San Francisco Earthquake Anniversary

Participate in an SF Tradition over a Century Old on April 18th. Rise Early For a Rendezvous at the Lotta Crabtree Fountain!

As we rush about our daily lives, we rarely give thought to landmarks that blend into the landscape of the city. If you have spent any time in the financial district, you may have walked past an old fountain at the intersection of Market, Geary and Kearny Streets. You might not have realized that the iconic landmark is an important part of San Francisco’s history. It is so important that people have gathered at the fountain annually at 5:12 AM, on April 18th, since 1907.

The Lotta Fountain was built in 1875 and is named after the woman who donated it to the city; Lotta Crabtree. Miss Crabtree was a famous actress of her era. Her path to stardom was paved in San Francisco and she became the highest paid actress of her day. Gifting the fountain to the city was her way of expressing gratitude. The fountain survived the 1906 earthquake, which struck at 5:12 AM on April 18th and destroyed much of the city. It was a gathering place, where survivors went to look for friends and family in the wake of this devastating tragedy. Starting in 1907, survivors and others would gather at the fountain to remember the earthquake and tell their stories.

Up until 2016, at least one survivor attended the annual remembrance at the Lotta Crabtree Fountain. In 2016, William Del Monte, the last survivor of the 1906 earthquake died, in his retirement home, at the age of 109. He was an infant at the time of the great earthquake so Del Monte could have had his life taken before he was old enough to talk or crawl. Instead he beat all odds and not only survived the great earthquake but exceeded his average life expectancy by 62 years. At the turn of the 20th Century the average life expectancy of a man, born in the United States was only 47 years old!

William Del Monte lived a life extraordinary. His father, Angelo Del Monte, was the founder of Fior D’Italia Restaurant in North Beach, the oldest Italian Restaurant in the nation. Although it is not in its original location, Fior D’Italia still serves delicious Italian Cuisine in San Francisco’s “little Italy” today. He and his six siblings all worked in the restaurant for a while. William also worked in a movie theater and eventually ended up with a career in the investment business. Upon his death, the SF Chronicle reported that relatives remarked how he marveled at all the new technologies of the 20th and early 21st Centuries. He believed he lived in the greatest era in history and embraced all the new technology as it came along. In his 20’s he became a self made millionaire, when he wisely invested in stock during the financial booms of the era. He lost it all in 1929 and earned it all back again. After retirement, he soon returned to the stock market, using the internet to inform his decisions.

Although the last of the earthquake survivors is now gone, the annual gathering at the Lotta Crabtree Fountain continues. We will definitely be there this year and we’re sure many who go are a wealth of knowledge and stories about San Francisco’s past.

Since the event at the Lotta Crabtree Fountain starts so early, you might as well make a day of it, so we have put together a self guided “1906 Earthquake History Crawl’. Of course we have added some excellent places to enjoy cocktails along the route as well. After all, SF is a day drinking city!

1906 Earthquake History Crawl

Stop One: Ferry Building

Location: 1 Ferry Building
Directions (from Lotta Crabtree Fountain): Walk Straight down Market Street toward the Embarcadero, cross the street and Ferry Building is directly in front of you.

After the festivities at Lotta’s Fountain, take a stroll down Market Street, to the Ferry Building. The Ferry Building will turn 126 years old this July and it is a survivor of the 1906 earthquake. Admire the architecture, especially the beautiful clock tower. Stop by Blue Bottle Coffee to fuel up and warm up, as the crawl begins. Blue Bottle Coffee started in the Bay Area and has a permanent location inside the Ferry Building that opens at 6:30 AM on weekdays. Enjoy the quiet of morning and check out all the great eateries and shops located in this historic building.

Stop Two: The Palace Hotel

Location: 2 New Montgomery Street
Directions (From Ferry Building): Head out the front doors of Ferry Building, cross the Embarcadero toward the city. Head down Market Street several blocks, turn left onto New Montgomery Street and the Palace Hotel will be on your right.

