Shake it Off: How San Francisco Rebuilt Itself-Fast

Photo taken by  Arnold Genthe.

Devastation after the earthquake. Photo taken by Arnold Genthe.

The city of San Francisco was destroyed in the spring of 1906 after a violent earthquake shook the city to the ground on Wednesday, April 18. The infamous quake was certainly damaging, but a series of 2,700 degree fires lasting three days after the quake, consumed or multiplied the damage. So overwhelming was the aftermath, many people simply left the city for good. Seventy five thousand of the 400,000 San Franciscans left for nearby cities like Berkeley and Oakland. The remaining population stayed to turn devastation into opportunity.

Image by Arnold Genthe

A view of the damage on Sacramento Street. Photo taken by Arnold Genthe.

The damage was almost incomprehensible. Insurance claims calculated a total loss of $252 million, not including the destruction caused by the earthquake since many policies did not include that type of coverage. In today’s money, this number equates to $6.2 billion and back then, the amount was equal to the federal budget in 1906! Banks weren’t functional for the six weeks following the quake, causing the city business needed to counterbalance the financial damage to come to a screeching halt. Some money was saved, but the banks fire safes could not be accessed until the safes cooled a week later. San Franciscans had a choice to make, sulk or work.

Photo taken by George Williford Boyce Haley.

Workers search through destruction for reusable bricks. Photo taken by George Williford Boyce Haley.

Rebuilding a City…Fast and Different

In order to save the city’s place in the nation, the leading officials understood it had to be rebuilt quickly. It was. Citizens were drafted to clear debris from the streets in the days following the quake, making the job more manageable for the professionals who dumped the rubble into Mission Bay. Skilled workers poured into the city – within 4 days there were already 300 plumbers ready to get to work. Building skyrocketed; 500 homes and 300 saloons/dance halls were built within the year. The quake also affected residential architecture in the city…

Read the rest of the story and see how the city was rebuilt differently here at

Like the Content? It’s by and © Mobile Ranger. Check out all our blogposts and our free mobile app with sixteen high quality self-guided mobile tours of the Santa Cruz coast at Please like us on Facebook!

Julia Gaudinski

Leave a Comment