AP File PhotoCoping with disaster: The Board of Supervisors’ 1906 meeting minutes

Find City Hall unruly now? Try 1906

Happy Thanksgiving, dear readers. As we gather with relatives and people we call family to express gratitude for those lovely elements of life that get us through the other 99 percent, there is something to be thankful for even in the world of local politics. Recently, I found a new link on the San Francisco government website: the Board of Supervisors’ meeting minutes from 1906 until the present.

I have spent many hours since enjoying this treasure trove. The minutes are detailed and contain diplomatic reporting such as, “The Chair declared the point of order not well taken, upon the ground that such was not a fact.”

Anyone with an interest in San Francisco history and politics should spend some time in this virtual archive.

Of course, the board had been meeting long before 1906, but the earthquake and ensuing fire that year destroyed all prior meeting records. The quake happened on April 18, a Wednesday. To deal with the carnage and get rebuilding under way, the board met on the next Monday and every day for the next thirteen weekdays.

Such heroic fervor is certainly commendable, although it might not have been entirely altruistic. Historian Wilton Bean wrote in 1952 that, at the time of the quake, some supervisors “resented the manner in which they had been pushed aside” when Mayor Eugene Schmitz convened a “Committee of Fifty” prominent citizens to handle emergency services. Then, as now, the board evidently felt insecure when the mayor’s wealthy friends wielded power.

With City Hall uninhabitable, supervisors met in Mowry’s Hall on the corner of Laguna and Grove streets. They addressed certain crises by prohibiting the operation of “embalming establishments” without a permit and demanding the removal from public property of “all structures or obstruction placed thereon for business purposes.” Then, as now, we were a city of entrepreneurs.

The board also approved all sorts of fascinating requests. Here are some examples:

  • That the Department of Elections give voting booths to the “Chief Sanitary Inspector” to be used as housing for the homeless.
  • That the soldiers called in to help with the disaster “be as lenient as possible in the handling of our afflicted citizens and not use drastic measures except in cases where it was absolutely necessary.”
  • That “all persons having in their possession horses and buggies or vehicles of any description not belonging to them” deliver those items to the Woodlawn Stables within 48 hours or be prosecuted.

This view of The City’s 1906 problems — runaway horses, overzealous troops and people hawking wares in Golden Gate Park — are a reminder of San Francisco’s gritty history. And a reminder that as a city, we have much to be thankful for.

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