Tag Archives: san francisco

The Tectonic Tour, Part 1: The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake

The countdown began, prompting the assembled dignitaries, spectators, and news reporters to speak as one. Ten seconds later, at exactly 5:12 AM, a siren sounded, which blasted for the same length of time as the ground shook in this part of the city exactly 105 years earlier.

This was the scene early yesterday morning at Lotta’s Fountain at the corner of Kearny and Market Streets in downtown San Francisco.

Lotta’s Fountain was donated to the city in 1875 by noted entertainer Lotta Crabtree, and was one of the few structures that survived the quake and fire 31 years later. After the disaster, survivors gathered at the 24-foot cast iron structure, and that tradition has continued every year since.

I found myself among the bleary-eyed curiosity-seekers yesterday. Some personal business brought my wife Kimi and I to the Bay Area for a few days and we decided to spend some of the our free time up north doing “tectonic touring” – the perfect pastime for a couple of earthquake geeks.

I did the first part of the tour solo, letting Kimi continue sleeping back at the hotel, while I motored into the city. The fog was thick and the roads nearly empty as I crossed the Golden Gate Bridge at 4:30 AM.

It wasn’t hard finding the fountain at that hour. It was lit up by spotlights and surrounded by several cops, spectators, and news crews. As I approached the scene, I could see former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown giving a speech from the base of the fountain.

I parked and walked back to the fountain, arriving just as a large black 1930 Lincoln convertible pulled up carrying Bill Del Monte. At 105, Del Monte is one of only three known living survivors of the quake, and the only one to appear at the ceremony. He was only three-months old at the time of the quake, and has no memories whatsoever of the event, but he was there, being driven to safety by his family in a horse-drawn wagon while flames danced all around.

Knowing it was my only chance to ever meet a living link to the biggest disaster in California history, I wormed my way through the reporters surrounding his car, shook his hand, and thanked him for coming. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought that this was Mr. Del Monte’s grandson, as he could easily pass for a seventy-year-old. (What is it with these centenarians who look so young? When I’m seventy, I’m sure I’ll easily pass for a 105-year-old.)

After the siren blast the crowd moved on to the corner of 20th and Church Street, where every year they repaint a fire hydrant that helped save that part of the city.

I wasn’t around to witness that tradition as I was speeding back to our hotel in San Rafael to catch a few hours of sleep before checking out and beginning the next leg of the tectonic tour.

(Tomorrow, we head up to Point Reyes on the California coast to find visual evidence of the San Francisco quake.)

The “Grim” Fairy Tale

Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio at the start of their nine-month marriage in 1954.

It looked good on paper – or to be more precise, they looked good in the papers – “they” being Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe, who were married in San Francisco in a civil ceremony on this date in 1954.

The media dubbed the union as a “fairy tale” marriage, pairing America’s favorite sports hero with its leading female sex symbol.

But just as cruelty lurks in the subtext of all classic fairy tales, the DiMaggio-Monroe pairing turned out to be short-lived and fraught with pain.

This was a couple who should have entered marriage counseling before they were wed, or at the very least, been given Myers-Briggs tests to let them in on what friends of both knew from the start: that the marriage was doomed.

DiMaggio, the recently-retired immortal center fielder for the New York Yankees, was accustomed to hearing the roar of the crowd and resented finding he was no longer the center of attention when he entered a room with his stunning starlet wife on his arm.

Monroe, the uber-extrovert who craved the attention of all, was twelve years younger than Joltin’ Joe, and was at the height of her career.

DiMaggio wanted Monroe to leave Hollywood behind and be his stay-at-home wife; something his new bride refused to consider. An intensely jealous man, DiMaggio bristled every time he saw Monroe play to an audience using the full arsenal of her sensuality.

The straw that broke the marriage’s back landed on September 15th of that same year when DiMaggio was on-hand (along with hundreds of other spectators) to witness his wife’s white dress billow above her shoulders in the famous subway grate scene from The Seven Year Itch.

There had already been whispers of spousal abuse, and DiMaggio was said to have swatted his wife like an inside fastball after the filming. They were divorced less than two months later.

But their relationship wasn’t over. Around the time of The Misfits, Monroe’s final completed film, she suffered a complete breakdown and turned to DiMaggio for solace.

After Monroe’s death in 1962, DiMaggio had fresh roses delivered to her crypt at Westwood Cemetery three times a week for twenty years.

It was assumed that DiMaggio’s body would eventually occupy the vacant crypt at Monroe’s side. This rumor proved unfounded, as he was interred in a Catholic cemetery in the Bay Area after his death in 1999 from lung cancer.

(The crypt is now thought to belong to Hugh Hefner, who made Monroe the first Playboy centerfold in 1953.)