San Francisco


A Vision of

Coming Destruction

     After the dedication service at Loma Linda Sunday afternoon, April 15, Ellen White and her associate workers stayed on at the Sanitarium through Monday. She was to return to Los Angeles onTuesday and would speak at the Southern California Conference session held in the Carr Street church in Los Angeles on Wednesday. She would be en route to San Diego and the dedication of Paradise Valley Sanitarium the next week.

     Monday night, April 16, while still at Loma Linda, a solemnizing vision was given to her. "A most wonderful representation," she said, "passed before me." Describing it in an article appearing in Testimonies for the Church volume 9, she wrote:

        During a vision of the night, I stood on an eminence, from which I could see houses shaken like a reed in the wind.

     Buildings, great and small, were falling to the ground. Pleasure resorts, theaters, hotels, and the homes of the wealthy were shaken and shattered. Many lives were blotted out of existence, and the air was filled with the shrieks of the injured and the terrified. . . . The awfulness of the scenes that passed before me I cannot find words to describe. It seemed that the forbearance of God was exhausted and that the judgment day had come. . . . Terrible as was the representation that passed before me, that which impressed itself most vividly upon my mind was the instruction given in connection with it. The angel that stood by my side declared that God's supreme rulership and the sacredness of His law must be revealed to those who persistently refuse to render obedience to the King of kings. Those who choose to remain disloyal must be visited in mercy with judgments, in order that,  if possible, they may be aroused to a realization of the sinfulness of their course.--Pages 92, 93.

     She woke up and switched on the lamp by her bed. It was 1:00 A.M. Tuesday morning. She was relieved to discover that she was safe in her room at Loma Linda Sanitarium.

     During the hours of Tuesday morning she seemed dazed (Letter 137, 1906). In the afternoon she and her helpers took the train for Los Angeles and went on to Glendale.

     That night Ellen White was given another vision:

I was again instructed regarding the holiness and binding claims of the Ten Commandments, and the supremacy of God above all earthly rulers. It seemed as if I were before many people, and presenting scripture after scripture in support of the precepts spoken by the Lord from Sinai's height.--RH, July 5, 1906.

News of the San Francisco    Earthquake

     On Wednesday as she neared the Carr Street church to fill her speaking appointment, she heard the newsboys crying: "San Francisco destroyed by an earthquake!"

     A paper was purchased, and she and those with her in the carriage quickly scanned the "first hastily printed news" (9T, p. 94).

     As to the visions on Monday and Tuesday nights, she later commented, "It has taken me many days to write out a portion of that which was revealed those two nights at Loma Linda and Glendale. I have not finished yet."--RH, July 5, 1906. She expected yet to write several articles on the binding claims of God's law and the blessings promised the obedient.

     As Ellen White attended a portion of the annual session of the  Southern California Conference, she was particularly impressed with the report of its financial position. It had been so heavily in debt in 1905 that conference leaders despaired of becoming involved in sanitarium development. Now, a year after the purchase of Loma Linda, conference treasurers could report a material improvement of some $6,000 in the treasury (July 12, 1906).

           At Paradise Valley Sanitarium, and the Trip Home  Ellen White had to hasten on to San Diego to the dedication of Paradise Valley Sanitarium, scheduled for Tuesday, April 24. She was to be one of the speakers. She was delighted that Dr. Anna Potts was present for the occasion. The doctor was a talented woman about Ellen White's age, and an "excellent speaker." She was now engaged in lecturing on health and temperance; she spoke in the evening following the dedication, telling the story of her efforts to establish and maintain the institution at Paradise Valley and expressing her great pleasure that the church was carrying on the type of work she had hoped to do .

     Then it was back to northern California by way of Loma Linda. There, on Friday, April 27, she attended an important meeting called to consider the health food business in southern California, and the production of health foods at Loma Linda. Feelings of dread swept over Ellen White as she contemplated the trip home. She knew she would view with her own eyes the destruction she had seen in vision. "I did not want to see the ruins of San Francisco," she declared, "and dreaded to stop at Mountain View" (.July 19, 1906), where the beloved Pacific Press had suffered severe damage. As the train neared San Jose, just south of Mountain View, that Thursday morning, May 3, she could see everywhere the effects of the earthquake.

