View Full Version : One hundred years ago today

04-18-06, 07:53 AM
One hundred years ago today
Thomas Lifson

As I begin to write at 5:08AM PDT, the 100th anniversary of the great San Francisco Earthquake is pending in a few minutes. Sticklers will note that as there was no Daylight Savings Time one hundred years ago, we should really be waiting until the sun has risen for the ceremony taking place in darkness on Market Street right now.

The earthquake was terrible, and we should be better prepared than we are for another one. My own house is bolted to its foundation, as experts recommend, and was originally built by a professor of geology at UC Berkeley, who picked the lot in part because an outcropping of bedrock lies beneath. We may shake a bit, but the soil beneath won’t crumble. But of course a fire sweeping through the Berkeley Hills won’t care about the foundation. That’s the biggest worry. On the other hand, I rarely worry about tornadoes sweeping through, as I did in my Midwestern youth, p[art of it spent huddled in the basement when tornadoes blew through.

The quake’s aftermath brought many changes. Los Angeles became the largest city on the West Coast, and San Francisco never regained its premier status. Berkeley and Oakland, directly across the Bay, grew exponentially. Many San Franciscans took refuge here, and discovered that the weather was much better, the housing more attractive, and the commute not just endurable but actually pleasant. In those days, one could board a fast streetcar (a light rail vehicle in today’s parlance), and ride out to the end of miles-long pier, and then board a fast ferry boat for a 15 minute ride into San Francisco. The Key System trains and boats competed with the Southern Pacific ones, and part of the allure of the Key System was the famous breakfast hash served on its ferry boats. Hundreds of commuters would be served, dine, and pay in the 15 minute ride. The recipe, always kept a close secret, is lost, but still spoken of with reverence in various East Bay greasy spoons. Somehow the ride through the tube on BART can’t quite match the romance, scenery, and dining options.

The moment has now come! The earth has not split open and swallowed “the wickedest city in America” as San Francisco was known, even back then. We have survived a full century with only a “pretty big” quake. (I missed that one, as I was on Mt. Everest [no kidding!] near the base camp, and learned of the quake from Japanese climbers who brought along a pocket short wave radio. I turned around and headed home immediately.)

“Experts” tell us another really big quake is inevitable. I suppose they are right. But in the meantime, I will watch the first rays of the sun peek over the hills and start to light up downtown San Francisco in the next half hour or so. For the moment, life here is very good indeed.


04-18-06, 10:01 AM
"...who picked the lot in part because an outcropping of bedrock lies beneath."
Interesting. I believe Mission Dolores, located on Dolores Street in San Francisco, is one of the original missions built during the stay of Padre Junipera Serra; it was built by a monk who was also an architect. The walls of the Mission are about four feet thick and it is one of the most narrowist of all the Missions built. It is also one of the few that have survived mostly intact. When I was a kid there it was not unusual to see homes that had sunk into the ground. I heard, as a kid, that the homes that survived were the homes built with wood frames because they flexed. If one is interested, there was a whole series of drawings and articles about how the San Francisco skyscrapers were build to sustain earthquakes with what seemed to be roller type foundations.