A Sound Bite and a Video

Select this sound bite of Mel's voice to download or listen to it.

An oral family history describing some of Mel's memories and highlights of the 1906 earthquake and fire in San Francisco. [907k]

Select this video clip to see what downtown San Francisco looked like.

A movie made in May of 1906 showing the destruction in downtown SF as well as the people working to recover. [9930k]
Jump to American Memory, the source of this video clip (Search for Scenes in San Francisco 1906). More clips and lots of information about them is located here. Real PlayerBasic is recommended to view these media files. If you get a message saying application not found, you probably need to download this player plug in to get them to work.

Jump to Mel's story written up in 1983 which contains more details.
Jump to Mel's story about living in Sacramento after the earthquake.

Jump to another page about Mel's favorite things


as experienced by Melva Pringle Frazer
and told to Jill Crowhurst Chesnik on April 18, 1983

        Melva was 11 years old in April of 1906. She was living with her mother Martha, stepfather Willis H. (Mac) Hale and sisters Lil and Bert. Martha was about 6 months pregnant and half brother Ed was living with his paternal grandparents.

        They were living in the Elrey Apts. at ??75 Bush St. between Powell and Stockton. The girls attended the Denman School that was just two blocks up from them at Bush St. They played in the streets and visited and played in Chinatown frequently. When Ed had been living with them he contemplated tying the pigtails of some Chinese men many times as a prank, but never got up the courage to do it. While Melva remembers visiting the basement kitchen of the Wentworth Hotel and being given food by the Chinese cooks many times.

        When the earthquake hit, Bert was thrown out of her bed, into Melva and Lil's bed across the room. But she was not hurt. Their stepfather lead the family out of the building which was not severely damaged. There was one building down the street which had the front fall off exposing the backs of the dressers and the interior rooms.

        It seemed very strange to Melva when her mother gave some clothes to a "colored" lady who came walking up from the 5th and Market area which had been badly damaged by the quake. Apparently this woman had lost everything.

        Melva went with her stepfather to the corner of Stockton and Bush to watch the Call Bldg burn. Later when the fires spread, they met an elderly lady, Mrs. Curtis, whom Martha knew as a worker for a nearby taylor shop at 4th and Minnie Sts.. She was apparently in shock because she talked of returning to her home which was in the middle of the fire. They kept her with them for a few days until they found a rest home to care for her.

        When it became apparent that the fires were headed their way, they began taking what they needed from their apartment onto the street waiting to evacuate, as everyone also around was.

        Uncle Johnny (Gilhooley, husband of Martha's sister Susan) was a part owner in the Morton Transfer Co. and went to get a wagon to move them to the empty lot he owned at Lombard and Webster Sts., but when the wagon was not available by 1am, they decided to use a pie wagon that was available. The trays were removed from the wagon and the children were put on it wrapped in as much clothing and towels as possible. Many things had to be left because of the small capacity of the wagon. The girls were upset because their Easter Bonnets had to be left, (towels were wrapped around their heads not bonnets). Their wagon was stopped by police at Powell and Bush because of the fire hoses. The family had to walk up the hill from there while the wagon went around to miss the hoses.

 They spent the next couple of days camping on the lot. A neighbor and friend of Macs from the Elrey Apts., Old Jim, who was also a cook, stayed with them also. Mac cooked soups for almost every meal and Melva remembered for may years Mrs. Curtis's complaint that "a body couldn't live on soup alone". Old Jim drank some vinegar that was in a demijohn, mistaking it for wine. Much of the food that everyone was eating was taken from stores in the fires path, put on wagons and distributed to the refugees.

The second or third night it rained and it became necessary to find shelter indoors. There were some empty flats in Cow Hollow which had to be opened by the National Guard Soldiers because the owner refused to allow people in. But they stayed there just one night, sleeping on the floor, because an aftershock broke off a section of the steps. They were forced into the streets again and slept on the ground. A dog ran across Martha in her sleep and made her fear for her baby's safety.