     Changing cars at San Jose, they traveled the ten miles to Mountain View. Here they were met at the railroad station by C. H. Jones, manager of the Pacific Press, and W. T. Knox, president of the California-Nevada Conference, headquartered in Mountain View. The drive to the press took them through town, where they saw the new post office leveled to the ground and the largest stores totally destroyed. But "when we saw the fallen walls of the Pacific Press," she reported, "we were sad at heart." Yet there was one reason for rejoicing: "No lives were lost." The brethren persuaded Ellen White to spend the weekend in Mountain View, counseling regarding Pacific Press matters and speaking to the church on Sabbath morning. Meetings were held in  the publishing house chapel, which was patched up sufficiently to allow a congregation to assemble.

     In spite of the move of the press from Oakland to the more rural site, that Mountain View then was, the danger of commercialism still threatened, and the younger workers were imperiled by eroding social standards. While there, she was in vision "instructed, as God's messenger, to appeal to the youth connected with our institutional work" (RH, July 19,1906). The church's young people needed to be surrounded with wholesome, uplifting influences. They were to be kept in the love of the truth. The standard set before them was to be high.

The Tour of Ravaged San Francisco

     Monday the group set out for San Francisco. At Palo Alto they saw the wreckage of Stanford University. When they arrived at San Francisco they hired a horse-drawn cab to spend an hour and a half touring the ruined city. With Ellen White was her son W. C., and two women, May Walling and Carolyn Crisler, wife of Clarence Crisler, her chief secretary (31 WCW, p. 293).

     As they rode together, a good many things were recounted. Exactly what was said we do not know, but various and sundry reports give us a composite picture of what took place:

     The quake came at five-thirty-one Wednesday morning, April 18. The first casualty was the Point Arena Lighthouse, ninety miles to the north. The huge lenses and lantern exploded in a shower of glass. Earth waves two and three feet high were seen plunging south at an incredible rate. Giant redwoods were mowed down. Beaches were raised and lowered, and trains derailed. At one ranch, the earth opened directly beneath an unsuspecting cow. With a bellow of terror the animal plunged into the gaping hole, its cry cut short as the crevice clamped shut, leaving only a twitching tail visible (G. Thomas and M. Witts,  The San Francisco Earthquake, pp. 66, 67).

     The city was largely asleep as the wave of earth upheavals struck                                      San Francisco in a twenty-eight-second tremor just at dawn.[* THE DESCRIPTION OF THE EARTHQUAKE IS FULLY SUPPORTED BY MANY DOCUMENTS IN DF 76, "THE SAN FRANCISCO EARTHQUAKE."] First there was a terrifying roar, and then stone and bricks began to fall like rain from taller buildings; chimneys toppled from almost every home. The streets heaved, and dropped in places as much as thirty feet. The second floor of some buildings became the first floor. Walls of brick fell into the streets, leaving rooms on every floor supported only  by the inner wooden framework. Clocks fell from mantels, pictures from walls; wardrobes and dish cupboards fell on their faces; beds, tables, and chairs careened helplessly.

     In seconds people were on the streets, many barefoot and in their night clothes. Telephone and electric lines, stretched and broken by toppling power poles, were tangled on the streets. Gas lines throughout the city were twisted and broken. A group of uniformed policemen starting out on duty was practically annihilated as collapsing masonry buildings pinned them to the ground. For a minute the earth heaved, slid, broke open, and convulsed. Screams of the injured, terrified, and dying pierced the air.



