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[F.H. Pratt was secretary of the Alameda Building Trades Council at the time of the Great Earthquake.]

The earthquake of April 18th which caused such havoc in San Francisco did not fail to visit Alameda County in its rounds. In Oakland particularly the destruction wrought by the temblor among the brick buildings and some of the weaker frame houses was large. Hardly a brick building escaped serious damage and throughout the city chimneys were thrown down. The water mains were broken and the city left without water.

In this condition Oakland was placed at the mercy of fire, from which it was saved most likely by the habits of its people. Oakland is a late rising town, there are no all-night restaurants in the city, and but few people have fires in their houses at as early an hour as 5:15 o'clock, when the shake occurred. With all this, however, seven alarms of fire were turned in within a few minutes. These incipient blazes were promptly subdued, and within four hours the water mains had been repaired.

In the meantime the people had begun to take stock of the damage done, and it was whispered around that many had been killed in the large rooming houses where the roofs and walls had fallen in. After careful searching five bodies were found in a theatrical lodging house on Twelfth street. One other death was caused by heart failure due to the excitement.

It was then learned that San Francisco was in flames and the attention of the people centered on the condition of the metropolis.

Fire-fighting apparatus and hundreds of men went across the bay to lend their aid in trying to save the city from destruction, and as the fire progressed others took up the work of arranging to relieve the condition of those made homeless.

Here it was that Oakland outdid herself. During the afternoon and night of the 18th thousands of refugees from San Francisco came to Oakland and the people of that city fed them and found places for them to sleep. On the next day the plans for relief had been fully developed, so that no one who entered from the stricken metropolis was hungry or without a place to sleep. This rush of refugees continued without interruption up to Sunday morning, and it is estimated that 270,000 people were thus cared for in that time by a city of less than 100,000 people, which has few wholesale business houses and but few warehouses.

Almost everybody in the city of Oakland lent a hand in thus succoring the refugees. The merchants, with few exceptions, held their prices as usual -- indeed in some instances lowering prices. There were a few who exhibited their ghoulish character and raised their prices, but they are all marked.

So everybody helped. A general relief committee was gotten together who took charge of the general relief work.

Every society and club in the city entered into the spirit of the time and opened headquarters for the work of handling their fraternal brother who had been left homeless.

And the trade unions did the same. The headquarters of the Building Trades Council of Alameda County, at 459 Eleventh street, became a general relief headquarters of the affiliated unions, where aid was extended to the union men from San Francisco.

A general register was established for purposes of registration and identification and has been maintained to date. Hundreds of mechanics registered here.

When the hordes of refugees began to come into Oakland it became apparent that the ordinary police force were unable to properly patrol the city and to render such help as was necessary. It was then that the Building Trades Council volunteered to furnish one hundred and fifty men to work under the direction of the city officials, to help in maintaining order. The offer was accepted and it is hardly necessary to say that after these volunteers had performed the duties assigned them there was no word of complaint, but rather unstinted praise for the manner in which they had acted.

It was while engaged in this patrol work that the writer had an opportunity to observe the workings of the relief committees and the way in which the refugees were handled, fed and sent to the various relief camps.

As each train arrived at the Broadway station or a creek route boat landed thousands of hungry and homeless people, they were met by committees who first directed them to places where they were given hot coffee and something to stay their hunger, and then took them to other places where they were given a shakedown and a place to sleep.

With further time other shelter camps were established and greater comfort assured. Hospital camps were established for the injured and they were given all the aid possible, and now, two weeks after the disaster, every one of the homeless has been cared for. Thousands have left the city and gone east, north and south, and other thousands are going, but Oakland has still a population more than double her usual number, and is probably the most popular city on the Pacific Coast.

Once again has organized labor shown itself able to meet the emergency. The Building Trades Coucil issued its statement of policy before the people had fairly gotten through dodging the falling bricks.

In the cities of Oakland, Alameda, and Berkeley, and the surrounding country, every brick building and many frame houses were seriously damaged. Walls had fallen, foundations had been displaced, every brick chimney had been either thrown down or broken, making it unsafe to build fires in the houses; plaster was stripped from walls and ceilings and in many instances entire buildings were destroyed. A conservative estimate of the damage done in the cities of Oakland, Alameda and Berkeley alone would place it at over $2,500,000.

It was then that a special meeting of the Building Trades Council of Alameda was called to discuss the situation within twenty-four hours after the shake.

Some merchants had begun to increase the prices of the necessities of life, and rumors were being circulated that building mechanics were about to outrageously increase their wages, especially for the building of chimneys and fixing foundations.

At that meeting, held on April 19, the Council stated its position in unequivocal terms. It was decided that the trade rules would be suspended on all relief work. All restrictions on Saturday afternoon and Sunday work were removed on that particular class of work. The Council further declared that the same conditions as obtained before the temblor would continue on all permanent work.

What a contrast is presented here with the great and truly good people who collect rents!

Since the great fire in San Francisco many people from that stricken city are quartered, temporarily at least, in the cities across the bay. Accommodations must be had for them, and it is here that the opportunity of the sharks and real estate piraces comes in. Immediately rents were raised, in many instances five hundred per cent. And yet these ghouls who are now attempting to fatten on the misfortunes of others will continue to occupy the front pews at the fashionable churches and prate about the "unreasonable demands of the labor unions."

But these pirates are marked. The earthquake, which has been a great leveler of social lines as well as brick walls, and which has brought the great mass of our people together on one common plane of humanity, has given us all a common manner of thought regarding these disreputables -- for now they are disreputables and will be shunned by all self-respecting people.

Organized Labor
Official Organ of the State and Local Building Trades Councils of California
San Francisco
April 21, 28, and May 5, 1906 [Combined edition].

Return to the 1906 earthquake eyewitness accounts.

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