Quake leveled downtown areas

Although it’s known as the Great San Francisco Quake, the April 18, 1906, temblor shook foundations from San Juan Bautista to Point Arena, destroying much in its path — including many of San Mateo County’s nascent cities.

The newly constructed San Mateo County Courthouse, completed in 1905 at a cost of $200,000, was nearly leveled in the quake; only its central rotunda and dome remained standing. The walls of the Capitol Hotel on Broadway came down, along with the cupola and walls of the Bank of San Mateo.

“There was damage to everything along Broadway and Main Street,” according to historian John Edmonds, including some homes and the Carnegie Library on the corner of Broadway and Jefferson — which, like the courthouse, was newly built.

Likewise, much of downtown San Mateo was reduced to rubble, including the railway depot, where a tower collapsed, injuring a guard inside. In Palo Alto, some of Stanford University’s buildings were damaged, and its chapel was nearly destroyed.

Loss of life, however, was minimal. Just three people died — all in Half Moon Bay, in a mud-brick adobe that didn’t withstand the shaking.

“The hour of the quake (5:12 a.m.) meant not a lot of people were downtown where the damage occurred,” Edmonds said. “Where people were sleeping, in houses, there weren’t a lot of problems.”

In San Mateo County, the quake also starkly revealed which structures were built to last.

Both the Charles Brown Adobe and the Crystal Springs Dam, situated directly on the San Andreas Fault, emerged unscathed.

Hermann Schussler’s dam design, featuring interlocking concrete blocks, prevented some 20 billion gallons of water from washing down the valley and into downtown San Mateo. “It’s a heck of a construction,” county historian Mitch Postel said. “There wasn’t a crack.”

The quake’s aftermath changed the face of San Mateo County, as refugees from San Francisco poured into outlying counties of the Bay Area. Many settled on the hilly tract just south of the city, which owner John Daly was using to graze cattle.

Their presence sparked the need for shelter and deliveries of food. By 1911, it was clear those refugees were there to stay — and Daly City was born. All told, about 10,000 quake refugees took up permanent residence on the Peninsula, nearly doubling the population and sparking the incorporation of five new towns, including Burlingame in 1908 and San Bruno in 1914.

bwinegarner@examiner.comBay Area NewsLocalneighborhoods

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

(Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
City College union deal staves off layoffs, class cuts

One year agreement allows community college time to improve its finances

A Homeless Outreach Team member speaks with homeless people along Jones Street in the Tenderloin on Wednesday, May 6, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Breed proposes another street outreach team to divert calls away from police

San Francisco would launch a new street outreach team to respond to… Continue reading

San Francisco Giants short stop Mauricio Dubon (1) breaks his bat on a ground out in the 4th inning against the Miami Marlins at Oracle Park on April 22, 2021 in San Francisco, California. (Photography by Chris Victorio | Special to the S.F. Examiner).
Wood, bench power Giants past Rangers

After a bullpen implosion cost Alex Wood a win in his prior… Continue reading

San Fernando, CA, Thursday, April 29, 2021 - California Governor Gavin Newsom waves goodbye to friends after attending a press conference where he signed legislation that will provide a $6.2 billion tax cut to the hardest hit small businesses in the state at Hanzo Sushi restaurant downtown. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
Chelsea Hung, who owns Washington Bakery and Restaurant in Chinatown with her mother, said the restaurant is only making about 30 percent of pre-pandemic revenues. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Chinatown’s slow recovery has business owners fearing for the future

Lack of outside visitors threatens to push neighborhood into ‘downward spiral’

Most Read