisco, with its sixteen-square-blocks set between
      Nob Hill and the financial center of the West.

      Stiff resistance from the government of China, and the fear of
      losing trade with the Orient, ended this relocation scheme, and
      rebuilding of Chinatown soon began.

      SF Virtual Museum:
      Chinatown relocation: http://www.sfmuseum.org/chin/relocate.html
      General quake info: http://www.sfmuseum.org/hist10/06timeline.html
      Chinese government protests: http://www.sfmuseum.org/chin/4.29.html
      US Geological Survey: http://quake.wr.usgs.gov/info/1906/
      Berkeley Seismological Laboratory:
      SF Convention and Visitor's Bureau:
      National Park Service (Presidio):
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