Head back up Market Street, stop by the Palace Hotel and take some time to enjoy the historical display cases and pictures. The Palace, which survived the 1906 earthquake was destroyed by the fires that followed. Those who survived the earthquake re-built the city, including the prestigious and beloved Palace Hotel. While you are there, grab breakfast at the garden court. Order a “Boothby” Cocktail, which was invented by William Boothby, SF’s first Mixologist, who worked at the Palace around the turn of the last Century.

Stop Three: The Cable Car Stop at Powell and Market

Location: The Cable Car turn around at Market and Powell
Directions (from the Palace Hotel): Exit the palace and turn left on New Montgomery and left onto Market Street. Cross Market at Powell and the Cable Car will be in front of you.

Head a little further down Market and in less than 10 minutes you will arrive at the Powell and Market Cable Car Stop. Cable Cars were operating in San Francisco at the time of the 1906 earthquake. Many Cars were destroyed but the cable car lines were saved in the re-building of the city. Make sure you pack a jacket or a sweater, as the Cable Cars are open air vehicles and the ride up San Francisco’s Hills can be a bit breezy.

Stop Four: Feusier House at 1067 Green Street

Location: 1067 Green Street
Directions (From Hyde and Green Cable Car Stop): Head east on Green Street toward Leavenworth. Walk .1 mile. Feusier House will be on your right.

Although the Feusier House is not open for tours, it’s exterior is worth the 3 minute walk from the Hyde and Green Cable Car Stop. This remarkable house is a true relic of the past. The house is one of a handful of Octagon shaped houses that became trendy in the late 19th and early 20th Century. The unusual shape was supposed to provide light to all rooms of the house throughout the day. The Fuesier House survived the 1906 earthquake and is one of three surviving Octagon Houses in San Francisco that remain today.

Stop Five: The Cable Car Museum

Location: 1201 Mason Street
Hours: 10AM to 4PM (Tuesday to Thursday) and 10AM to 5PM (Friday to Sunday)
Directions (from Fuesier House): Head east on Green Street, turn right on Jones, turn left on Pacific and right on Mason. The Museum will be on the right.

Take a 15 minute walk from the Feusier House to the Cable Car Museum and enjoy the stunning views from Nob Hill a along the way. The Cable Car Museum is free.

Stop Six: Old Ship Saloon

Location: 298 Pacific Avenue
Directions (from the Cable Car Museum): Head north on Mason turn right on Jackson, turn left on Battery. The Saloon will be on your right.

Head to one of San Francisco’s most historic saloons for lunch, The Old Ship Saloon, which is a 15 minute walk from the Cable Car Museum. This legacy business was operating in 1906 and they offer one of 19th Century San Francisco’s most popular cocktails, the “Pisco Punch”. Be sure to imbibe in this delicious and refreshing San Francisco original while you are there. The Old Ship Saloon is in the part of the city that put the wild in wild west and is located in the area once known as the Barbury Coast. The old saloons in this area were known for gambling, smoking and plenty of drinking going on 24 hours a day.

Stop Seven: San Francisco Historical Society Museum

Location: 608 Commercial Street

Just a 10 minute walk from the Old Ship Saloon is the San Francisco Historical Society Museum on Commercial Street. The museum is free to enter and has many interesting artifacts from the 1906 earthquake.

