When the 1906 earthquake turned Santa Rosa topsy-turvy, there were at least two men who thought it was a perfect time to pull off a heist.

To be clear: these were real, plotted felonies, not petty crimes of opportunity. As noted here earlier, there was a mini-crime wave on the morning of the earthquake, as scoundrels took advantage of the confusion to walk off with other people's stuff. Pity especially the poor family over on Third Street, who found out too late that the kindly strangers who helped them cart their belongings out of their house were actually robbers; their classified ad pleaded for the bad guys to return at least their table linen, "as there was but one napkin left us."

The first to be unmasked was Hugh W. Dunn, alias "Dr. C. C. Crandall," who had enough medical know-how to pass himself off as an M.D. He volunteered his services at the Santa Rosa Hospital after the quake, where he allegedly stole cash, a gold watch, and a nurse's medical bag. Mister Doctor Dunn-Crandall was snagged in Oregon by our indefatigable Sheriff, Frank P. Grace a few weeks later and brought to Santa Rosa, where he was charged with felony embezzlement. Impersonating a physician was apparently completely legal in 1906, and with two years of actual hospital experience, Dunn might even have been more qualified than others who were treating the injured; the edition of the Santa Rosa Republican that appeared the day of the quake thanked all the "alopaths [sic], osteopaths, homeopaths, electics and others...who did valiant service" that day (I'm sure the editor meant "electrics," but if I were broken and bruised from an earthquake, I'd certainly pick an "electic" physician over a quack with a pair of bare wires and a generator) .

More devious was J. E. Keeler, who worked for the Scott Grocery Company. Keeler had a trusted position with the business, and went to the grocer's insurance company in San Francisco to settle up the company's claim. He accepted 50¢ on the dollar - about $2,500 - and skipped town with the money. Keeler was traced to "somewhere about Kansas City" with his young son, but his wife was left behind in Santa Rosa. As Keeler was authorized to collect money due the company, it was unclear if he could be prosecuted, according to the Santa Rosa District Attorney.

Doctor Is Now Wanted

A warrant has been sworn out against Dr. C. C. Crandall charging him with felony embezzlement. The warrant is in the hands of the sheriff and a search is being made for the man who is alleged to have fled from the City of Roses.

About the first known of Dr. Crandall here was subsequent to the earthquake on April 18, when he volunteered to give his services to aid the injured and afflicted in this city.

The absent medico is accused of having stolen from the Santa Rosa Hospital one gold watch valued at $50, a surgical case of considerable value, and $45 in coin.

- Santa Rosa Republican, May 23, 1906

"Dr. Crandall" Is Back

Sheriff Frank P. Grace arrived today from Portland, bringing Hugh W. Dunn, alias "Dr. C. C. Crandall" back to face a charge of felony embezzlement. Dunn had read medicine two years and a half and seen hospital service in the Philippines, which caused him to be valuable as an assistant at the hospital. He claims the nurse whose property he took, knew he intended leaving Santa Rosa for a few days.

- Santa Rosa Republican, June 1, 1906

"Dr. Crandall" Held

Hugh W. Dunn, alias "Dr. C. C. Crandall," was held to answer before the Superior Court this afternoon by Justice Atchinson, on a charge of felony embezzlement. The doctor is accused of having taken $45 in gold, a gold watch and surgical case from Miss Margaret Linsley, a prety nurse at the hospital and decamped. "Crandall" refused to take the witness chair in his own behalf.

- Santa Rosa Republican, June 4, 1906

Takes Funds of Creditors and Wife Admits His Guilt

It was learned this afternoon that J. E. Keeler of the Scott Grocery Company has skipped with about $2500 belonging to the creditors of the firm. On receiving the information a representative of the Republican called on Mr. Eli Scott of the company at the warehouse of the Sonoma County Fruit and Produce Company, and learned the following facts concerning Keeler and his actions.

After the earthquake Keeler was authorized to collect what he could of the oustanding accounts of the firm, and since then he has been engaged in doing so. It is supposed that he was able to secure about $1000 of the money owing to the company on accounts. On August 23d he went to San Francisco without stating the object of his visit to the metropolis and there collected what he could of the insurance money coming to the company, settling the claims with the insurance companies for about fifty cents on the dollar. He then returned to this city and on the Sunday following, August 26th, left Santa Rosa.

For several days prior to taking his leave, however, he had been informing members of the company that he was expecting to receive word from his father who was seriously in Paris, Texas, to come at once. It was this impression that he gave when he started from here, but on the following day, August 27th, he cashed the check for the insurance at the D. O. Mills National Bank in Sacramento.

