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April 12-18, 2006

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San Jose Shakedown

History San José wants the world to know that we suffered in the 1906 earthquake, too

By Gary Singh

WHAT IS usually referred to as the great earthquake of 1906 is universally attributed to the city of San Francisco. Since the majority of documentation on that natural disaster concentrates primarily on San Francisco, the folks at History San José decided to give Santa Clara County its due and examine all the wreckage that took place in the South Bay on that fateful morning, April 18, at 5:12am, 100 years ago.

And it's long overdue. The exhibition, "It's Our Fault Too: The 1906 Earthquake in the Santa Clara Valley," opened at History San José's Pasetta House in Kelley Park just a few days ago. Don't even put yourself out over the historic seismograph encased in glass or the century-old sensational books about the quake, which are also encased in glass. The photographs are reason enough to celebrate the rubble, shards and crumbling ruins in the aftermath of this most famous of natural American disasters.

We get a glimpse of a destroyed downtown San Jose building with the surviving St. Joseph's Cathedral looming in the background. We get a look-see at a damaged San Jose High School, which was then located on what's now the San Jose State University campus.

San Jose's now-defunct Chinatown was also hit, and a photograph depicts it. The old post office, which is now part of the San Jose Museum of Art, lost a significant part of itself in the quake, and, again, a photo shows the wreckage of it all.

Many of the photos also showcase the reaction of certain folks after the disaster. One shows students of Santa Clara University sleeping in their beds outside on the lawn a day later because they were too scared to sleep in the building after the earthquake. Another shot captures members of the St. Claire Club breakfasting at a table outside on the lawn just one hour after the quake. It makes you wonder what the hell it cost to join that secret club exactly 100 years ago.

Then you have the newspaper headlines. Several displays of the exhibit drive home the sensational antics of hysterical folks in the ensuing aftermath of the destruction. In particular, a Mr. Coykendall posted vigilante signs all over San Jose, which read, "Notice is given that any person found Pilfering, Stealing, Robbing or committing any act of Lawless violence will be summarily HANGED." And it was signed, "Vigilante Committee." This preceded the infamous lynching in St. James Park by 27 years, by the way.

Many other original clippings depict San Jose's efforts to house those displaced folks from San Francisco. One says, "San Jose extends hospitality to all. Ample shelter and food are provided for all San Francisco refugees." But a clipping right underneath it warns, "Now is the time to get rid of Chinatowns in the cities. Concerted action to that effect should be taken by all the cities about the bay."

Geologists also infiltrate the exhibit, as several seismological maps and diagrams occupy one of the rooms. You can see a schematic of fault lines in California as well as a map of earthquake activity all throughout the United States. But perhaps the kitschiest aspect of the show is the silk necktie featuring a map of the San Andreas Fault—a tie you can purchase at History San José's gift shop.

In the end, the exhibit drives home the point that centennials rock. They help kick-start the general public and get them to explore times gone by. As we've blurted a million times by now, history is not just for crotchety old geriatrics. If you find yourself living in this town, at least try to check out what it used to look like, and then compare it to what it looks like today. Which is exactly what one particular poster in the exhibit does. It splits an aerial shot of San Jose in 1906 with a photo from exactly the same angle in 1999.

If you've been suffering from an inferiority complex about San Francisco, get clean and recover. It was our earthquake too. It wasn't just theirs.

Movers and Shakers

The 100th anniversary of the 1906 earthquake is remembered through the Bay Area

History San José: "It's Our Fault Too: The 1906 Earthquake in the Santa Clara Valley." The exhibit runs April 11-Dec. 30 at the Pasetta House in History Park, 1650 Senter Road, San Jose. Tuesday-Sunday noon-5pm; free; 408.287.2290. Events: Walking Tour of downtown historic spots hit by the earthquake. April 18, 4pm. Begins at San Jose City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose.

San Jose Museum of Art: The cafe hosts an exhibit of photographs of earthquake damage in the downtown area. 110 S. Market St., San Jose. 408.294.2787. The museum is also heading up a project to rebuild the clock tower in the old section of the building, which was destroyed in the quake. A lesser tower took its place two years later. The tower, now on the National Register of Historic Buildings, was spared from a razing in the 1960s.

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art: "1906 Earthquake: A Disaster in Pictures." Photographs of the '06 quake taken in the streets of San Francisco. Runs through May 30. Daily 11am-6pm; closed Wednesdays. 151 Third St., San Francisco. 415.357.4000.

California Historical Society: "Jack London and the Great Earthquake and Firestorms of 1906." After the quake, Jack London and his wife, Charmian, traveled from their ranch in Sonoma to San Francisco, where they recorded the disaster in photos and a journal. Selections can be sampled on the web at Runs through June 10. 678 Mission St., San Francisco; 415.357.1848.

Legion of Honor: "After the Ruins, 1906 and 2006: Rephotographing the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire." Historic photographs of the earthquake matched with modern views taken from the same angles by photographer Mark Klett. Runs through June 4. Lincoln Park near 34th Avenue and Clement Street, San Francisco. Tuesday-Sunday 9:30am- 5pm. 415.863.3330.

Oakland Museum of California: "Aftershock! Personal Stories From the 1906 Earthquake and Fire." The show includes some 250 artifacts and photos about the earthquake. Runs through Aug. 13. Wednesday-Saturday 10am-5pm; Sunday noon-5pm. Tenth and Oak streets, Oakland. 510.238.2200.

KQED: "Seeking 1906 With Simon Winchester: A Modern-Day Writer and the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906." On April 17 at 9pm, KQED (Channel 9) presents a documentary about Simon Winchester, author of A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906. The filmmakers follow Winchester around as he visits earthquake scholars and discusses his research methods.

The Earthquake of 1906: Stanford University and Environs: The exhibit includes photos, letters and other objects about how the earthquake affected Stanford. Runs through Sept. 15. Peterson Exhibit Gallery, Green Library Bing Wing, second floor, Stanford. Open daily. 650.723.0931.

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