22 November 2005

Earthquake Exodus, 1906

Berkeley historian and BAHA member Richard Schwartz, who is best known for the book Berkeley 1900: Daily Life in the Turn of the Century, has just released his latest opus, Earthquake Exodus, 1906: Berkeley Responds to the San Francisco Refugees. The book is the story of the ten-week Berkeley relief effort that rescued 15,000 San Francisco refugees from the earthquake and fire.

As Gray Brechin explains in the Foreword:
On April 17, 1906, the university town had twenty-six thousand residents. A year later, it had grown by half again to thirty-eight thousand, largely due to the influx of homeless refugees fleeing the afflicted city. Schwartz explains how Berkeleyans generously responded by setting up temporary camps, dispensing food, listing jobs, and even taking in the homeless. He details the measures taken to ensure public order and health as city and university officials struggled to deal with thousands of disoriented, impoverished, and sometimes dangerous strangers, many separated from their loved ones—everyday details long forgotten but worth study by those who wish to better prepare for the next great shake.

San Francisco’s misfortune was a godsend for East Bay real estate agents and developers, for ex-urban refugees quickly discovered they could buy suburban lots far cheaper and with more benign weather than those of the fog-shrouded city by the Golden Gate. The recent advent of electricity and telephones, as well as excellent train service provided by the Key Route and Southern Pacific systems, increased the value of properties throughout the region and encouraged subdivision of the last farms in Berkeley. In the Mason McDuffie Company, Berkeley fortunately had one of the most enlightened developers in the country. That the quake happened at the height of the Arts and Crafts movement—and that UC Berkeley had just established the West’s first College of Architecture—produced a bumper crop of fascinating houses, churches, and clubhouses that literally distinguish the town to this day. Schwartz reminds us that today’s Berkeley, as much as San Francisco, is largely the result of that shaking a century ago.

The book contains over 200 photos, many of which have never been published and many others that have not been seen in a hundred years.

The author will talk about Earthquake Exodus, 1906 at Black Oak Books on Sunday, 11 December, at 7:30 pm.

The book is available for sale at all independent bookstores and the BAHA office, where BAHA members receive a discount. Call (510) 841-2242 for details.


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