Wednesday: Learn The History of Earthquake Shacks in Bernal Heights

111 Years Ago Today: The 1906 earthquake, as seen from Bernal Hill in April 18, 1906. The St. Anthony’s Church steeple is visible in the foreground. (Image courtesy of the Bernal History Project)

This month’s Bernal History Project meeting is dedicated to the memory of the earthquake and fire on April 18, 1906. The meeting happens on  Wednesday, April 19, at 7 p.m. at the Bernal Heights Library (500 Cortland). All are invited.

Woody LaBounty and (former Bernal neighbor) David Gallagher, co-founders of the Western Neighborhoods Project, will present a slideshow featuring selected OpenSFHistory views of San Francisco’s recovery from the 1906 Earthquake and Fire. They’ll also tell the story of the Relief Cottage Plan that housed more than 16,000 refugees after the disaster.

These refugee cottages were popularly known as earthquake shacks. “Earthquake shacks are palpable reminders of the greatest disaster the city has experienced,” Woody says. “The surviving cottages are also, like the phoenix on the city’s seal, a symbol of San Francisco’s resilience.”

Camp 23, in Precita Park, had 250 refugee shacks, many of which still exist in Bernal Heights. (Courtesy SFPublic Library History Collection.)

Immediately after the 1906 earthquake and fire, tented camps for residents who’d lost their homes sprang up across the city in parks and other public spaces. In Bernal Heights, this included  a camp in Precita Park.

The shacks were very basic, one-roomed wooden structures without plumbing or heating, and they were intended to be temporary. Residents paid a minimal rent and had to obey military-style rules against peeking, drunkenness, and misbehavior in the camps.

After about a year, the camps began to close —  and some people took their shacks with them. More than 5,600 earthquake shacks, built in city parks as part of organized relief encampments, were moved out of refugee camps to be used as housing throughout the city, including Bernal Heights.

The Western Neighborhoods Project saved three of these cottages from demolition in the Sunset District in 2006, placing a restored one on Market Street for the centennial of the 1906 Earthquake and Fire.

Surviving refugee cottages in Bernal Heights, Santa Cruz, and elsewhere in San Francisco. (Courtesy the Bernal History Project)

Woody last talked to BHP about refugee cottages in 2004, when we knew of just a handful of surviving shacks in Bernal Heights. Since then, BHP has identified dozens more, and we’re discovering more all the time.

The meeting starts at 7 p.m. sharp in the downstairs meeting room at the Bernal branch library (500 Cortland at Anderson); turn left at the bottom of the stairs. As always, it is free, kid-friendly, and open to all.

3 thoughts on “Wednesday: Learn The History of Earthquake Shacks in Bernal Heights

  1. I was pleased to be able to visit the earthquake shack that was displayed on Market St. in 2006. Such an interesting story as to how the city cared for its residents after the quake/fire and then to know that many of shacks are still in use today.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s