Jesuit Mission USF history

History of the Sciences: Recovery and Rebuilding

The rubble of what was once the heart of San Francisco had barely cooled before rebuilding began following the earthquake and fire of April 18, 1906. First, however, some 11 million cubic yards of ruined brick and stone walls, twisted steel, and debris of all types had to be removed. Temporary railroad tracks were laid on key streets throughout the city to enable gondolas and ore carts to haul away the heavy chunks of stone, brick, and mortar that were being lifted from the wreckage by steam shovel and crane. Modern and ancient technology worked together in this engineering operation, as horses and wagons were also employed in the clearing of debris. Much of the rubble was deposited in Mission Bay at the foot of Townsend and King Streets, or was hauled away by barge outside the Golden Gate and dumped into the ocean.

tracks adjacent to the burned-out St. Ignatius Church and College

Trolley tracks, such as those adjacent to the burned-out St. Ignatius Church and College, were used following the earthquake and fire of April 1906 to enable ore carts to haul away bricks, stones, and other rubble to make way for rebuilding. CALIFORNIA PROVINCE OF THE SOCIETY OF JESUS ARCHIVES.

A large number of buildings in San Francisco were rebuilt exactly as they had been before the earthquake and fire, but there were significant changes as well. On Market Street, for example, many of the smaller buildings were replaced by much taller structures. South of Market, commercial buildings, small factories, and middle-class apartments were built in areas that had once been slums. Nob Hill was transformed from a wealthy enclave of lavish mansions into luxury apartments and hotels. Civic Center was also redesigned, and a new classically inspired city hall was erected a block away from the one that had been destroyed. Although the new city hall was not dedicated until 1915, and the main library was not completed until 1917, much of the city was rebuilt within a year of the devastation, and virtually the entire city was restored by 1909. Although approximately 28,000 buildings had been destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire, by 1909 more than 20,500 better-constructed buildings had replaced them and formed the heart of a new city.

Remains of San Francisco’s City Hall

The remains of San Francisco’s City Hall, following the earthquake and fire of 1906. COURTESY OF THE BANCROFT LIBRARY, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, BERKELEY.

The Jesuits of San Francisco also moved quickly on their reconstruction plans. John Frieden, S.J., president of St. Ignatius College, conferred with his fellow Jesuits shortly after the earthquake and fire, and by early May he was ready to discuss with Archbishop Riordan a new location for the church and college. The Jesuits decided not to rebuild on the old property on Van Ness Avenue. That section of the city had begun to transform into a commercial district even before the earthquake and fire and was subject to steeply rising property taxes. This had also been the case at the original Market Street location of St. Ignatius Church and College. Not until a California Supreme Court ruling in 1910 were private and parochial schools exempt from property taxes. Instead of going back to Van Ness, the Jesuits considered property near Golden Gate Park, some 20 blocks west of the old location. Accordingly, on June 1, 1906, Fr. Frieden made a $1,000 deposit on a $100,000 parcel of land bounded by Grove, Cole, Shrader, and Fulton Streets. At the time, this was to be the permanent location of the new St. Ignatius Church and College. This parcel, which came to be known as the “Frieden Block,” needed extensive grading, however, and so a temporary location was still needed if the college was to reopen by the fall semester of 1906.

The Sisters of Mercy, an order of nuns with whom the Jesuits had a long history in San Francisco, offered the Jesuits a parcel of land at the end of Hayes Street to occupy rent-free for two years. After two years, the Sisters of Mercy planned to start construction on a new Saint Mary’s Hospital at that location. The Jesuits politely declined this offer, however, because they believed they would need a temporary site for more than two years. Instead of this location, Fr. Frieden first leased, and then purchased for $67,500, two lots owned by Mr. and Mrs. M. H. de Young, on the corner of Hayes and Shrader Streets. By early June 1906, plans were developed for the erection of temporary buildings at this location.

