22 May 2017

The Valencia Street Hotel during the 18 April 1906 earthquake: 22 May 2017

Much of San Francisco is built on one of three surfaces: steep hillsides, sand dunes, or former marshland. Of these surfaces, marshlands are probably the most treacherous. To erect structures on marshland, enormous amounts of fill: sand, dirt, and debris, must be brought to the location and dumped until a firm, dry surface is achieved. During the 1906 earthquake, buildings on “made ground" suffered the most damage because the ground was unstable and unsettled. This process, called soil liquefaction, takes place when loosely packed, waterlogged sediments at or near the surface lose strength and cohesiveness in response to strong ground shaking. Soil liquefaction occurring beneath buildings can cause significant structural damage during earthquakes.

By the early 1890s, an old creek and lagoon, in the area in which the Valencia Street Hotel was eventually constructed in 1896, was filled in with dirt, sand, and debris, and then built over. The severe jolts of the 18 April 1906 earthquake caused the soft-packed fill to settle quickly, leaving sinkholes in the street. The buildings on top of the earth fill rocked back and forth, with many buildings falling off of their foundations. The four-story Valencia Street Hotel, located between 18th Street and 19th Street, collapsed into a sinkhole. The top floor dropped to ground level and remained accessible; the bottom three floors collapsed into the sinkhole below the surface of the earth, crushing at least 25 people to death. An additional 20 or 25 individuals drowned due to flooding from a burst water main. There were still people alive under the rubble; rescuers tore apart the top of the building and saved about fifteen people, but more cries for help were heard. Rescue efforts continued for two days. On the third day, the area was engulfed in the firestorm, and those people still alive and trapped in the Valencia Street Hotel were incinerated. The exact death toll is unknown; it is estimated that between seventy-five and one hundred people died in the Valencia Street Hotel.

Click on an image to see the full-size photograph.

The four-story Valencia Street Hotel as seen shortly after the earthquake. The building was located on the west side of Valencia Street between 18th and 19th Streets. It collapsed as a result of soil liquefaction. The liquefaction also broke two major water mains along Valencia Street, and the breakage was responsible for the loss of water with which to fight fires in the downtown area. The view is looking northwest.  

Built-in 1896, the Valencia Street Hotel was a four-story wood-frame structure with a brick foundation. The Mission district was originally a marshland with creeks and shallow lakes. The landfill began in the 1860s, and by 1888 four hundred acres of solid ground had been created, or so it was thought. There was still a lake flowing underneath the Valencia Street Hotel. The lake was named by the Spanish as The Lake of Our Lady of Sorrows The view is looking northwest

Shortly after the Valencia Street Hotel boarding house collapsed, a large part of the street caved in because two large underground water mains taking water to the downtown section of the city broke due to the quake. With the broken water mains, there was little or no water to be used to extinguish the fires in San Francisco. This picture was probably taken the day after the quake. The general population is now being kept away from the Valencia Street Hotel, and you can see that the rescue workers have already entered the hotel from the roof. Four government officials are on-site, and they are evaluating the situation. The view is looking northwest.  

This is a view of the top floor of the hotel sitting on the ground. Floors one through three fell into an underground sinkhole. The view is looking northwest.

 Here is another view of the hotel. Cable Car tracks are visible in the street bed. The view is looking north.  

 This is a view of Valencia Street looking south from 18th Street. A United Railroad cable car is sitting on the tracks. The hotel is visible straight ahead. 

A coroner’s wagon is on the street in front of the hotel, which can be seen on the right side of the photograph. The dead are being removed from the hotel. The view is looking south

 A view of workers and supervisors on-site at the hotel

This is a view from Valencia Street near 19th Street. The picture was taken on Wednesday, 16 May 1906, approximately thirty days after the quake. Two temporary water lines are visible on either side of the street. The buildings standing in the background are on the west side of Dolores Street, the local boundary of the fire. The view is looking southwest

THEN  This is either the last, or close to the last picture of the Valencia Street Hotel. The area appears deserted. A forlorn cable car is sitting on the tracks with the firestorm about a block away from this location, and moving fast. The view is looking north. 

NOW  This is a view from Valencia Street between 18th Street and 19th Street. The hotel was ahead on the left. The view is looking north, and downtown skyscrapers are seen in the distance. 

NOW  This was the location of the Valencia Street Hotel. This brick building was constructed in 1916. It was originally used as an automobile garage and repair facility. Today it is occupied by a liquor bar and a coffee shop. The view is looking west.

"A camera is a tool for learning how to see without a camera.” Dorothea Lange 

"Photography has not changed since its origin except in its technical aspects, which for me are not important." Henri Carter-Bresson

"There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer." Ansel Adams
"The important thing is not the camera but the eye." Alfred Eisenstaedt

The first volume of the San Francisco Bay Area Photo Blog contains galleries of photographs that were posted on the Internet between 2002 and 2011. Click Here to view these photo galleries.

Panasonic GX7 camera body mounted with an Olympus 17mm lens was used to take these photographs.

Question or comment? I may be reached at neil@mishalov.com