Valencia St. Hotel

The Valencia St. Hotel was a four story wooden building built in 1888/1889 on Valencia between 18th/19th in San Francisco. It collapsed during the 4/18/1906 earthquake, killing some occupants and trapping others. The hotel was built on filled land (then called "made ground") with neither piers nor foundation bolting. The seismic shock of the earthquake, amplified by the filled basin beneath the hotel, shook the building off its brick foundation. When it landed, the weight of the upper floors caused the ground floor walls to fail, and the ground floor collapsed ("soft story failure") as the hotel fell to the northeast. The second floor failed similarly, then the third, leaving the four-story hotel "pancaked" to a single story (the former fourth floor). In the ensuing hours, large sinkholes appeared as the ground near the hotel continued to settle, exacerbated by water from broken water mains. Rescue efforts continued until fire destroyed the building late the following day (ca. 11 PM on 4/19/1906).

Views of the collapsed hotel are among the most iconic 1906 earthquake/fire images. This page presents data from old sources and many images, roughly in chronological order. Please send email with additions, comments, or corrections.



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This photo ca. 1898 looks north on Valencia from 19th, with the Valencia St. Hotel mid-block on the west side. It's the only pre-quake photo of the hotel that I've seen. A Valencia line streetcar (Ferry Building / Market / Valencia / Mission) heads toward downtown from 18th. The utility poles and the gaslight in front of the hotel are useful positioning aids in comparisons with later photos.



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City directories document the hotel's name and management changes. The hotel had a phone by 1894 ("6087"), but Langley's did not list phone numbers until 1905.



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The 1900 U.S. Census lists German-born proprietor William P. Bock living at the hotel with his wife Annie and two California-born adult sons. (There is no other census data: the hotel did not exist before 1889 or after 1906, and 1890 census records were destroyed by fire.) Bock and his son William H. Bock were killed by the earthquake [Call 04/24/1906]. Powell says rescuers found son William H.'s wife and baby "scarcely injured" in bed next to his body; the body of father William P. was not found. The 1907 Crocker Langley [p. 280] lists widow Anna Bock on Hayes.



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Newspaper articles record the rocky early history of the hotel. Philip Klose brought 15-year-old William Hillenbrand, the son of a friend, from Germany in 1874. Lacking other heirs, Klose treated Hillenbrand like an adopted son, and from 1880 they were business partners in the Turk St. Hotel. In 1888 they began to build a hotel on Valencia, but Klose became gravely ill. Hillenbrand convinced Klose to deed his property to Hillenbrand, to be recorded after Klose's death, then Hillenbrand recorded the deed and transfered the property to his wife. Klose recovered from his illness and sued Hillenbrand to regain his property, winning the suit (eventually in the state Supreme Court). Further litigation followed, with Hillenbrand retaining some interest in the Valencia property. Widow Clara M. Frank owned the property from 1893 until 1907.



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The Valencia St. Hotel advertised only occasionally (above: Call 05/31/1901). The hotel looked for a lot of workers around 1900 (Call: 05/13/1900 [waiter], 06/23/1900 [kitchen man], 09/06/1900 [chambermaid], 09/14/1900 [cook], 07/07/1901 [barber/tailor], 01/24/1902 [upstairs girl]). And it probably needed a new cook after the cook pulled the proprietor's whiskers (Call 02/15/1898). Residents sought employment (Call 06/20/1890, 02/21/1896, 07/21/1900), committed burglary (Chronicle 03/17/1892), went crazy (Alta 05/05/1891), died accidentally (Chronicle 10/29/1904), committed suicide (Call 04/11/1893 [jumping out window], 10/08/1894 [gunshot], 11/08/1901 [poison], 07/04/1902 [knife; see suicide note above]). The 1900 U.S. Census lists residents as roughly 20% California-born, 20% other US-born, 60% immigrants, with most immigrants German/Austrian/Swiss. The hotel employed and housed many Germans.



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1900 Sanborn [Vol. 6 sheet 642] pinpoints the location of the hotel: 718 Valencia (1900 numbering). Two very large water mains (16" and 22") running down Valencia will prove significant below. Sanborn shows the hotel as an L-shaped four story wood frame building on a 75'x100' lot, with some complications: on the north side the barroom in front connects to the large dining room at the back, a narrow one story room adjoins the north side of the dining room, and on the south side a carpentry shop is shaded green, indicating "frame special" construction (it's unclear to me what that means). Pictures below show that the hotel fell to the northeast. From the diagram, it seems likely that the first floor lacked sufficient shear wall strength and its north wall failed. 1905 Sanborn [Vol. 6 sheets 642 + 629] is almost identical to 1900, except that a large new building (indicated in pencil) now occupies the southwest corner of 18th/Valencia. The 2019 Assessor's block map and database identifies the hotel location as parcel 3588/006, now 740/742/746/748 Valencia, and lists the building as built in 1906 (more likely: a decade or so later). Dandelion Chocolate occupies the property in 2019.