Crashed bell after the 1906 earthquake and fire

This bell was cast in Sheffield, England, in 1859, and at 6,000 pounds, was the heaviest and largest steel bell produced up to that time in England. It was brought around Cape Horn by windjammer in 1860 for use by the Volunteer Fire Company of San Francisco, but the fire company reneged on its order. Antonio Maraschi, S.J., founding president of St. Ignatius Academy, purchased the bell for his new church and school on Market Street, and had it hoisted to the church tower. In 1879, it was moved to the corner of Van Ness Avenue and Hayes Street, the new site for St. Ignatius Church and College. During the 1906 earthquake and fire, the bell crashed through several floors to the basement of the ruined St. Ignatius Church. It was recovered from the smoldering rubble a few weeks later unharmed, and was moved by wagon to the corner of Hayes and Shrader Streets, the temporary site of the church and college. In 1914, the historic bell was hoisted to the campanile of the present church, where it summoned San Franciscans to the celebratory first Mass in the new St. Ignatius Church on August 2, 1914. It still rings there today. CALIFORNIA PROVINCE OF THE SOCIETY OF JESUS ARCHIVES.

On Sunday, July 1, 1906, less than three months after the San Francisco earthquake and fire destroyed St. Ignatius Church and College, ground was broken for a new location for the institution. The site, just two steep blocks south of today’s campus, was to be only a temporary home. In fact, however, the building erected at this location served the Jesuits, their lay colleagues, and students for more than two decades. The rambling wooden building that comprised St. Ignatius Church and College came to be known as “the shirt factory” because of its resemblance to a number of hastily built structures south of Market Street, some of which actually housed shirt factories.

Groundbreaking ceremony for a “temporary” St. Ignatius College

A large crowd turned out for the groundbreaking ceremony for a “temporary” St. Ignatius College, at the corner of Shrader and Hayes Streets, on July 1, 1906. UNIVERSITY OF SAN FRANCISCO ARCHIVES

Work on the new buildings took place seven days a week after the groundbreaking ceremony, utilizing some salvaged materials from the former buildings on Van Ness Avenue. On September 1, 1906, as planned, the temporary building opened its doors to 271 students. Henry Whittle, S.J., Father Minister of the Jesuit Community, recorded the event in his diary: “We opened the new college today. We were much rejoiced to see a large audience; as the building is not sufficiently complete and, more especially, as we could not as yet procure textbooks for the students, the classes were dismissed to open again next Friday.” By early October, the science labs were partially reconstructed with the arrival of 22 cases of science equipment purchased by the Jesuits in Bavaria. St. Ignatius College President John Frieden, S.J., later wrote, “students and professors alike were jubilant at the sight of the richness of the scientific outfit.” Within a year, the destroyed library was also partially restored, with 8,000 new volumes as a result of donations of extra copies of books from Jesuit schools throughout the nation and from private individuals who gave replacement books to the college.

At the groundbreaking ceremony for St. Ignatius Church and College, Fr. Frieden noted that “three months ago, no one would have thought that we would be ready to build a new St. Ignatius upon this site but, undaunted by disaster, we are ready for the new work. We have never lost courage, for we know that it is God’s work and He has provided. If San Francisco is to live, we live with it; if it passes, we pass with it—but not before.” Fr. Frieden’s words capture the essence of the historic relationship between the city and the Jesuit institution. That relationship continues today at the University of San Francisco and is succinctly expressed in a Latin inscription on the front wall of University Center directly across from the new John Lo Schiavo, S.J. Center for Science and Innovation. The inscription reads, “Pro Urbe et Universitate—for the city and the university.”


The recovery and rebuilding of San Francisco following the 1906 earthquake and fire are described in The San Francisco Almanac by Gladys Hansen, page 195; in Fire and Gold: The San Francisco Story by Charles Fracchia, pages 129–130; in Historic San Francisco: A Concise History and Guide by Rand Richards, pages 191–198; and in numerous other books and articles. The history of the bell in St. Ignatius Church is described in The First Half Century: St. Ignatius Church and College by Joseph Riordan, S.J., pages 118–122; in Jesuits by the Golden Gate: The Society of Jesus in San Francisco, 1849–1969 by John McGloin, S.J., pages 84–85; and in The Fifth St. Ignatius Church in San Francisco, California, 1910–1950 (an unpublished USF master’s thesis) by Terrance Mahan, S.J., pages 159–163. The impact of the 1906 earthquake and fire on St. Ignatius Church and College is detailed in Jesuits by the Golden Gate, pages 81–88. The recovery of St. Ignatius Church and College is described in numerous other documents, including the personal reminiscences of John Frieden, S.J., president of St. Ignatius College in 1906, which are housed in the USF archives and maintained by Michael Kotlanger, S.J., USF’s archivist.

Alan Ziajka, Ph.D.
Associate Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and University Historian