M. Flourand, who is also a member of the firm with Eli Scott and J. E. Keeler, took the matter of the actions of Keeler up and called upon Mrs. Keeler later, telling her that "the cat is out of the bag, and the creditors are aware that Keeler has left with the money." It is stated that the lady then broke down and crying, told Mr. Flourand that she knew her husband had taken the money and that he had intended to leave with it. When threatened with attachment, and being urged to write to Keeler, she at once telegraphed him and also sent a letter to Kansas City. It is supposed that Keeler went from here to the East, and that he is somewhere about Kansas City at present.

The case is a very peculiar one, and was at once referred to the district attorney and Attorney Julliard, and it was learned after very careful study that there is very little hope of ever being able to bring Keeler back to Santa Rosa and even if he were brought here, there could be nothing done with him, as he was authorized to collect the money and that nothing was done by the creditors of the old firm in order to protect them in such a case as this.

It is known that the money that he had would only partly cover the claims of the creditors, and that if the insurance had been settled on a better basis than that to which he consented, there would have been sufficient to have cleared most of the indebtedness of the company, and have set them on their feet again. Or at least to have permitted them to start even. Mrs. Keeler is certainly to be sympathized with in being left to bear the brunt of the disgrace that her husband has brought upon her, but the plans of Keeler are very evident from the fact that he took with him his young son and gave his wife information as to his whereabouts.

- Santa Rosa Republican, September 11, 1906

Amid the hustle to raise a new downtown Santa Rosa in the summer of 1906, the wreck of the old courthouse still sat in the center of it all, as unwanted as Sheridan Whiteside in "The Man Who Came to Dinner."

The county put the job of demolishing the building up for salvage bid - that a contractor would pay Santa Rosa for the right to tear it down in exchange for the value of materials in the structure. But when the sealed envelopes were opened in August, the Board of Supervisors found the contractors wanted the county to pay them up to $4,500 for the work. The Board passed on those offers without comment, and it was nearly Thanksgiving before it was announced that a deal was struck: A contractor would pay $1,250 for the pleasure of doing the demolition work, and still get to keep everything as salvage.

Gentle Reader is forgiven for thinking this deal smells a mite fishy. Why did only a single contractor offer anywhere near an acceptable bid? And why didn't that contractor - former Santa Rosa street commissioner J. W. Brackett - submit any bid at all when they were first requested?

Although we can't know enough today to connect the dots, it smacks of a rigged contract by Santa Rosa's Good Ol' Boy network, or as the muckraking team over at the Republican newspaper had recently called it, a "scheming coterie of gentlemen who manage to protect their private interests by the conduct of the city government." There certainly should have been questions asked, editorials written, and maybe a call made for a Grand Jury investigation. Sadly, none of that happened; the skeptical journalists at the Republican left after the earthquake, and per usual, Press Democrat editor Ernest Finley had no interest in pursuing issues that might reflect badly upon his town.


Who wants to buy the Court House? It is highly probable that someone will have the opportunity before long, if the present plans of the Board of Supervisors go through.

The building was badly damaged by the earthquake, and soon afterwards a gang of men were put to work removing the wrecked portion, which included pretty much everything from the second story up. Most of the furniture, the law library, the numberous records, etc., were removed and now the building stands like a dismantled ship at harbor.

It is understood that the Board proposes to advertise for bids, the highest bidder to take the building as it now stands and tear it down and remove it.

- Press Democrat, June 8, 1906

Bids Opened by the Supervisors at Their Meeting on Thursday

Nobody seems anxious to buy the old Courthouse--the part that remains of it, and instead of the bids opened Thursday by the Supervisors offering cash for the big amount of material in the building, the bidders asked for substantial sums for wrecking the partially demolished structure, and for the material to boot. The Supervisors, after opening the bids, took them under advisement. The bidders were: J. J. Forget, $2,750; D. E. Albers, $3,250; Riley & Maroni, $3,497; Bacigalupi & Forni, $4,500.

- Press Democrat, August 10, 1906

Men working on the fallen cupola of the county courthouse. Photograph courtesy California State Library

Downtown Santa Rosa was like an obstacle course following the 1906 earthquake, and three months later the streets were still cluttered with lumber and bricks - only now these were piles of new bricks and wood being used in building an entire business district from the ground up.

The rapid pace of construction in those months is mind-blowing. At the June 22 City Council meeting, it was mentioned that in the two months since the earthquake, Building Inspector Willcox had reviewed nearly two dozen plans, and at that meeting alone, permission was granted for construction of five major commercial buildings downtown.

Despite the belief that poor construction was a factor in the collapse of some buildings, there was still resistance to Santa Rosa's first attempt at enforcing building codes; Willcox issued a stop-work order to one developer for using bad mortar, only to return and find that they had constructed the wall anyway.

