The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire!

It’s an original glass 8″x10″ negative, for a photo taken immediately after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, as the fires were raging around the city. I believe this is the Del Monte Milling Company. You can sorta read the name on the sign, the DE, and the TE are clear enough, with just enough visible to barely make out the other letters. This building was destroyed by fire, I suppose, a few hours later. In 1907, a brand new, fancy-pants reinforced concrete building arose in its place, at 1620 Montgomery Street, in San Francisco, California. I found a photo of the buiding currently at the Montgomery Street address that had a placard commemorating the construction of the new building that read “1884-1907”, so I suppose that means this building here was built in 1884, and went buh-bye that inauspicious day in 1906.  +10 points to the Internet, and our Google Overlords for making it 10 minutes effort to find the exact address of this building, based on nothing but half of a sign, 100+ years later.  Now, the trick is to figure out who took the photo.


I’m all kinds of ecstatic about this thing. It’s the original negative (the positive is easier on the eyes) from 19-fucking-06, it’s of a major calamity, there’s all kinds of action in the photo, people all over the place, buildings burning on all sides, people milling about the rescued contents of the buildings, and one lady taking a nonchalant stroll, with a parasol, cuz god forbid she get a sunburn.  The only thing that could make this better would be if it were of a famous building, with a fireman rescuing a baby from a firestorm, or if I could get someone to secretly shoop in a time-traveller with a cell phone.

If I had to pull a number straight out of my ass, I’d say there were thousands of photos taken of the ruins and the fires.  I’m not sure how many of the original negatives still exist.  It’s at least moderately rare.  I couldn’t find this photo in any of the online collections I looked at, but I was hardly exhaustive.  It’s not unlikely that this has been sitting in a box somewhere for most of the last 100 years.   It’s conceivable that it has some value, but I’m really not sure at this point.  It’s undeniably unique.

Can I just say that I fucking love the Rose Bowl Flea Market. It’s so awesome that it has an entire conjoined twin flea-market attached to it, just for antiques, and as big as any other.  I’ve never failed to find at least several things worth coveting on any given visit. This time, a guy had a stack of glass negatives, so I casually asked him if there was anything neat in there, or if it was just a bunch of family photos.  He casually informed me that at least one of them was from the 1906 earthquake. Guh. Negatives from a major natural disaster 100+ years ago, you say?   Sure enough, there are a few family photos, some other stuff I don’t remember, one of a couple of airplanes that I wish I’d bought in retrospect, and one that clearly depicted quite a substantial amount of mayhem in progress.   Best $30 I ever spent.


One thought on “The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire!

  1. Thank you for posting this photo. My great grandfather worked at the Del Monte Mill at the turn of the century. His uncle, Thomas J. Parsons was the president. Parsons died in 1905 from some illness and my great grandfather moved back to Oregon by the time of the earthquake, or so I think. I have a photo of the mill before the earthquake – very interesting.

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