The Press Democrat is out with its 1906 earthquake anniversary item and it earns a solid D+ for historical accuracy, which is still far better than it has done in the recent past. (EDIT: The grade was originally was a C+ until I read the photo captions and found the slideshow included 1909 damage to the Sonoma mission, among other serious errors.)
There are two significant problems with the very first paragraph in the short unbylined piece, which claims “more than 100 people were killed in a community of roughly 8,700.” Exactly 77 are certain to have died in Santa Rosa and it can be said with high confidence there were at least 82 (see 1906 earthquake FAQ). While it seems very likely that a hundred or more people probably were killed or died later because of injuries there is zero evidence, so using any number higher than 77 is speculation. Also guesswork is claiming there were “roughly 8,700” in the community. At the end of 1906, the PD estimated the population then at 10,990. There is a thorough discussion concerning the size of Santa Rosa in the FAQ, but I have never seen that 8,700 figure used. As with the death count, the PD does not reveal its source of information.
The mistakes continue into the second paragraph: “Entire neighborhoods were reduced to rubble and the city struggled for years to rebuild.” Only the courthouse and surrounding commercial blocks were destroyed. About two dozen houses collapsed or were knocked off foundations and many chimneys cracked or fell. Residential damage was blamed mostly on poor construction and no neighborhoods were wiped out. Nor did the city do much struggling to rebuild. Yes, downtown was a mess and major construction zone for the first year, but before the second anniversary the business district was mostly back to normal in lovely new buildings.
I have other quibbles with the anniversary piece. It mentions city hall operated from a table on the sidewalk but that probably was only for about a week before it moved to the business and government shantytown hastily slammed together on the vacant lot at Mendocino and Fifth. The item also states the Press Democrat had its own presses rolling again by the end of the month, which is about the least interesting factoid about the disaster. If anything at all should be mentioned about the PD after the earthquake it’s that editor Ernest Finley argued vigorously that the needy didn’t deserve aid from the relief fund.
Although the little article gets almost all facts wrong, I still give it a passing grade because of the accompanying photographs, many of which I have never before seen from the PD archives. Check them out – but mostly ignore the captions.
But enough about the PD today; how did Santa Rosa commemorate the earthquake anniversary a hundred years ago? Answer: It didn’t.
In San Francisco on April 18, 1916, an estimated 25,000 packed into the Civic Auditorium to hear a program that included a 500 voice chorus, military band and speeches by the mayor and other luminaries. Was there a public event that day in Santa Rosa?
That ten year anniversary was also the day Santa Rosa swore in a new mayor and city council. Was there a moment of silence at the ceremony to honor the dead?
That day in 1916 was the Tuesday before Easter and Santa Rosa churches were in high gear, with one church offering a three-hour drop-in service on Good Friday. Were any sermons announced giving thanks for parishioners having survived?
The Santa Rosa Republican and Press Democrat both offered short, mawkish “ten years after” editorials that really said nothing; the “city has arisen phoenix like from its ashes” because energetic Santa Rosans “with a song in their hearts and laughter on their lips” rebuilt the town better than it was before, blah, blah, yada, etc.
The only point to note is the remark in the Republican that “In proportion to its size Santa Rosa suffered more than any other city in the state.” Today the claim that Santa Rosa had comparatively more damage and/or more deaths than San Francisco is another often heard myth. Over 80 percent of San Francisco was destroyed by the earthquake and fire and most of their population was homeless or displaced for up to two years. By contrast, Santa Rosa’s relief effort lasted 17 days with no refugee camps or emergency housing. Electricity was restored within a week and most downtown businesses were operating again within four days at temporary locations. There were no fires in Santa Rosa residential areas. No matter how much one squints at comparisons, it’s impossible to honestly claim Santa Rosa suffered more than elsewhere.
A quite interesting article did appear in the Republican a few days later, however, showing a tally of year-by-year building permits issued over the previous decade. It showed furious activity through the spring of 1908, then a flux following general economic trends. This data will be of great interest to local historians.
