Monthly Archives: April 2011

105 Year Anniversary of the San Francisco Earthquake & Fire

A few weeks ago, San Franciscans may have seemed a little more solemn as they remembered the victims of the 1906 earthquake and fire.  It is said to have been more destructive than the Chicago fire of 1871 and the London fire of 1966.  Fortunately, the city and its citizens have taken countless measures to ensure that damage and death do not occur on that scale again.

Below you will find some of the facts of that fatal day in 1906:

  • It occurred at 5:12 a.m.  
  • The first tremor lasted 40 seconds with a ten second rest followed by a very strong 25 second shake.  
  • It has been estimated as a 7.9 on the scale of 10 Richter scale.
  • It was almost 30 times more powerful than the 6.8 quake in 1989.  This was the quake that caused a section of the Bay Bridge to go down, and did fatal damage to highway 101 and structures in the Marina District.
  • It came from the San Andreas Fault, which was just discovered by Andrew Lawson in 1893.  It runs under and is named after San Andreas Lake.  It does not lie directly under San Francisco.  Instead, it goes through Daly City, out into the ocean, and back to land at Reyes Point.  
  • The epicenter was offshore, a few miles South of Golden Gate.
  • It created quite a bit of destruction along a 200 mile stretch from Monterey Bay to Fort Bragg, but it did little damage to Oakland and Berkeley.  They have their own fault line to worry about on that side of the bay.
  • In S.F. cemeteries, hundreds of tombstones were knocked over, all towards the east.
  • The ground in San Francisco went through a series of waves as high as two or three feet.
  • Most of the damage did not come from the earthquake, but the uncontrollable fire that spread through the city during the aftermath. 

San Francisco will never know this level of destruction again because of an earthquake.  City officials have instituted a series of earthquake proof and fire prevention building codes that will really pay off if an earthquake of that magnitude hits the city again.  All you have to do is look at the difference between the 2010 Chile earthquake (8.8) and the 2010 Haiti earthquake (7.0) to see how good planning and technology can save lives and structures.  Chile used many of the earthquake proof procedures developed in California, and there was a lot less destruction and loss of life.

In 1906, San Francisco was caught unaware and with little planning in place, but all of that has changed now.  If a quake this size does occur again, there will be a certain amount of death and destruction, but nothing near the 1906 carnage.  All San Franciscans pray it won’t happen, but if so, they all have earthquake kits and several plans to help them survive and rebuild this great city by the sea.



Source:  Historic San Francisco:  A Concise History and Guide, by Rand Richards

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San Francisco: Home of the Creative Muses

If you spend any amount of time in San Francisco, you will feel the creative spirit that is a part of everything around you.  The architecture, murals, fashion, festivals, and music all give testimony to this drive that entices everyone who lives here or visits to make something unique and genuine.  For example, All you have to do is visit a few restaurants before you come across that delectable combination of ingredients that San Franciscans like to call California Fusion.  Local chefs take traditional recipes from around the world and experiment in ways that make it a whole new dish.  A perfect example is all the ways that calamari is prepared in the city.

In San Francisco, everyone also seems to have a hobby, and there is a large focus on people doing something outside of the normal work day.  Several individuals may introduce themselves as writers, designers, or musicians who are just posing as teachers, bankers, clerks, etc.  It is the work-life balance that many places in the United States talk about, but San Francisco puts into practice.

Everyone has a creative spark that lies in them.  Here in the city, you can find all sorts of courses that will spark your interest and help you to court the muse.  There are numerous community education organizations and businesses devoted to such things as sewing, knitting, sailing, drawing, blogging, writing, making music, design, programming, gardening, pottery, photography, stained glass, etc.  If you can dream it, you can make it.