Alas, details about this important period in the town's history are slim. There are no known photos from the rebuilding period, and the papers offered little more than an occasional architect's sketch of a major building that was underway and a pair of articles that are transcribed below (note that almost all of the buildings described there were at the end of Fourth St. which was obliterated by the mall).

But glimpses of those days can be found in other newspaper items, particularly in requests and complaints made to the City Council. As construction was underway, merchants were still attempting to run their businesses alongside. "In some places where walls have been left standing owners have placed roofs on the structures and completed store rooms," one article noted. Many of the "temporary structures" approved by Council were little more than wooden tents intended to shade open air tables. At every Council meeting there were approvals for temp buildings, typically described as "40x80 feet," a "lean-to corregated iron shed," and most ambitiously, a "small galvanized iron building in the rear of his new building on Fourth street to be used as a kitchen by the new grill room."

Shoppers also had to be adventurous and nimble because of "dangerous holes and planks across sidewalks, projections from buildings and piles of materials on sidewalks." An item in the May 13 San Francisco Call compared downtown to the chaos of a mining camp:

On all the side streets leading to the burned portion of the city numerous one-story frame buildings are being erected for temporary use as stores. This gives the city the appearance of a mining camp of the days of '49.

It was Santa Rosa nightlife that was most transformed, however. The evenings streets were now illuminated only by moonlight; Press Dem editor Ernest Finley told the story that travelers who arrived after nightfall were drawn to his newspaper office because they had the only light visible downtown, and someone would be dispatched with a lantern to lead visitors to their destinations. Fire Chief Muther complained that it was only luck that a fire wagon didn't collide with one of the "immense heaps of sand" in the street. There was great relief when finally a single electric street light illuminated the town's main intersection of Fourth and Mendocino, three months after the disaster.


It is very gratifying not only to the people of this city, but visitors from other sections of the state, to see the progress made in the way of building.

Already the erection of the big C. C. Donovan building at Fourth and Washington streets and the Dougherty-Shea building at Fifth and Mendocino streets, are well under way. The walls of the Morris Prince, T. T. Overton and William Sukalle buildings on Fourth street are also arising.

Material is being hauled to the Con Sheas lots at Fourth and B and Fourth and A streets, and Mr. Shea will soon begin building.

Other property owners are getting ready to build and next week and the week after will see the commencement of several new buildings.

The P. Towey building, occupied by the Noonan Meat Company's market is about ready for occupancy on Fourth street, and the Shea and Prince buildings are being repaired.

Mr. and Mrs. B. F. McDannell are getting ready to erect their building on Fourth street. The ground floor is already leased and if a fraternal order desires to lease the upper story for a hall it will be built.

Santa Rosa's new business section promises to eclipse the old one. There are many fine buildings in prospect, including the five-story Livernash Building, the bank buildings, the Overton and Shea buildings, and those to be built by other property owners all along the street, B street, A, Mendocino, Third, Main, Hinton and Exchange avenues, etc.

- Press Democrat, June 28, 1906

Santa Rosa Will Have Substantial Structure

Arrangements are being perfected for the construction in Santa Rosa of reinforced concrete buildings. There is every reason to believe that in the near future work on this mammoth structure will begin, and that it will be enclosed before the rains of the coming winter set in.

The block of reinforced concrete buildings will be located on the south side of Fourth street between Exchange avenue and B street. The property in this block is owned by Mayor John P. Overton and Tol T. Overton with the single exception of the one piece owned by Mr. and Mrs. B. F. McDannaell. These three owners have been considering the matter for some days and have about completed their investigations and concluded that for safety their best interests lay in the reinforced concrete formation.

A solid block of these concrete buildings would certainly be a substantial thing, and the news is pleasing to Santa Rosans that the owners are considering the matter favorably.

Work was begun Monday morning on the foundation for the Towey building at the southwest corner of Fourth and A streets. This structure is to be constructed especially for the use of J. C. Pedersen, the furniture man, and will be rushed to completion as rapidly as possible. The foundation will be sufficient to carry a building of several stories.

Con Shea has begun work on the block of stores he proposes to construct on the southeast corner of Fourth and A streets. Workmen were busy early this morning making the boxes for molding the foundations, which will be heavy with cement. It is expected to have these stores ready for occupancy before the rains of winter begin.

The Coughran, Parsons and Proctor reinforced concrete block, consisting of five stories on Fourth street between Hinton avenue and D street is well under way. The rear walls and side walls are under construction, and the front will be held in abeyance until the matter of widening Fourth Street has been definitely determined by the city council.

