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Sunday, April 18, 1982

April: An Earth Shaking Month

Ernest D. Wichels

April 18 is the anniversary of the earth-quake and fire in San Francisco in 1906. We are in the middle of Solano and Napa counties’ most active month of quakes and resulting damages.

From 5 a.m. March 30 to April 28 we have experienced more damaging earthquakes than in any similar period of the calendar.  The famous April 18 San Francisco Earthquake did little damage to Solano, which was somewhat protected from surface shock waves, by the mud and water of San Pablo Bay between the San Andreas Fault at Point Reyes Station and our county. But Napa Valley’ suffered tremendous damage.

Wineries were wrecked, chimneys throughout the valley were demolished, and in Napa city, for example, almost every storefront lay in the middle of Main Street. Vallejo, like Oakland., served as the destination for refugees from the San Francisco disaster.  Life here went on almost as usual.  The Ringling Brothers Circus train had pulled into the north Vallejo siding at about 5 a.m., met by scores of local youngsters to carry water for the elephants. As our late, pioneer, Kenneth R. Dick Sr., said: “When the first elephant left the circus car and stepped on the ground, the earth shook…” On that morning the, circus parade came down Georgia Street as scheduled, and the show went on as usual in the afternoon.

Two other April dates, the 19th and 21st in 1892, saw devastation heaped upon Vacaville, Elmira, Dixon and Winters when the Calaveras Fault slipped.  In Vacaville many structures were demolished including the Odd Fellows Hall, Ream and Thomas Grocery, Masonic Hall and the residences of Thissell, Gates and Blake. Fairfield’s Methodist Church suffered severe damage. Dixon’s Baptist Church was demolished, and Elmira was practically wiped from the map. Every brick building on Vacaville’s Main Street was wrecked.

The April 28, 1888, quake was centered in Nevada City, but plasters were cracked in both Napa and Solano counties.  On April, 10, 1881, a Sacramento Valley quake reached into San Joaquin County, leaving fallen chimneys in Modesto, and was severely felt in Vallejo and San Francisco.  The San Andreas Fault moved significantly on April 11, 1885, centered in Monterey County and was felt as far north as Marysville.

On April 14, 1898, a heavy quake shook Mendocino County, causing severe damage to Point Arena, and was felt especially in Napa County.  But Vallejo’s big tremor, perhaps 5 on the Richter Scale, was the one early on the morning of March 30, 1898, on what was then called the “Mare Island Fault,” but was an elongation of the Hayward Fault, which, incidentally runs directly underneath the foot-ball stadium of the University of California at Berkeley.

The point where it crosses Carquinez Straits is identified by a huge concrete slab on the cliff above old Highway 40, across from Vera’s Restaurant.
The government’s Coast and Geodetic report, a five-line item, says: “Chief damage at Mare Island. Occurrence at night was the only thing that prevented loss of life. Felt as far as Carson City, Nevada. At San Francis-co, chimneys were twisted and there was considerable damage. Lasted 40 seconds.”

Damage occurred to many of Mare Island’s brick shops, the saw mill was top-pled, and the damage to the officers’ quarters on Walnut Avenue was so severe they had to be razed and replaced with the present redwood colonial-style homes. In Vallejo perhaps 80 percent of all brick chimneys were demolished and, since all cooking in 1898 was by coal or wood stoves, the stoves were moved outdoors to the curb where cooking was done until chimneys were rebuilt.

But to return to the April 18, 1906, quake, the epicenter was in Olema, Marin County. Santa Rosa suffered most severely; it was the fire that really devastated San Francisco.  Napa’s court house, Opera House, Revere House and Hayes Theater had severe dam-age. In St. Helena’s Rhine House in the Beringer Winery the tall brick chimney plunged through two floors.

Vallejo’s most serious inconvenience perhaps was the “April 18th Cocktail’’ in grocery stores like Kelleher’s, Roney’s, Lynch’s, Power’s and Collins’.
The tremor emptied most shelves; and the glass items like olive oil, molasses, vinegar, corn syrup and grape juice broke when they hit the floor.  The janitor’s broom did the mixing.

But lest your Eastern friends and relatives kid us about our earthquakes, please remind them of their hurricanes, tornadoes and ice storms.  Also, tell them that two of the heaviest earthquakes in the United States, heavier than the April 18, 1906, shock, were the New Madrid and Cape Girardeau, Mo., record-breaker in 1811 and the devastating one in Charleston,S.C., in 1888.  We haven’t slipped into the Pacific Ocean yet, and don’t intend to.