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The blocks around 17th/Mission formed a shallow basin, once a marshy seasonal wetland fed by Mission Creek. Low spots were filled haphazardly as the city grew (see Burrito Justice for a detailed discussion), and the filled areas did not fare well in the earthquake. Liquefaction contributed to the Valencia St. Hotel collapse and the earthquake ruptured the big Valencia water mains, leading to large sinkholes. Just five days after the quake, the Chronicle 04/23/1906 reports on "Curious Freaks of the Earthquake" along Valencia. Two months after the quake, Call 06/24/1906 discusses the Valencia St. Hotel structural failure in considerable detail (diagrams above). Serious damage followed the former path of the creek to the east along 18th Street, as seen on my Drunken Houses page.



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Here are two slightly different versions of a famous Valencia St. Hotel photo by M. Tanron, looking north on Valencia from a second floor window near 19th. Marcel Tanron was a teller at French Savings Bank and an avid amateur photographer (see Camera Craft [1921, Vol. 27, p. 357]). He lived nearby, on 26th near Dolores. It must be early in the day on 4/18/1906, judging by the very large number of spectators, though the caption on the cropped version at right says "SF. Apl 19 /06 AM". (Locals were unlikely to be sightseeing on 4/19, as the fire was rapidly approaching.) The large crowd (hard to count without a higher resolution image, but at least two hundred) gathers near the hotel and around the collapsed large white building down the street at the southwest corner of 18th/Valencia (see below). The hotel and the Victorian next door both have fallen from their foundations; they were adjacent but now a wide rubble-filled gap separates them. The building still has its decorative steeple, gone in all the later photos below, and its "Valencia St. Hotel" sign is still intact.



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Both of these postcards use Tanron's photo (uncredited). Locally printed poor-quality b+w postcards appeared very soon after the earthquake (see below), but color postcards printed in Germany took much longer to reach San Francisco. Left: Behrendt 238, postmarked 4/10/1907, almost exactly a year after the quake. Right: Weidner 241, postmarked 9/21/1908. Since color postcards of the period are based on b+w photos, the colors are unreliable. The print quality of the Weidner card is far better than the Behrendt, and the women's clothes are much more colorful in Weidner's card. Behrendt's cheerful white clouds in a light blue sky seems inappropriate compared to Weidner's threatening smoky red glow; the sky is just flat gray in Tanron's photo.



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Left: Compare the gas streetlamp and utility pole at left vs. the ca. 1898 photo above. They stood roughly at the southeast corner of the hotel, so the hotel fell to the northeast into the empty adjacent lot, leaving a wide rubble-strewn gap between the remaining top floor and the house next door. SFPD Lt. Henry N. Powell was at the hotel when the earthquake struck and wrote a vivid eyewitness account of his experience, noting in part: "The hotel lurched forward as if the foundation were dragged backward from under it, and crumpled down over Valencia Street. It did not fall to pieces and spray itself all over the place, but telescoped down on itself like a concertina."

Center: From behind the hotel looking east, with a building on the other side of Valencia peeking out at far right. The back fire escape indicated in Sanborn is clearly visible at right. Rows of studs, now exposed and slanted, suggest that the top story rests ca. 20' north of its original position. A large piece of the third story floor runs horizontally at bottom. I like to think that the escaping man and woman at right are the Jewish tailor and his wife mentioned by Powell.

Right: A successful rescue. Rescue efforts must have been very tricky, with an unstable building resting on unstable ground and occasional substantial aftershocks.



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Left: Bodies are removed to a coroner's wagon. The north side of the hotel has lost its siding, so this picture facing south looks directly into the remaining rooms. The number of fatalities at the Valencia St. Hotel is unknown. The eyewitness SFFD rescue report is vague: "a number of persons were killed" and "a number of the dead and wounded were extricated". Some sources say 100 or 200 casualties, clearly an exaggeration as the hotel was not that large (Bancroft Library should know better, tsk tsk). A week after the quake, Call 04/25/1906 reports "In the Valencia Hotel fourteen bodies already recovered and fifty-six others are believed to have perished in the ruins." But two days later, Chronicle 04/27/1906 quotes Gen. Greely (in change of recovery efforts): "It has been stated that there were as many as seventy-five lives lost in the Valencia Hotel, but so far as we have been able to ascertain the loss did not exceed twenty." The 1900 U.S. Census lists 47 residents on 6/02/1900, including the proprietor and his family, 7 employees, and 36 boarders. The 1890 receiver's sale inventory suggests the hotel had about 70 beds. A loss of 20 seems plausible if the hotel had ca. 50 residents at the time of the quake. Some sources say the lower floors of the hotel sank and people trapped under the hotel drowned as it filled with water, but I think that's apocryphal.

