The Mission

Earthquake and Fire Impact the Mission

Earthquake DamageThe 1906 earthquake and the devastating fire that followed changed the neighborhood dramatically. The disaster destroyed most of San Francisco's business district and many of its residential neighborhoods, but the Mission District was largely spared. As a result, a large influx of homeless refugees flocked to the area and transformed it into the densely populated, blue-collar neighborhood that it remains to this day.

With such a strong working class population, it was inevitable that the Mission District would become the center of San Francisco's labor movement. Unions were born here, labor wars were conducted here, workers stood up and were counted here. And the neighborhood defined itself much like a small town would, with strong family ties and ethnic loyalties. From the turn of the century to the 1930's, the Irish in particular were a powerful presence here. According to history professor Robert Cherny of San Francisco State University, "The Irish were to be found at all levels of politics in the city ...just as there were Irish bankers and Irish unskilled laborers, you would find Irish political workers at the most basic precinct level as well as at the highest levels of politics." But soon, they too would move, to be replaced by waves of new immigrants.

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What Was the Effect of the 1906 Earthquake In San Francisco?

The greatest damage occurred in North Beach and the financial district, where brick buildings collapsed, trolley tracks zig-zagged, and countless bottles in countless stores crashed to the store. The new City Hall was completely destroyed within seconds.

But the earthquake itself accounted for only about 20 percent of the ruin San Francisco was about to suffer. Broken gas mains and hundreds of gas lanterns and candles that had fallen to the floor set fires all over the city. Soon, 50 separate fires were burning out of control. To make matters worse, the water mains that ran up to the city from the lower peninsula 30 miles south were broken, rendering the fire department helpless.

The fires merged into two major blazes threatening to devour the city. By afternoon, the financial district was a holocaust of flame and 90 percent of the city's homes, most of which were made of wood, served as kindling for the great inferno.

For three days and two nights the fire blazed, and was only stopped by a shift in the wind which turned the fire back on itself, sparing the western part of the city. In the end, an estimated 250,000 San Franciscans out of a total population of 400,000 were left homeless!

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