A piece of San Francisco history up for auction

By David Jacobson, Temblor

Check your hazard rank

In the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, approximately 3,000 people lost their lives and nearly half of the city’s population was left homeless. (Photo courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries)


The 1906 San Francisco earthquake ranks as one of the most significant earthquakes in history. While its magnitude (M=7.8) was significant, there have been much larger quakes. However, it’s impact on the city of San Francisco was massive, and helped shape the Bay Area’s earthquake awareness.

Approximately 200,000 people were left homeless following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. This photo shows two severely damaged houses. (Photo courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries)


On April 18, 1906, at 5:12 a.m. the M=7.8 earthquake ruptured 296 miles of the San Andreas Fault, from near San Juan Bautista to the Mendocino Triple Junction. Shaking from the quake caused buildings to collapse and reclaimed land to liquefy. Perhaps more famously, the fires following the earthquake burned for three days, in the process, destroying almost 500 city blocks. In total, an estimated 3,000 people died and approximately half of San Francisco’s 400,000 residents were made homeless. Many of these people took refuge in Golden Gate Park and the Presidio.

This photo shows the Call Building engulfed in flames. At the time of its completion, it was the tallest building in San Francisco. (Photo courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries)


There are thousands of iconic photos of San Francisco following the 1906 earthquake. However, rarely does the public get a shot at owning a piece of San Francisco history. On February 14, Swann Auction Galleries in New York City is putting up a collection of approximately 265 photos. These photos not only show devastating scenes of the fires and destroyed buildings, but of people living in various city parks, and lining up for emergency provisions. According to the auction house, the set is estimated to go for $4,000-$6,000.

Thousands of people took refuge in parks in San Francisco following the earthquake. In total, approximately 200,000 people were left homeless. (Photo courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries).


The photos in this collection were taken by a variety of photographers, including T.E. Hecht, a well-known San Francisco photographer, who was 31 years old at the time of the earthquake. Unfortunately, Hecht’s house was destroyed in the earthquake. If you would like to take a look at this one-of-a-kind collection of photographs, click here.


Swann Auction Galleries
National Archives