Sunday, April 18, 2010

Gold Fire Hydrant Ceremonially Resprayed for 104th Anniversary of Great Earthquake and Fire

A lone fire hydrant in San Francisco was ceremonially resprayed gold today, each burst of paint representing a memory of someone who fought to save the Mission District from a raging inferno or who died in the 1906 earthquake and fire.

The golden hydrant is honoured each year for being the only hydrant to supply water on the perilous night of Friday, April 20, two days after the earthquake struck.
Some 3,000 volunteers fought through the night and saved the Mission District west of 20th Street, along with the historic adobe Mission church that had been completed in 1791.

Only because the hydrant at the top of Dolores Park allowed water to flow from it.

*pics show the rescued Mission church which was only slightly damaged with the brick church beside it. The brick church was rebuilt and became a basilica.

The gold paint-spraying is part of the 104th anniversary commemoration of the 1906 Great Earthquake and Fire. It takes place immediately after the wreath-laying ceremony at Lotta's Fountain on Market Street. By just after 5.30 am about 200 people had assembled.

The cavalcade bearing guest of honour, 104-year-old survivor Bill Del Monte and members of his family arrived and a piper in Scottish kilt played, as the piper had done at the fountain. Bill was escorted to the hydrant where he opened the spraying ceremony.

After him was John Greenberg, accompanied by his son, whose family foundry, M. Greensberg's Sons, had made the doughty hydrant.

Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White sprayed on behalf of Fire Chief Dennis Sullivan, who was injured in the earthquake and died a few days later. 'There would have been a different outcome had he remained as the Chief,' she said.                                       
 She highlighted the need of massive State finance to upgrade the city's water supplies, the subject of Prop B on this year's election ballot, and paid tribute to members of NERT (Neighbourhood Emergency Response Team), volunteers who are training residents to prepare for the next great quake - pic of Edie Schaffer, Coordinator Chair of the NERT Advisory Board (lt) with colleagues and ten-year-old Jade

And then came the turn of Bill's family members including a number of young great-neices and nephews. Six-year-old Nina was hoisted high, but when the moment came for her to name who she was spraying for, she couldn't remember and needed a little help!

Perhaps it was the number of 'greats'....Great Great Uncle Bill!

Bill's niece, Janette Barroca sprayed on behalf of Bill's parents for rescuing the family from the fire. 'I give them a lot of credit that Bill is here today.'

There were others: Assistant Police Chief Kevin Cashman, on behalf of a family member who was a firefighter at the time. Born in 1899, Vincent Cashmere went straight from the traumas of World War l into the fire department, and found himself facing the worst national disaster ever to hit America.

James Dalessandro, author of the novel '1906' that was turned into a film and was being screened later that morning at the Westin St Francis - a story of political intrigue with the earthquake and fire as the backdrop - said of the scale of the disaster, 'It didn't have to happen.'

Ironically, he went on, Fire Chief Dennis Sullivan had been due to attend a meeting to campaign for upgraded water supplies at the time of the earthquake, just as San Francisco today faces the same issue. James praised Chief Joanne Hayes-White 'who really gets it' when it comes to the needs of the city. And sprayed on behalf of the brave firefighters in 1906 who went 'without food, without rest, without water.'

Children, too, joined in, on behalf of the 'brave firefighters.' Six-year-old Rory has 'done this every year since he was one,' said his mother, Megan.

As the painting continued with members of the community, the sun sprayed morning light over everyone, and Bill Del Monte and the cavalcade made ready to depart.

Bill sat in the passenger seat, still wearing his commemorative 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire Survivor Award fire helmet, and declared he was 'fine.'

Had he enjoyed the ceremonies?

'Yes, thank you,' he said, with a smile and a wave as the vintage car pulled away to take him to a well-deserved Bloody Mary breakfast at Lefty O'Douls.
(breakfast pic by Liane Corrales)


see more photos by Chris on flickr:

*Historic pics are part of a private collection of Ron Ross, founder and president of the San Francisco History Association. Ron first published his photos in a souvenir edition for the 75th anniversary, and again for the 100th anniversary

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