San Francisco Commemorates Anniversary of 1906 Earthquake

Current and former city officials joined history buffs in commemorating the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire last Wednesday. Onlookers gathered at Lotta’s Fountain at 5:12 a.m., the exact moment the destructive earthquake hit 112 years ago, to hear speeches by current Mayor Mark Farrell and former Mayor Willie Brown. Police Chief Bill Scott and Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White also addressed the crowd. Actor and former San Francisco 49ers announcer Bob Sarlatte served as master of ceremonies.

Sarlatte began the ceremony with a dramatic retelling of the 7.9 magnitude earthquake that resulted in large fires throughout the city and the deaths of an estimated three thousand people. While most of the ceremony maintained an upbeat tone, Mayor Farrell reminded onlookers that the city is just as vulnerable to earthquakes today as it was in 1906, saying, “The next big one in San Francisco – it’s not a question of if but when.” Among the crowd were people in Victorian era garb, who together sang a lively version “San Francisco” despite the early hour. Noticeably absent from the crowd was former Mayor Ed Lee, who died suddenly last December of a heart attack. Lee’s wife Anita attended the event in his place, and greatly appreciated the kind words expressed for her husband’s memory. Former Mayor Brown was especially appreciative of Lee’s legacy, telling the crowd of how instrumental Lee was in helping modernize the city’s water supply as head of the city’s Public Works Department.

Following the ceremony at Lotta’s Fountain, the crowd went to the corner of 20th and Church streets, where the city’s famed golden fire hydrant stands. The fire hydrant is famous because it helped provide the water that saved the Mission District during the fires that ravaged the city following the earthquake. Each year at the commemoration, a new coat of paint is applied to the hydrant. While tradition dictates that the fire chief is usually the person to apply the first coat, Hayes-White deferred the honor to Anita Lee. Residents of the city were then allowed to apply coats of paint themselves, with many dedicating it to relatives who died in the earthquake or historic people who lived through the event.

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