What causes this city to be driven by such a strong inventive urge?  Maybe it is the ghosts of all the movies and books that refer to San Francisco locations.  You don’t have to go far to recognize a place that was used in a novel or on the big screen.  For example, some may say that Michael Toliver and Mary Ann Singleton still lurk around the corners of the Castro and Russian Hill districts.  Maybe this urge arises from extreme beauty of the hills, ocean, and bay that at times borders on too much for the senses to take in.  Being around such a wealth of natural beauty stimulates a person’s imagination.

There are a few other places like this in the United States.  All you have to do is visit Santa Fe and you will feel this same inspiration.  This city, like San Francisco, encourages one to sit down and write a novel the quality of “Death Comes for the Archbishop,” by Willa Cather.  Of course, not everyone can succeed in this task to that level of excellence, but that is not the point.

It is often the act of creating that is more important than the actual product, especially here in the city.  The real product is not the vase, but the insights and knowledge the artist receives in the making of the vase.  Some of the best artists with the most innovative spirits will never be famous.  These are the hobbyists that eventually learn that they are the art piece, not the vase.  San Francisco promotes the idea that we are at our best when we create and invent.  Maybe, just maybe the meaning of life is to discover yourself and your relationship to others by using your imagination and engaging in the art of creation.  All you have to do is look at the art pieces of ancient civilizations to realize that there has always been this human drive to create something even if it is on the most menial of objects, such as a water bowl.

Come to San Francisco, spark your imagination, and get in touch with your primal urge to build, design, and innovate.  Soon you may be one of those people who introduces themselves as a musician that happens to sell houses during the day.   



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Maiden Lane

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Have you been to Maiden Lane yet?  No?  Well, then hail a cab and head down to this quaint little alley near Union Square where high end fashion lives.  Retailers like Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, and Marc Jacobs all have cozy little stores nestled away in this posh alley.  In addition, you will find the Xanadu Gallery which is housed in a space designed by the infamous Frank Loyd Wright.

Before the 1906 earthquake and fire, this little street was known for its “red light” activity.  One can only imagine all the whoring, opium dens, and general crime that found it’s home in these short blocks.  The fire destroyed all of the buildings and left piles or rubble, but a jeweler saw potential in the mean little alley and transformed it to its current glamour by first changing the name from Morton to Maiden, and then courting businesses that would help the little lane to compete with the Maiden Lanes in both New York City and London.

Get up, catch a cab, and go window shopping in Maiden Lane.  While you are down there, you might as well stroll over to Union Square for some light shopping, and then you can end the excursion with a cup of tea in Chinatown.  



Source:  Wikipedia

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"The Granite Lady" San Francisco’s Old Mint

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Located in Soma (South of Market) on the intersection of 5th and Mission sits the Old U.S. Mint.  Constructed in 1874 and designed to keep out tunneling robbers, this stone building actually survived the 1906 earthquake and fire.  One of the features of the building which helped to save it from ruin was the central enclosed courtyard that houses a well that was used to defend the structure.  The windows melted from the heat of the surrounding fire, but the building was not engulfed in flames.  Good thing because at the time it was housing a third of the U.S. gold reserves.

In 1937, it was replaced by a newer structure that is perched on top of a hill overlooking Market Street.  The Old Mint was open to tourists until 1993, and just recently has been slated for a remodel to make it a museum by 2012.

–  Source Wikipedia

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Chinatown: San Francisco

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Macy’s 2011 Flower Show: San Francisco

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Every year people flock to the Macy’s store in Union Square to view the real floral displays and breath in the wonderful scents.  To many, this is a ritual that marks the end of winter and the beginning of spring.  This year’s event occurred on March 27th – April 10th, and it included a Zen, rooftop, and enchanted garden.  In addition, the floral designers created a walk through the tropical rainforest.

If you missed this year’s event, don’t worry.  Just keep an eye out for it next year and welcome spring in with a San Francisco tradition that has been around for 65 years.

Happy Easter!


