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1906 Earthquake

During the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, many square miles of the city were demolished and over $200,000,000 worth of property was lost. Martial law was declared and troops under General Funston were in control. The saloons were all closed to prevent crazed men from rioting and any person caught stealing was shot. Provisions sold at high prices and water sold by the glass as water mains had broken and there was very little water.

In the San Jose area the Agnew Insane Asylum was demolished by the shock and some inmates were buried while others escaped and fled.

People were removed from San Francisco by ferries and tugs to this side of the bay and they all headed for the hills as they feared the quake would be followed by a tidal wave. It had been calculated that at least 200,000 refugees had come to this side of the bay.

During the earthquake it had been reported that chimneys had been knocked down, dishes knocked off shelves and all types of glassware broken in the numerous saloons in this county. After the quake, all the saloons were crowded with all types of people and old timers said it reminded them of the Barbary Coast.
One could see thousands of refugees camped along side of San Pablo Avenue, hungry and penniless. Relief stations were set up to take care of the refugees and food and shelter was provided. Most of the refugees drifted away but a few stayed to make this area their home and some are still living here. Shortly after it was not unusual, at the county line, to see the streetcars pulling up and property owners getting off the cars with a bundle of two-by- fours or other building materials being carried over their shoulder that they had purchased in Berkeley or Oakland. This was the only way some of the people were able to get their building material to the property where they were constructing their homes.

In those days the county line was the end of the streetcar line and the conductor was glad to see those people carrying material home getting off as this had inconvenienced the passengers and windows were occasionally knocked out by a board slung over someone’s shoulder.

In the early time after the earthquake people would hitch horses to their wagon and drive to Oakland and Berkeley to shop. This trip would take the better part of a day. Shopping became much easier when Mr. And Mrs. Ed Minor opened the first grocery and hardware supply store on San Pablo Avenue, south of Fairmount, between the 7 Mile House Saloon and the county line. When one refers to the county line, it is the boundary between Contra Costa County and Alameda County. On San Pablo Avenue, it is Cerrito Creek which runs all the way from the bay to the hill area.

Long before streets were paved real estate promoters put in the sidewalks. One could look down almost any dirt road and see wooden bridges for the wagons to cross over the great number of creeks in El Cerrito. Later when streets were being paved, the bridges were torn down and culverts were built before street grading was started.

Lots in the residential area were rather high but a few years before World War I one could purchase lots for as low as $50.00 a piece. Now one is lucky if one could purchase a building site for less than $10,000. In fact homes that could have been purchased for about $800 in 1937, have been sold in later years for around $15,000.

Some of the old timers say that before they called this village Rust, they called it Schindler and that Albany Hill was referred to as McKeeve’s Hill, and that section left of the cemetery was referred to as Gallagher. The north end of the village around Potrero and San Pablo Avenue, was referred to as Stege Junction. [Editor’s note: some early 1900s maps show a place named Schindler at the south end of town and a place named “Schmidtville” in the vicinity of Schmidt Lane. Schmidtville had a post office from July, 1900 to September 1901. The name Schindler came from the name of the Santa Fe Station in the south end of town. A. D. Schindler was the recently retired Superintendent of the Santa Fe Railroad.]

Copyright Mervin Belfils, October 1975
Copyright El Cerrito Historical Society, June 2006

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