Morris Prince and Dougherty and Shea will be among the first property owners here to construct an entirely new business block in the Greater Santa Rosa. In some places where walls have been left standing owners have placed roofs on the structures and completed store rooms. Mr. Prince began from the bare lot and has two handsome buildings already under construction, both being on Fourth between A and B streets. Both of these structures are already one story high and will be carried up another story. Mr. Prince realizes the demand for apartments here and will build as rapidly as he can get men for the work. Messrs. Dougherty and Shea have their building completed to the one story line, but will make it a two-story structure. This will provide elegant offices for attorneys and professional men, something that is badly needed at the present time.

The C. C. Donovan building has reached the second story and is being rapidly completed. The window frames for the second story have been placed in position. Many other buildings are projected for the City of Roses and in a short time there will be even greater activity than is noticeable now.

- Santa Rosa Republican, July 16, 1906

It is indeed remarkable how rapidly the scars of the recent disaster in Santa Rosa are disappearing. The city will be rebuilt sooner than any of us have supposed. Three months have passed since the trouble came upon our fair city. What busy months they have been. First there was the clearing away of the debris then the making of plans, and now there is building activity all along the line. Dozens of fine business blocks will be completed before the winter rains are upon us. These business blocks will be filled with splendid stocks of goods just as soon as they are completed. Everybody notes the progress of our city. Everybody has a good word for the rapidly rebuilding City of Roses. Visitors are thoroughly surprised at what is doing here. They note our progress with great satisfaction and are giving Santa Rosa favorable advertisement wherever they go.

- Santa Rosa Republican, July 19, 1906


Contractors who refuse to obey the orders of Building Inspector William H. Willcox in future in regard to the building ordinances of Santa Rosa will be arrested and punished. This was officially determined at the Council meeting Tuesday evening. Inspector Willcox reported that he had ordered the work stopped on a certain structure on Fourth street because sand was being mixed with the slacked lime before the lime had an opportunity to cool. This is in violation of the ordinance. The inspector then left town for a couple days, and declared on his return the mortar so made had been used in the building. It is contended that the mixing of sand with hot lime takes the textile strength from the mortar and makes it unfit for use. The councilmen were angry at the treatment accorded the building inspector and notified him in the future to call on Chief of Police Rushmore to arrest any one violating the building ordinances of the city. It is proposed to have this ordinance respected in every particular. The councilmen also discussed the advisability of compelling the tearing down of the wall in which the improperly mixed mortar had been used.

- Santa Rosa Republican, July 25, 1906

A petition for an arc light on Fifth street, between A and B streets, was referred to the Street Committee.

- Press Democrat, May 26, 1906

Light on Fourth Street
An electric light has been placed at the corner of Fourth and Mendocino streets, where it was greatly needed. Many favorable comments were heard Thursday night.

- Press Democrat, July 22, 1906

Negligence on the Part of Contractors and Property Owners Will be Punished

Fire Chief Muther called the attention of the Council last night to the negligence of contractors in leaving obstacles on streets in the city, on dark nights without any warning lights being placed thereon. He instanced Monday night when the town was in darkness by reason of the shutting off of the lights and stated that lanterns were missing on a number of immense heaps of sand, etc., and piles of lumber. The fire department had a call and it was only by the sheerest good fortune that an accident was averted.

Attention was also called to the negligence of property owners and contractors on Fourth street and on other streets, who have dangerous holes and planks across sidewalks, projections from buildings and piles of materials on sidewalks without lights to warn pedestrians.

The Street Commissioner and Chief of Police were instructed to enforce the law and if necessary arrest and see that the offenders were punished.

- Press Democrat, December 12, 1906

The Overton Building, designed by San Francisco architect Victor Dunkerley, who is said to have worked for Frank Lloyd Wright. This intersection at the southeast corner of 4th and B was seen also in an earlier post - note the W.C.T.U. water fountain in the foreground of both pictures

In its efforts to recover from the 1906 earthquake, Santa Rosa faced the same main obstacle as San Francisco: Getting the Insurance companies to pay up.

Compared to the great city, losses here were chump change. The full value of the damage in San Francisco was estimated at around $500 million, maybe as much as a billion dollars - and even that lower figure was more than the entire federal budget for that year. But the insurers only paid out about $180 million; some residents were underinsured or didn't have insurance at all, and the companies also pulled every trick possible to avoid paying. (Multiply these dollar figures by about 20x to estimate current value.)

Santa Rosa reported to the governor that damages totaled about $3 million, and at the June 27 meeting of the insurance companies, the insurance men pegged the town's losses at no more than a relatively puny $400,000. But that didn't mean that the insurance companies were any more willing to open their purses; if anything, the situation was worse in Santa Rosa for want of attention paid to the distant town. Few claims were settled in the two months following the quake when, after pleas to the state commissioner, insurance companies held a meeting specifically regarding losses here. The first proposal made was that they should form a committee to visit Santa Rosa and report back three weeks later - which would have pushed any possible settlements beyond 90 days from the earthquake.