Right: The remnants of the steeple on the sidewalk (center), more recently joined by a large chuck of the roof's false front (left), and most disturbingly a hole in the street that was not there previously (far right). The building is sinking.



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These photos look west on 18th at Valencia, half a block north of the hotel. The large white building on the southwest corner was three stories, here pancaked to two by the earthquake. The Sanborn maps above imply that this building was new, built between 1900 and 1905. Some sources say this building sank due to liquefaction, but because it looks largely intact I think it pancaked due to soft story failure. Right: There's a broken water main at the large sinkhole; locals fill pots with water, a curious dog sniffs around. Peeking out above the building is the Mission Turn Verein on the southwest corner of 18th/Lapidge, rebuilt at the same spot after the fire, now the Women's Building. Hotel proprietor William Bock was an active member of the Turn Verein, conveniently just around the corner from the hotel.



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Looking south from the northwest corner of 18th, with the Valencia St. Hotel halfway down the block on the right. On the east side of the street: a corner building that looks intact (per 1905 Sanborn: Store & Saloon, Bakery), a building tilting slightly (Meat), a building shored up by three long poles (Furniture), a building sagging in the middle (Cobbler/Tailor/Gas Ranges/store), a two story building now pancaked to one story (Paints & Wallpaper), and further down (past the Livery) the second floor window from which Tanron took his photo. The warped outbound rails are striking, it's no surprise that the big water mains broke here and the corner building pancaked. Hopper notes a "strange angular raise of the tracks as if the ground had been pinched between some gigantic fingers", and Powell says Valencia Street "vomited up its car tracks and the tunnels that carried the cables." I'm unclear about how the United Railroads #32 Valencia car on the inbound track got there, as it is does not appear in the earlier Tanron photo or in the photo above left showing the warped rails. Presumably it's just beyond the right edge of the photo above right.



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Left: Examining a sinkhole (detail at center: man standing in hole). Some siding is now missing from the large sign painted on the hotel. Right: Eerie emptiness, probably due to martial law evacuation, and huge smoke plume. The streetcar still waits at 18th, it won't be going anywhere. The fire looks close. The street in front of the hotel is still intact (no big sinkhole).



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Left: These men don't look like rescuers, they appear to be studying the dire situation. Subsidence and the broken water mains have created a huge sinkhole right at the hotel. A line of onlookers watches, but now they're being kept down the block past 18th. Right: No people in sight, streetcar not moving, lots of smoke; fire will arrive soon. Kennedy's fire timeline says the burned south through the Mission all day on 4/19/1906, reaching 15th/Mission by 11 AM, 16th/17th from Howard (now South Van Ness) to Guerrero by 7 PM, and 18th/Valencia by 10 PM. My Dolores Park 1906 and Mint Hill 1906 pages have pictures of the Mission fire.



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The postcard at left was written in Los Angeles 5/28/1906, six weeks after the earthquake; postcard publishers capitalized on earthquake images very quickly. The caption says "Forty People Were Killed", other postcards say 50 or 70. Hand-drawn postcards at center and right started from the same original photo, but each artist made different choices: no utility poles at center, dramatic smoke and flames added at right.



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These post-fire photos at 18th/Valencia show the warped track and the remains of United Railroads #32. Left: Looking southeast toward surviving houses on Howard (now South Van Ness). At far left is 765 South Van Ness, just left of blurry man is Old Homestead Bakery at 19th/Shotwell, and just right of blurry man is 401 Capp at 19th/Capp. Right: Looking south toward surviving houses at 20th. Valencia is cordoned off from 18th to 19th.



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Street repair and construction of new surface pipes to replace the broken mains on Valencia started soon after the fire. Left: Looking south from the hotel location. The burnt power pole, hydrant, and gaslight at right were at the southeast corner of the hotel, as seen here (looking north); now the decorative top of the gaslight lies in the gutter. Right: Looking north on 5/09/1906, three weeks after the fire, with the ruined dome of City Hall on the horizon at right. The hotel stood at the swerve in the tracks.



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Left: Looking south on 5/12/1906. Right: Looking south. The area around the sinkhole is cordoned off and the pipes appear to be finished. Caption: "Valencia St from 17th. Valencia Hotel stood where men are sitting." It's actually from 18th, not 17th, but it's right about the hotel location. The change of grade and swerve of tracks at the hotel is particularly obvious here. The building at right is Catholic Youth's Directory (19th/Angelica in 1906, now would be 19th/Linda).



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This stereoview (click here for cross-eyed viewing) looks northeast across Valencia from just south of the Valencia St. Hotel location, with the dome of ruined City Hall on the horizon. Note the depression near the hotel. Images are printed askew on the hastily produced card, here rotated slightly to align the images rather than the card.



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