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San Francisco commemorates 1906 Great Earth Quake at Lotta's Fountain

Lotta's Fountain, a San Francisco landmark on the corner of Kearny and Market streets. During the 1906 earthquake the fountain became a famous meeting place and bulletin board for families and survivors. Survivors still gather for reunions around the fountain at each anniversary of the Great Quake.
Photo(s) by Luke Thomas

By Pat Murphy and Luke Thomas

April 18, 2006, 7:00 a.m.

Briefest sweep of a second hand ushered the silence of thousands this morning when time created the Great Earthquake of San Francisco 100 years old.

The giant clock erected near Lotta's Fountain continued, for one full moment without a word spoken, in hushed memory of the 3,000 killed and those who lived to renew San Francisco forever young.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom reviews speech notes.

World media trucks, with huge satellite dishes, gathered early to beam the moment around the globe.

Some media came as early as San Franciscan Daniel Oppenheim who positioned himself with comfortable chair directly before the speaker's podium at 11:30 p.m. last night.

Oppenheim claimed to be the first spectator to have arrived and his claim went undisputed by crowd surrounding him.

"This is all about the adventuresome fighting spirit of the City," Oppenheim told the Sentinel. Oppenheim operates The Urban Safari for tourists and locals who prefer "off the beaten track" tours of San Francisco.

"My company was originated in 1906 with that adventuresome spirit," added Oppenheim.

He came with kazoo and healthy lungs to lead those who waited hours for centennial moment with rousing renditions of City Official Song 'San Francisco' and City Official Ballad 'I Left My Heart in San Francisco.'

The theme of toughness, determination and vitality was repeated at the Lotta's Fountain gathering point.

As a people San Franciscans weren’t made of sugar candy, those who crossed the plains through blizzards, crossed scorching desert, survived the Irish Potato Famine, to grow this golden city, recalled event co-chair Taren Sapienza.

"I've been waiting a very long time to say this," Sapienza opened the commemoration.

"Welcome to the 100th Anniversary of the 1906 and Fire Commemoration."

For 30 years, Sapienza had led the Lotta's Foundation quake commemoration with earthquake survivors and community.

Sapienza this morning likened today's internet to post-earthquake Lotta's Fountain as quickest available means to communicate.

It served as a bulletin board for earthquake survivors posting information about their whereabouts to separated family members.

Named after Lotta Crabtree, the fountain is the City's oldest surviving '06 earthquake monument.

Lotta Crabtree starred as a San Francisco dancehall girl who began her career at six years-of-age performing for gold country miners. Bountiful talent carried Crabtree to become one of America's most popular vaudeville performers.

The fountain grew in San Francisco lore with each passing year.

Opera singer Louise Tetrazzini lifted San Franciscans in 1910 with a Christmas Eve performance at Lotta's Fountain.

Sapiena picked up the tradition of Lotta's Fountain remembrance from her father, a member of the South of Market Boys organization which formalized Lotta Fountain commemorative in 1924.

Donna Huggins, wife of retired See's Candies CEO Chuck Huggins, worked with Sapienza through the decades to keep the Lotta's Fountain tradition alive.

Sapienza thanked Willie Brown, who arrived Brown trademark last-minute late, for keeping the 30-year commemorative alive when financial sponsors dropped out years ago.

Event organizer P.J. Johnston with former boss and Mayor of San Francisco, Willie Brown.

The current mayor of San Francisco recalled resolve of a City knocked off her feet.

"Who would have imaged just a few days after the 1906 earthquake that people would literally dust off and step up and resolve to rebuild their homes in the miraculous way that we see it here today?" Mayor Gavin Newsom observed.

Mayor Gavin Newsom

"That pioneering spirit that defined our past I would argue that defines our present and gives me optimism for the future.

"San Francisco - a City of dreamers, a City of doers. We are a shining light."

Bob Schulz' Frisco Jazz Band crooned a mighty 'San Francisco,' with participants soon to reconvene for cocktails, meat and potatoes John's Grill.

Built in 1906, John's Grill earned recognition for San Francisco ambience and quickly became meeting point for the literary set, politicians, cops, and local meat and potato connoisseurs.

Writer Dashiell Hammet, a master of the detective genre, was a regular at John's Grill located in walking distance from Hammet's 891 Post at Hyde Streets apartment #401.

In 1930 Hammet immortalized John's Grill with publication of The Maltese Falcon.

In the novel, detective Sam Spade "went to John's Grill, asked the waiter to hurry his order of chops, baked potato, and sliced tomatoes, ate hurriedly, and was smoking a cigarette with his coffee when a thick-set youngish man with a plaid cap set aside above pale eyes and a tough cheery face came into the Grill and to his table."

Sam Spade was played by Humphrey Bogart in the 1941 film release of The Maltese Falcon.

Characters took life from Hammet's fascination with Tenderloin life and from his experience as a private eye for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency then located in the Flood Building on Market Street.

John's Grill, located at 63 Ellis Street between Powell and Stockton Streets, has kept its 1906 appearance and offers seating in the upstairs Maltese Falcon Room.




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