The Great Shake: San Francisco 1906 1906

Burning CityThousands of San Franciscans, unaware of the magnitude of the disaster that was occurring, had packed impromptu picnics and had gone to Nob Hill to watch the spectacle, or had gone down to Market Street to see if any of the "skyscrapers" were going to fall down.

The city's tallest building, the 22-story Call Building, stood at the corner of Third and Market. It had been built only nine years before and, according to the best building technology of the time, had been engineered to be earthquake-proof. It had come through the quake very well; only a few terra-cotta decorations on its ornate facade had fallen to the street. But the fires South of the Slot had become a firestorm, consuming everything in its path, and it was roaring up Third Street.

Watching the Call Building  
Click here to see people watching the burning Call Building.

The Hearst Building, across the street from the Call, had been dynamited in an attempt to create a firebreak and stop the flames from reaching the Palace Hotel (and its private water supply of several hundred thousand gallons). This would turn out to be a futile gesture.

The Winchester Hotel, adjacent to the Call Building, began burning just before 11 a.m. The heat of the flames burst a second-floor window in the Call, and the fire burned through one office and into the hallway. From there it got into the elevator shaft (one of the few in the city), and shot up to the building's magnificent dome, 312 feet above the street.



Faultline © 1999, Exploratorium

Photo credit: Steinbrugge Collection, Earthquake Engineering Research Center, University of California, Berkeley