There was nothing subtle in their tactics; the insurance companies wanted to stall indefinitely, playing a cruel game of nerves with people who were often desperate. When payments were offered on claims, most policy holders were pressured into taking cash offers that amounted pennies on the dollar, with the implied threat that the company just might decide to demand proof positive that the damage was 100% fire related.

Almost all policyholders had a "fallen-building" clause in their insurance policies: If the building fell down and a fire swept over the wreckage and burned everything, tough luck. If the contents of the building were on fire before the collapse, however, the insurance company had to pay something. Determining the precise sequence of these events was no easy thing, of course, particularly in Santa Rosa where the first fires were noted within seconds of the tremors. Hairs split further over situations such as: a) fire starts, b) structure collapses, resulting in c) inability of fire dept. to extinguish fires.

Some cases actually did drag on for years, with the last settled by the California Supreme Court in 1911 (the insurance company lost). The only happy news to come from all this litigation is that it preserved for historians the testimony by Fire Chief Frank Muther and others, which are the most accurate and detailed accounts from that day.

Both Santa Rosa papers followed developments avidly, and whenever someone received a check it was treated like a lottery win: "J. G. Wieland, the Fourth street baker, whose place was destroyed by fire on April 18, has received his insurance in full from the Delaware Insurance company," reported the Press Democrat, June 23. Local resident J. L. Byers was cheered by the papers where he interceded on behalf of his daughter, who lived in San Francisco and had accepted a 75% settlement; he confronted the company rep and insisted that their payment was tantamount to admitting the full amount was actually due, and threatened suit. The agent supposedly wrote a check for the balance on the spot.

In the end, fewer than ten companies paid their losses in full, most prominent being Aetna and Lloyd's of London. Like many insurers, Fireman's Fund didn't have enough in the bank to pay everyone's losses, but they still made good; they paid 50 percent on all claims, declared bankruptcy, reformed the company, and paid the balance owed in new company stock. It was a remarkably fair and honorable resolution, particularly considering more than a dozen companies declared bankruptcy and never paid a cent.

(RIGHT: Ad from the July 23, 1906 Santa Rosa Republican)

The eyes of the entire commercial world are focused on the insurance companies just now. If they waive technicalities and pay up promptly, people may say they are all right and entitled to confidence and support. If, on the other hand, they interpose uncertain phrases and ambiguous clauses in the attempt to avoid carrying out their obligations, the public will be done with them. No one man in a hundred reads a fire insurance policy. He accepts it from the agent for what it purports to be on its face--a contract to protect the insured against loss by fire. The cause or origin of the fire cuts no figure with the insured. What he wants is protection, that is what the agent tells him he is buying, he pays his good money for it, and now it remains to be seen whether or not that is what he gets.

- Democrat-Republican, April 24, 1906

Insurance Matters
W. S. Davis and C. D. Barnett, insurance agents, visited the board of managers in Oakland on Tuesday. Mr. Davis says people must be patient. He is confident everything will be all right.

- Democrat-Republican, April 25, 1906

More Insurance Checks
Eardley & Barnett have received checks in payment of fire losses on April 18 from the Phoenix Assurance Association of London as follows: Rasin Trembley, $49.25; N.R. Davidson, $400...the check sent Rasin Trembley is the third he has received on account of damage done by the fire on April 18.

Santa Rosan Turned Down
Mrs. W. R. Parker of his city, who conducted the Pricess lodging house here up to April 18, was turned down in a cool manner in San Francisco recently. She went to call on Secretary Wait Blixon, of the National, regarding her loss by fire, and was curtly informed not to delude herself with the belief that she would be reimbursed. Blixon said his company would refuse to recognize claims from Santa Rosa, although no representative of the company had been here to view the situation. Mrs. Parker says some San Franciscans are settling on terms of forty cents on the dollar with Blixon's company, the doughty secretary forcing these terms of policy holders.

- Santa Rosa Republican, June 11, 1906


As a result of the many complaints that have reached this office concerning the treatment being accorded local policy holders, the Press Democrat yesterday wired both Insurance Commissioner Wolfe and Deputy Attorney General George A. Sturtevant of San Francisco apprising them of the conditions here and asking them of the conditions here and asking them to see that those companies apparently disposed to do otherwise be made to accord their customers fair treatment.