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The Barbary Coast Trail

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If you find yourself in San Francisco with a little time on your hands and yearning to take a 3.8 mile journey across the city, then the Barbary Coast Trail is for you.  This trek starts at the steps of the old Mint Building at 5th and Mission and takes you on a historical journey through the Financial District, China Town, Union Square, Fisherman’s Wharf, Telegraph Hill, North Beach, and many more streets, alleys, and creative walkways.  All you have to do is follow the 170 brass markers embedded in the sidewalk like the one pictured above. 

Try not to get too distracted by all the shops and stores that you pass along the way, although a quick dash into City Lights Booksellers and Publishers can’t really be prevented.  As you make your way through the city, also consider taking a break and getting a drink at Vesuvio, Specs, or Tosca, better known as the Holy Trinity Bars of North Beach.  As an added bonus, if you stay alert you may just catch a glimpse of the wild parrot flock that roams freely in the trees of San Francisco.

Your San Francisco Odyssey will take you by a staircase on Telegraph Hill marked only by a modest plaque stating that it is the Jack Early Park.  Hike up the steps and you will find one of the best views in the city.  The SF Gate promotes it as the best place to propose marriage.  

Put on your walking shoes, fill your water bottle, and get out there and explore this incredible city by the sea.



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San Francisco: Street Smarts

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S.F. "Street Smarts"  4.10.11 B

Street Smarts set up shop in Golden Gate Park today to show off their talent on temporary walls.  It is a program that was created through a collaboration between the San Francisco Arts Commission and the Department of Public Works.  According to their flier, they “connect established urban artists with private property owners to create vibrant murals, making the property less likely to be vandalized.”  This is so San Francisco. 



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Historical Saturday: Alma de Bretteville Spreckels

Courtesy of wikimedia

If you visit Union Square, you will find a statue in the middle poised atop a tall column.  Her name is “Victoria:  The Goddess of Victory,” and she was placed on this pedestal as a remembrance of the 1898 Manila Bay battle during the Spanish – American war.

The statue of the goddess was actually modeled after a real San Franciscan named Alma de Bretteville Spreckels (1881-1968).  Born into poverty, the local beauty began to make a name for herself early on by modeling and even posing nude.  Because of her fame, the sculptor Robert Aiken met her and decided that her figure and face should be immortalized in Union Square as the goddess Victoria.

Her personal life took a turn during this time by the meeting and courting of Adolph Spreckles, heir to a sugar fortune.  It took four years for the statuesque woman to convince the renowned bachelor and playboy to marry her.  After all, he was 26 years older than her and never been officially “caught.” They were wed in 1908, had three children, and he passed away from pneumonia in 1924.

With her financial future secure, Alma’s passion turned from modeling to fundraising.  She was aggressive about it and soon had a reputation as a woman who could get anything done.  She was a woman who knew what she wanted, and she went after it.

Alma de Bretteville Spreckels kept her name in the spotlight with a series of shocking events.  For example, out of the blue one night she eloped and married a transvestite cowboy in Reno.  The marriage did not last long, and the cowboy then married her niece.  In addition to her shocking exploits, she was also known to be a woman who was a constant chain-smoker and one who never had a pitcher of martinis out of reach.

In addition to the 1913 mansion, now the home of novelist Danielle Steele, both Alma and her husband left their mark on San Francisco with the creation of the California Palace of the Legion of Honor which houses her Rodin sculptures.

Alma de Bretteville Spreckels

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Book Review: Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood

If you are into graphic novels, then you have to read Persepolis. If you are a reader, then you have to read Persepolis. If you are interested in Iran and it’s recent history, then you have to read Persepolis. Let’s just make this easy. YOU HAVE TO READ PERSEPOLIS.

This novel will show you a part of modern Iranian history through the eyes of a child. The narrator and author, Marjane Satrapi, describes her experiences starting with pre-revolution Iran and taking you on a journey of war, love, friendship, violence, and death.

The good news is that when you finish Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood and want to know more of the story, you can now read Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return.  It is definitely a page turner.  



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