        The family then found a cottage, whose stove had been moved into the street as had others in the neighborhood, on Divisidero between Post and Sutter. Soon after they moved there, Minnie Peterson, sister of Charles F. Curry (California Secretary of State at the time) and possibly cousin to Martha, came to take the girls back to Sacramento to live with them until Mr. Hale could get a new job (the restaurant he had cooked for burned in the fire) and resettle. Another story is written about their stay in Sacramento.

        The girls returned to San Francisco after Melva had celebrated her 12th birthday on July 28th. Their new half sister had been born July 4th and the family now lived at Sacramento and Lyon. (Mac had found a job right away.) When school resumed they took the Sacramento St. Cable Car to the Denman School. But Melva rode on the outside of the car against family rules and an accident in which she was thrown off the car onto a woman ended their cable car commuting. The girls were transferred to a neighborhood school.

        The family returned to their original apartment after they settled at Sacramento and Lyon. The only thing left of their belongings was a plate from their good set of dished. The plate was broken but they kept it.

        The bank that had held the family savings burned. When they finally received a percentage of what had been deposited, they used it to build a house on a lot at Masonic owned by "Grandpa Kinsman" (not a relative). When the house was finished, he slept in the living room and Martha took care of him till he died. He left most of his belongings and to lot to them.

Jump to top of this page


One day I was looking through my grandmother's old pictures and became interested in a very old picture of a young girl holding a doll. On the back of the picture, in my grandmother' handwriting was the note, "1906 Sacramento 12th birthday". On the 9th of September, 1981, I took the picture to my grandmother's apartment and since she had lost her sight, I described the picture and read the inscription to her. As I had hoped the picture was of her, but the greatest surprise was the following story she related to me.

Soon after the 1906 Earthquake and fire in San Francisco, relatives of Martha Hale came from Sacramento to take her homeless children to stay with them. It is uncertain exactly what the family relationship was but probably Grandma Curry was sister to Martha's father. Grandma Curry had three children Minerva, Minnie and Charles. Minnie was married to a Mr. Peterson and had a son named Emmett who was about the same age as Alberta (7) or a little older. Charles had two children, Florence who was then about 14 and Forest who was then about 12.

(Charles F. Curry grew up in the Grass Valley area of Nevada County, California. He can be found in the census records there as a child.) (He was Martha Streeter's first cousin on his mothers side (Martha's fathers side?). In 1887, he became a California State assemblyman, probably representing the Grass Valley Area. In 1899 he, as a Republican, became Secretary of State and continued in that position until 1912 when he became U.S. Congressman. He held that post until 1930 when his son Charles F. (Forest?) replaced him. The son held the post until 1933.

The family lived near the governor's mansion. While Martha's girls were living with them, the family "produced" a play in the children's playhouse upstairs at the governor's mansion. The play was Cinderella, the cast was as follows: Lillian Pringle was Cinderella, Forest Curry was the Prince, "Aunt" Minerva was the fairy godmother and "Aunt" Minnie was the wicked stepmother, Florence Curry and Melva Pringle were the ugly stepsisters and Emmett Peterson and Alberta Pringle were the pages.

The Pringle children stayed with these relatives until after Melva's birthday on July 28th. Melva remembers her "Uncle" Charles and family had given her her first "boughten" dress (not remade from older relatives' dresses) and a big girl doll with curls. When the girls returned to their mother and stepfather in San Francisco, they found a baby sister (Evalina) they had not known was coming!

P.S. Early this year, 1986, I was going through grandma's scrapbooks and found a postcard that appears to be part of this story. It is addressed to Mrs. McRae Hale, "the Rey", Bush St. near Powell St., San Francisco, Calif. But the address was changed to 2470 Lombard. The following is my transcription of the message.

(Addressed 930 H. Street, Sacramento, 4/25/06) Dear Mattie: - We are very anxious regarding you and the girls + Mr. H. - If you can, let us know how you fared. We can sympathize with you, as we were in the worst of it at the Golden West Hotel, but all escaped entirely unhurt, of our family. Though were very upset until Forrest found us Friday night. We have 6 friends from S. F. with us. Let us know as soon as you can - Lovingly Minerva Curry Gal??

Jump to top of this page
Jump to another page about Mel's favorite things
Return to my homepage>