While some very questionable tactics have been employed, it would be anything but fair to place all the companies doing business here in the same class. It is true that very few claims have as yet been paid, but several of the leading concerns have sent representatives here to talk over the situation with their policyholders and try to arrange a satisfactory and equitable basis of settlement. Some of the Company Managers have even visited this city personally for the same purpose, and little apprehension is felt regarding the outcome of cases such as these. Other cases can be mentioned, however, that present a very different aspect.

The American Insurance Company of Philadelphia, for instance, has repudiated all its losses here, although when asked in his own office by an indignant policyholder whether the company had ever sent any of its men up to Santa Rosa to investigate and report upon conditions here, Walt Blixon, the American's secretary and chief adjuster, was compelled to admit that it had not. "How can you claim to know anything about the situation there one way or the other, then?" he asked. "Well, we have some photographs that show how the town looks," was Blixon's reply. And this was all the satisfaction that the policyholder was able to get. The policyholder referred to is Mrs. W. R. Parker of this city. The following paragraph republished from an item that appeared in the Press Democrat a few days after Mrs. Parker's return home here becomes of interest:

"Mrs. Parker gives an interesting description of her visit to the company's office and the scenes she witnessed there. A room full of people were waiting to get a chance to see Mr. Blixon, but only one was admitted at a time. One man came in accompanied by a friend, and when his turn arrived wished to take his friend in with him, but was not allowed to do so. Another man on coming out of Blixon's office was asked what he had accomplished. 'I had to settle for forty cents on the dollar,' he replied. An irate individual stalked out and refused to answer any questions. 'He'll come back and take our terms,' laughed the office boy, a bright youngster of about twelve years old. 'They all come back,' he added, by way of explanation."

The Phoenix of Hartford is another company that has denied its liabilities here, and numerous proofs of loss sent to the company's Oakland office have been returned by registered mail, accompanied by a polite note to the effect that the Company "was in receipt of what purported to be proofs of loss," but "begged to return the papers referred to," etc., and "refused to consider the claim in any way whatever." Some of the local policyholders in the Phoenix are known to have valid claims, and it is thought that the company's unexpected stand has been taken through a misapprehension upon the part of its managers as to the true facts. The Connecticut has also denied its liabilities in a number of cases here, but has paid one claim which it at first refused to recognize. Other instances of peculiar work upon the part of two or three other companies might also be mentioned, but it is perhaps not necessary at this time.

In marked contrast to the course followed by the companies above mentioned is that of the Aetna, which has settled several losses without question, paying dollar for dollar. Temple Smith, the stationer, received a check from the Aetna for $500 on his stock of goods contained in the two-story brick building near the corner of Fourth and B streets. Mrs. M. J. Lowrey, who carried a policy on her household goods for a like amount i n the same company, was also promptly paid. She resided in the Kinslow building, a brick structure on Fourth street. The Aetna also paid the claim of M. S. Davis for $1,750 on the brick building on Fourth street formerly occupied by H. H. Moke as an undertaking parlor. Mention might likewise be made of two claims paid only a few days ago by the Phoenix of London and the Fire Association of Philadelphia. The former paid a $500 loss on the Temple Smith stock, and the latter forwarded a check for $1,000 to the same party without question upon receipt of proof of loss. The Queen paid the claim of the Elks and several other companies have indicated their intention to pay, so the action of the companies mentioned leaves those concerns that have flatly denied all liability here in a very peculiar position, to say the least.


W. S. Davis & Co., the company's local representatives, are in receipt of a letter from the San Francisco office of the Northwestern National stating that every possible effort has been made to advance settlements of the company's losses in San Francisco, and that over half of its claims there have already been adjusted and paid, while the matter of settling the company's losses in Santa Rosa will be taken up in a few days. Accompanying the letter was a draft in payment of the claim of Mrs. Lilia Ware for damage done her building at the corner of Fourth and Davis street.

- Press Democrat, June 23, 1906


A few of the "welching" insurance concerns are trying to escape responsibility here by claiming that they are exempted under their contracts by the falling wall clause, which reads as follows:

"If a building, or any part thereof fall, except as the result of fire, all insurance by this policy on such building or its contents shall immediately cease."

It will not be denied that certain buildings here were destroyed or ruined by the earthquake. Their number is far less, however, than the insurance men of the type above mentioned would make it appear. But are there any buildings here that really fell, within the true meaning of that word?

To say that a man fell out of a window when in reality he was thrown out by another man during the progress of a fight, or blown out by an explosion, would clearly be a misstatement of fact. The motive for making such a statement under those circumstances might be open to question, but the natural inference would be that somebody was trying to create a wrong impression. What is the natural inference, then, when an insurance man says a building "fell," when it was really thrown down by an earthquake?

