The 1906 Earthquake (Part 4)

Part 4: Ralph Rambo’s Account Continues

“So Dad whipped up the horse and we made a harried tour of the disrupted city. Certain sights were implanted in the mind of this 12-year old. San Francisco suffered most from its great fire. In that respect San Jose was more fortunate. The [fire] control was excellent in comparison. We arrived to see only one fire in progress on Second Street. Remember this was before fire engines were motorized. So the team or rather three abreast horses were tied across the street from the Jose Theater. The fire was just one building, now under control. But the street was strangely deserted. Why was there no crowd? Where were the usual spectators?”

“There were other points of interest. One was the exposed upper story of business buildings. Those made of framework and brick. Downstairs the stores’ contents might lie in shambles in the street mixed with crushed plate glass, bricks even with the window displays. Ah, but the upstairs area served as a rental apartment of a cheap hotel. The beds had typically scooted across the room, covers thrown back, all pictures askew, chamber pot upset, all just as the terrified occupant had left it that morning.

“I marveled at the huge old City Hall. Tall, ornate, all brick and considered by many a monstrosity. But it withstood the quake except for some hidden cracks: in fact it would defiantly stand for the next 56 years. Close by, St. Joseph’s grand old church withstood the quake remarkably well, but the Post Office next to it, built of Almaden Quarry stone, lost its tower clock. Eastward along Santa Clara Street, severe destruction took place amongst churches and schools including the First Methodist, First Presbyterian, Unitarian, St. Patrick’s, Trinity Episcopal, San Jose High School and San Jose State Normal. The new annex to the Vendome Hotel was crushed flat, trapping twenty people and killing one man. One of the most tragic events was the collapse and fire in a large poorly built lodging house on Locust Street containing 59 people. Seven were unable to escape. Chinatown, with its usually flimsy construction and with many living in deep cellars, never had its dead counted. We saw native occupants still departing with belongings slung in loaded oriental baskets across them.

“All banks were to be closed this day and only a few stores were open for shopping, except for food. There would be no serious food shortage. In San Francisco bread sold for 80 cents a loaf. But C. Doerr, San Jose’s largest baker, refused to be a profiteer. He baked 10,000 loaves and sold them for five cents each.

“But thoughts of our principal mission prevented further observation and we soon turned toward Agnews. We traveled today’s route, out First Street, then strictly a country road. It passed through dairy pastures, onion fields, acres of strawberries and young pear orchards. We halted under one of the many groves of old weeping willows. Around us were many Chinese in their large round woven hats calmly picking in acres of strawberries. Under a weeping willow we ate our thick sandwiches with a long drink of ice cold artesian water. Our passenger [the dog they rescued], already overweight from leftover school lunches of course, joined us. Fright over, he really was enjoying life.”

Next week in Part V, Ralph Rambo’s account continues with the scene at Agnews.

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