Stop Eight: Portals to the Past at Lloyd Lake

Location: Golden Gate Park, John F Kennedy Dr, San Francisco, CA 94117

Grab an Uber or a Lyft to Golden Gate Park. Along Lloyd Lake stands one of San Francisco’s great architectural follies, “Portals of the Past”. Portals of the Past consists of the entryway columns that once framed the mansion, at 1101 California Street, which was the home of railroad tycoon, Alban Towne. At the time of the earthquake and fires of 1906 the mansion stood proudly across from where Grace Cathedral sits today. Alban had already passed away by the time the great earthquake struck, but his wife was living in the mansion at the time. The 1906 earthquake in San Francisco was the first photographed natural disaster in history. Arnold Genthe was a photographer of the era that took some of the most memorable photographs of the destruction and one of his most famous photos is of the Portals to the Past, atop Nob Hill, looking out over the destruction. The photograph has the dome of the destroyed city hall in the background. Painter Charles Rollo, created a painting inspired by Genthe’s photograph, which is rumored to have been hung inside The Bohemian Club. The Portals of the Past were donated, by Towne’s Wife, to Golden Gate park, on April 7, 1909. Today the Portals still stand, along Loyd Lake and are the most photographed structure in the park. they are especially popular for wedding photos.

Stop Nine: The Clock at The Little Shamrock

Location: 807 Lincoln Way
Directions (from Lloyd Lake): Head east on JFK and turn right on transverse drive, turn left back onto JFK Drive and take a right, two lefts and a right onto Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and continue toward 9th Avenue. Take a right on Lincoln and Little Shamrock will be on your left.

The Little Shamrock is one of the Oldest Bars in the city and a survivor of the 1906 earthquake. Inside there is a clock that was hanging on the wall when the quake struck. A sign underneath reads, “No tick since April 18, 1906”. Go admire the clock and the other historic items on the walls of the pub. Enjoy an Irish Coffee and warm up from your hike through Golden Gate Park.

Stop Ten: St. Francis Hotel Museum and Clock Bar

Location: 335 Powell Street
Directions (from Little Shamrock): Head east on Lincoln Way toward 9th Avenue, stay to the left on Kezar Drive, which becomes JFK Drive, continue to oak street and turn left on Franklin, right on Post and the St. Francis will be on the right.

Now that you are sufficiently warmed up, call on Uber or Lyft to take you back to Union Square. You won’t want to miss the museum at the historical Westin St. Francis Hotel. The hotel was built in 1904 and survived the 1906 earthquake, but unfortunately the insides were burned in the fires that followed the quake. They have a museum and some display cases, in the Lobby, showing the history of the hotel and there are many artifacts and photos from the 1906 earthquake. When at the St. Francis, a drink at Michael Mina’s Clock Bar is a must. San Francisco’s well known mixologist, Marco Dionysis was on the opening team at the clock bar. He invented the Chartreuse Swizzle, while working behind the bar there.

Stop Eleven: Comstock Saloon

Location: 155 Columbus Ave.
Directions (from the Westin St. Francis): Head east on post Street toward Powell, turn left on Kearny and left on Columbus, Comstock will be on your left.

By Uber or Lyft or by foot, head back toward North Beach and San Francisco’s Barbury Coast. Stop off at the Comstock, a modern saloon, housed in a historic building. They offer historical libations, such as Pisco Punch and the San Francisco Cocktail, which is a rare find on the city’s menus. You may even find Marco Dionysis working behind the bar!

Stop Twelve: Fior D’Italia Restaurant

Location: 2237 Mason
Directions (from Comstock Saloon): Head northwest on Columbus and turn right on Mason, Fior D’Italia will be on your left.

Once you get hungry, head over to Fior D’Italia for dinner. It is the oldest Italian restaurant in the nation and it was founded by William Del Monte’s father. Del Monte, as you may recall was the last living earthquake survivor up until 2016. His family would have been operating the restaurant in 1906.

Stop Thirteen: The Saloon

Location: 1232 Grant Ave.
Directions( from Fior D’Italia): Head south on Mason toward Chestnut, turn left on Columbus, Left on Grant and right on Fresno.

If you have any energy left ,after a day filled with adventure, head to San Francisco’s oldest saloon; simply called, “The Saloon”. It is a dusty old bar with a lot of history, simple drinks and live music daily. It was featured in the movie, “Just Like Heaven” featuring Reece Witherspoon and Mark Ruffalo. You will meet people of all ages and from all over, including locals, at this beloved San Francisco institution.