In the event of having to try to sustain their position before the courts, the companies contending that a building thrown down by an earthquake was not really thrown down at all but simply fell, would doubtless argue that the matter of earthquakes was in contemplation when the clause above referred to was inserted in their policies. The fact is, however, that inherent weaknesses and faults of construction were really what the companies employing that clause were trying to guard against. The companies that were figuring on earthquakes said so, for what is known as the "earthquake clause" appears in place of the "falling wall clause" in the policies issues by many of the concerns engaged in the insurance business at the present time, and has for many years.

- Press Democrat, July 6, 1906

Photo courtesy Larry Lapeere

The Great Earthquake brought 45 seconds of absolute terror to the people of Santa Rosa, and for them uneasy days lay ahead. Many had friends and relatives still unaccounted for; many now homeless needed lodgings, and those with houses were camping on their front lawns, uncertain when - or if - it would be safe to return indoors; banks were closed, and it was unknown if the vaults would be opened to reveal only piles of ashes; even clean clothing became a luxury (a special call went out for donations of "men's underclothing"). It was the worst of times; it was misery.

Naturally, they couldn't wait to relive the experience.

As already mentioned, less than two weeks after the quake there were trainloads of San Franciscans coming to Santa Rosa to view someone else's wreck, just as Santa Rosans were likewise rushing to San Francisco. That was just the beginning of our disaster voyeurism; before a month had passed after the quake, someone rented a building on Fifth street to show a "moving picture entertainment" of the fires in San Francisco. Mrs. Milo Fish - widow of the Press Democrat printer who was fatally injured in the newspaper building's collapse - exhibited panoramic views of both San Francisco and Santa Rosa at her home. Hopefully she made some money to help feed her six children.

But more than anything else, Santa Rosans bought memorabilia. Display ads in the newspapers announced C. A. Wright & Co. had "Souvenir postals of the Santa Rosa ruins," and Hosmer's stationary store offered "Souvenir post Cards (old and new)." W.S. Hosmer was also an enthusiastic photographer; several of the images used in this series of articles came from Hosmer postcards, including the two panoramic views shown on the earthquake index page. Thousands and thousands of these cards must have been sold; collections are found in many libraries and museums, and you can always find a few available on eBay.

So popular were these disaster souvenirs that fakes soon began appearing. Reprehensible, yes, but understandable; piles of rubble look pretty much alike, so it would be easy to claim that photographs of any ruins just might be from Santa Rosa. What's odd, though, was that some were apparently selling actual post-quake photos of the wreckage, but claiming they were taken before the catastrophe. Why there would be a market for such pictures is anybody's guess, but as the Press Democrat reported, it was causing problems; at least one insurance company was refusing to pay claims by saying, "We have some pictures showing how the town looks."

Some Fine Pictures
Mrs. Milo H. Fish has secured the agency for a series of panorama photographs of Santa Rosa and San Francisco, issued by a Los Angeles firm, which are without doubt the finest things of the kind ever seen here. One of the pictures measures seven feet in length. Mrs. Fish resides on E street, next to the Carnegie Library.

- Santa Rosa Republican, May 26, 1906

Blixen and Beeswax--LaCell and McClearie's earthquake pictures are corkers. Keller, the druggist has 'em.

- Santa Rosa Republican advertisement, May 26, 1906

Moving Pictures
The Rosalie Theatre Company have leased the old church building between A and B streets on Fifth street, and commencing Wednesday night, will have a moving picture entertainment. The pictures will describe the San Francisco fire.

- Press Democrat, May 12, 1906

The Rosalie Theatre Co.
Our program commencing tonight will include pictures of San Francisco taken in an auto going down Market street after the fire, Pulling down St Dominic's Steeple, The Whole Damm Family at Lunch, and Invisible Men. The prize this week will be a gold watch and chain which can be seen at M. F. Noack's jewelry store on Mendocino St.

- Santa Rosa Republican, May 23, 1906


Thousands of photographs purporting to show the effect of the earthquake here have been printed and sold since the recent disaster, and while many of the views are authentic the commercial instinct of those engaged in the business of handling them has in some instances resulted most unfortunately.

Nobody attaches much importance to a photograph showing the effect of an ordinary fire, because such pictures are comparatively common. A view showing the effects of an earthquake shock, however, is something of a rarity in the country and is apt to sell readily. For the purpose of increasing sales, numerous photographs taken in Santa Rosa after the conflagration have been labeled "Before the Fire." Some of these fakes have found their way into the hands of insurance companies anxious to escape their responsibilities, and in at least one instance has resulted in the flat denial of all liability here. The American of Philadelphia, for instance, while openly admitting that none of its representative have visited this city since the disaster, has refused to pay any of its losses here, its managers attempting to justify their position by saying, "We have some pictures showing how the town looks."