SANTA ROSA TEN YEARS AFTERCity Has Arisen Phoenix Like From Its Ashes And Anniversary Is Cause for Thankfulness
This morning ten years ago, Santa Rosa was visited by the greatest calamity in its history. The entire business part of the city was destroyed by earthquake and fire; many lives were lost, and the list of wounded was long. The property loss was estimated at nearly five million dollars. Some doubted that the town would ever be rebuilt, but most Santa Rosans were more hopeful, and some even predicted that the work of restoration would be complete in five years. But ten years was more generally regarded as the time that would probably be required.
It can be truthfully said today that the restoration is finished, and that the new city is architecturally far better than it was at the time of the disaster. Nearly every building destroyed has been replaced by a building that is larger and finer. The courthouse, the city hall, the banks and hotels are Class A structures, worth many times what the former ones were worth and a credit to the city in every way. The postoffice, the Masonic Temple, the Native Sons’ building, the high school annex, and many handsome business structures, testify to the enterprise and the energy of the people in this town that was stricken. It has been a wonderful recovery.– Press Democrat, April 18, 1916TEN YEARS AFTER
Ten years ago today the Pacific Coast rocked with one of the heaviest earthquakes the world has ever known. Following in its wake came a sheet of flame that completed the work of ruin and destruction. Men retired the night before secure in the belief that they were well established in business, and that the future was secure. They were awakened by the temblor to face ruin, death and misery. In proportion to its size Santa Rosa suffered more than any other city in the state. For blocks Fourth street was a mass of ruins, debris and twisted iron. For a moment the people were stunned, helpless, and it seemed, hopeless. Yet before the bricks were cold, before the streets were cleared for traffic, the work of rebuilding began. Men who had been planning their businesses on a $5000 a year basis immediately outline plans calling for a business of double that amount. Men who had owned buildings of wood, or one story structures, planned at once for modern, fireproof two story structures that would be a credit to any city. With a song in their hearts and laughter on their lips; with not a hint of giving up, they set about their titanic task and have builded a city in ten years, better than was built in course of the slow growth more than fifty years previous. And that same spirit is present today and will be present in the generations to come. The will to do, to surmount any and all obstacles, the belief in one’s ability to perform the task before one, has made possible the wonderful work of the rebuilding of the City of Roses. No greater monument was ever erected in memory of man’s achievement than the achievement itself, in this instance.– Santa Rosa Republican, April 18, 1916City is Rebuilt In Ten Years$2,705,000 And More Is Spent
It is a fact known to few people in Santa Rosa that approximately two and three-quarter millions of dollars have been put into permanent building improvements in Santa Rosa in the past ten years. This is one of the mighty proofs of the advancement of this city since its business district was laid low by earthquake and fire on April 18, 1906.
Included within the ten years that have elapsed since that disaster there are many other improvements, such as miles and miles of paved streets, cement sidewalks, curbs and gutters and countless other items that would swell the sum total of city improvements to an enormous figure. There are many other advancements that have been made, but that single total of improvements in permanent buildings, totaling in exact figures, $2,705,302.31, is one of the biggest arguments that Santa Rosa has to show what enormous strides have been made by the city in ten years. From almost nothing to that total in ten years is an achievement for the city which compares favorably with the total expended in San Francisco, considering the size of the two cities for that length of time.
The Republican is indebted to City Clerk Herbert B. Snyder for the actual figures covering building operations. Up to the time that he took office there were no summarized records kept of the building permits granted, and it was necessary to consult old records with the aid of the adding machine and bring them up to date.
In the two years following the earthquake and fire the building operations were especially heavy, but since that time they have maintained a high record. The permits, year by year, from June to July [sic] are as follows:
1906-1907 $894,020.00 1907-1908 684,147.00 1908-1909 119,215.00 1909-1910 123,560.00 1910-1911 115,500.00 1911-1912 93,691.50 1912-1913 231,865.35 1913-1914 214,458.00 1914-1915 145,082.45– Santa Rosa Republican April 22, 1916