Consuming Fire that Followed the Earthquake

     A flicker of flame was seen in early dawn and then a dozen such tongues of fire here and there. The flames were started by broken power lines and fractured gas lines. Civilians and firemen were soon at work, but to their dismay there was only a little water, and then no water, to quench the flames. Some of the city's main water lines had been broken. People had poured from the trembling and falling buildings, seeking safety in the streets. As soon as the first wave of earth's heavings eased, they hurried back into their homes to dress and grab a few precious belongings; then they sought safer havens. Bicycles, wheelbarrows, baby buggies, and children's wagons—all were put into service to take precious belongings to places thought to be safe. Men and women were seen dragging storage trunks, many with bundles of clothing, food, and bedding on top.

     The fires, out of control, cut an ever-widening swath of destruction. People pressed into the city parks. Authorities began dynamiting buildings in an effort to halt the spreading flames.                                 

     Some people broke into breweries and liquor stores, and in certain areas drinking orgies added to the confusion. Drunken parents, unmindful of the perils about them, forgot babies and children, and in many cases were separated from them. One group of uncared-for, terrified children, thinking Telegraph Hill to be a safe place, flocked there, only to be consumed as the racing flames veered and took the hill (ST, May 30, 1906).





             Martial Law

     The city was put under martial law, and military personnel were called in to assist. Soon every able-bodied man was engaged in the  work of fighting the flames and removing the injured and dead from the rubble. Early curious visitors from down the peninsula were pressed into service.

     Looting continued, especially in liquor and food stores. Police officers and soldiers were ordered to shoot on sight anyone involved in looting or in stripping jewelry from the dead. There was no hesitancy in carrying out the orders. Throughout Wednesday terror and confusion reigned. Telephones were dead, telegraph wires were down, rail lines were inoperative. Thousands sought refuge in the less-stricken cities and towns across the bay to the east; crowded ferries did a heroic work in moving people. From these towns news of the magnitude of the catastrophe began to reach the outside world.

     Throughout the night the sky was bright with firelight, and those in the parks without bedding were comfortably warm from the heat of the inferno. Food was scarce and when available, in most cases very expensive. As the changing winds spread the fire in all  directions, food stores commandeered by police and military were thrown open and were soon cleaned out; this eased somewhat the food emergency.

Destruction in the Central City

     At the center of the city the earthquake took a heavy toll. Municipal and office buildings, as well as stores and hotels, were destroyed. Few buildings stood. Hundreds lost their lives in the   collapse of several hotels.[* STRONG EFFORTS WERE MADE TO MINIMIZE THE REPORTS OF THE NUMBER KILLED. THE SAN FRANCISCO NEWSPAPERS KEPT THE FIGURE BELOW 500, BUT THIS WAS SERIOUSLY CHALLENGED BY EYEWITNESSES, WHO PUT IT AT BETWEEN 1,000 AND 2,000 (SEE ALSO ST, MAY 23, 1906] Frame buildings constituted most of the residential part of the city, and while the earthquake toppled chimneys and moved houses on their foundations from a few inches to a few feet, the buildings stood.

     Uncontrolled fires created greater overall damage than the earthquake. Block after block succumbed to the flames in the three days following the quake. Since no cooking fires were allowed in buildings not inspected for safety, most cooking in areas where homes stood was done with improvised stoves on the sidewalks or in the parks. Water was treasured as gold. The military pitched tents in the parks to help care for the homeless. Bread lines measured a mile long. In many cases families were separated; carriages carried signs and people wore placards stating, "I am looking for so and  so."

     It was only two weeks later that Ellen White viewed the fifteen square miles of rubble and devastation and listened to tales of the bizarre happenings. How similar it was to the scenes of the night at Loma Linda?

Adventists and Adventist Properties

     But what of Seventh-day Adventists and Adventist Church properties in San Francisco? While there were a few injuries, no lives were lost. The treatment rooms, sometimes referred to as the branch sanitarium, superintended by Dr. Lamb at 1436 Market Street, were housing some patients. When the earthquake struck,the brick walls fell away from the building, but the patients, uninjured, were soon placed in the custody of relatives. The vegetarian cafeteria at 755 Market Street and the health-food store at 1482 Market withstood the quake but in a few hours were swept by flames. The building on Howard Street that housed a number of denominational workers went up in flames. A number of Adventists lost their homes.