Those who are at all familiar with the facts will have to admit that any photograph purporting to show a building down but unburned, and which afterwards was swept by the flames, thus occasioning a claim for fire loss, is a fake, pure and simple. The earthquake occurred at a very early hour in the morning, and those buildings that burned were swept within a short time afterwards, some almost immediately. In the brief interrum great confusion prevailed, and nobody though of taking a photograph. In fact, so great was the deaiding [sic] the injured, fighting the flames, etc., that any one showing so little regard for the dictates of humanity as to waste time with a camera, even admitting that such a thing had been possible, would in all probability have been rushed to a telegraph pole and lynched. The insurance company that contemplates basing its opposition to paying losses here upon photographs is skating upon pretty thin ice, as it will soon find when it gets into court.

- Press Democrat, June 24, 1906

Two views of the A. B. Ware home on College Avenue, which was one of the few houses to collapse in Santa Rosa. At the time of the earthquake, it had the misfortune to be raised on jackscrews so the foundation could be rebuilt. Notice the supports against the house at the far right. The young woman on crutches was probably Mabel Ware, who had sprained her ankle weeks before and had spent the month of April in bed - yet when the quake began, sprinted past everyone else in the family to be the first out of the house. Detail of photographs courtesy Sonoma State University (top) and California Historical Society (bottom) and Ware family story from Wallace Ware's memoir, "The Unforgettables"

The 1906 earthquake may have created headaches for downtown Santa Rosa merchants, but it also was a profitable time to be a newspaper publisher, such was the great demand for advertising. Displaced stores needed to let customers know where to find them, or when they would reopen - and that included saloons; probably never before in Santa Rosa's history did so many liquor stores and bars have to advertise the whereabouts of booze.

There was little news in the newspaper except for the front page, and the bottom part of that always had a large display ad or two. Inside the four-page papers were more display ads, want ads, and notices. Brooks Clothing Co. had reopened near the old post office ("Look for the store with the yellow front") and the White House department store was moving to their new location at B and 5th next week. Pedersen's offered a "full line of earthquake proof furniture, carpets and linoleums" from his home at 328 Second Street. W. E. Nichols, contractor and builder, wanted to let you know that he was "open to any kind of legitimate business proposition."

A few ads played with quake humor. The Santa Rosa Poultry Association was "Shaken Up and Still Moving," paying spot cash for eggs; Price and Silvershield's real estate and insurance office wanted you to know that they were "Slightly Disfigured But Still in the Ring;" the Hahman pharmacy at 504 Mendocino St. vowed their motto was to "Stick to Santa Rosa." A paint and wallpaper store declared, "We Were Bent But Not Broke," and hopefully they were better at painting and wallpapering than they was at grammar (at the bottom of their ad was the odd yet earnest tag, "Yours truly, Wilson Bros").

Fourth Street, looking west at the courthouse from the D Street intersection. Detail of photograph courtesy California Historical Society

A partial list of articles concerning the 1906 Santa Rosa earthquake:

It's remarkable how completely unremarkable that week otherwise was

*APRIL 18, 1906: PART I
The 45 seconds of terror

*APRIL 18, 1906: PART II
Even while the town was furiously shaking, fires were starting

We don't know for certain how many people died

Vignettes from the newsletter-sized paper published in the two weeks afterwards

Law and Order in wake of the quake

Frightening stories that the rest of the nation heard

More than a year later, parts of downtown were still piled with debris

How the earthquake entrenched Santa Rosa in its 19th Century ways

Little news in the newspapers, but lots of ads

Send your friends souvenirs of the disaster

Whenever someone received a check it was treated like a lottery win

All of Fourth St. a construction zone, open-air bazaar, and obstacle course

The wreck of the old courthouse remained amid the hustle to build a new downtown

At least two men thought it was a great time to pull off a heist

Remember how funny it was when we thought the apocalypse was at hand?

List of the known dead, and where to look for more victims

How a business shantytown was cobbled together

Why is so little known about Santa Rosa's worst crisis?

A warehouse bursting with donations, yet the city began rationing

Chamber of Commerce follows San Francisco in rewriting the story of the quake and aftermath

Santa Rosa liberally dipped into the relief fund for everything except humanitarian aid

The best historical account of the disaster was in a speech delivered two years later

Clearing up some common misinformation

About 3½ years later the dust of the 1906 Santa Rosa earthquake finally settled

One identified body isn't there at all, but there are probably more remains than assumed

Tracking down the story about a heroic donation and a famous letter of gratitude

Fears of mobs coming up from Marin as refugees nearly triple size of Petaluma

The Petaluma newspapers provided additional details about the situation in Santa Rosa

"Mrs. C. Heath," the vaudeville performer who ended up in Santa Rosa's mass grave

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