     But the large church on Laguna Street, with its accompanying clinic, which James and Ellen White helped to build in the 1870s, was saved. Being a frame building, it suffered only minor earthquake damage, and in God's providence the ravaging fire was held in check two blocks from the church. Members were able to continue to use it and were glad to allow the Presbyterians to use it on Sundays.

The Earthquake Special of the Signs

     What a unique opportunity this unprecedented catastrophe gave for telling the world the significance of such tragedies. The buildings of the Pacific Press were badly damaged (the loss was estimated at between $15,000 and $20,000), but managers, factory foremen, and editors quickly huddled to plan the issuance of a Signs of the Times  "Earthquake Special" to be rushed through their undamaged presses. The journalism was good, illustrations outstanding, and the printing up to Pacific Press standards. Within a few days the first run of more than 150,000 copies was ready. From the initial planning, conferences across North America were apprised of the venture, and orders in the multiple thousands poured in.

     The quality pictures and the prompt publication schedule put the special at the top of the publishing house's priority lists. Contracts for current commercial work for San Francisco business firms were now invalid, and the big "perfecting press" was free to grind out 5,000 copies an hour of the popular special.

     In some areas the newsboys, when they could get copies, hawked the Earthquake Special on the streets. In Oakland, twenty-five newsboys joined in this distribution. People often bought five, ten, twelve, or twenty-five copies to send to friends. The Literary Digest  published in New York, drew from it. Total sales reached nearly a million copies.

     As banks in northern California were temporarily closed, the cash flow from the sale of the Earthquake Special into the Pacific Press was welcomed. Between press runs the illustrations were supplemented and in some cases upgraded. Of this project Ellen White declared:

        We shall do all we possibly can to get the truth before the people now. The special number of the Signs of the Times  is a  medium through which much good will be accomplished. And then with evangelistic fervor, she declared:

        If I were 25 years younger, I would certainly take up labor in the cities. But I must reach them with the pen.--Letter 164, 1906.

The Trip Home to Elmshaven

     After touring the scene of tragedy, Ellen White and those traveling with her made their way home to St. Helena and Elmshaven. In that area damage was very light, consisting mainly of cracked and twisted brick chimneys. Both Ellen White and W. C. White each had one that called for repairs. But thirty miles to the west in the Sonoma Valley there was great destruction, particularly of masonry buildings in the Santa Rosa and Healdsburg areas. The Healdsburg College buildings, being of frame construction, suffered little. But the quarter-mile-long bridge over the Russian River, which must be crossed in traveling from St. Helena to Healdsburg, collapsed. At Maacama Creek, some five miles east of Healdsburg, about twenty acres of tall trees slid nearly half a mile, leaving a hole in the side of the mountain from fifty to a hundred feet deep.

     Ellen White reported in the   Review and Herald  concerning her visit to San Francisco shortly after the earthquake, reminding the readers that by both pen and voice she had predicted disaster in San Francisco. She had warned people to seek homes away from the crime-filled cities known for their wickedness and defiance of God. Some, both Adventists and non-Adventists, had responded.

Among the warnings she sounded (reprinted in RH, July 5, 1906)

were these: 

        Sept. 1, 1902: Well-equipped tent meetings should be held in the large cities, such as San Francisco; for not long hence these cities will suffer under the judgments of God. San Francisco and Oakland are becoming as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the Lord will visit them in wrath.

        April 9, 1903: The divine statutes have been set aside. The time will soon come when God will vindicate His insulted authority.

        April 20, 1903: The message of warning should be sounded in the large, wicked cities, such as San Francisco. San Francisco and Oakland are becoming as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the Lord will visit them. Not far hence they will suffer under His judgments.

    June 20, 1903: The judgments of God are in our land. The Lord is soon to come. In fire and flood and earthquake, He is warning the inhabitants of this earth of His soon approach. Oh that the people may know the time of their visitation.

  Ellen G. White Volume 6 The Later Elmshaven Years 1905-1915   P -88