Outer Mission, San Francisco, California, United States

The Earthquake Refugee Camp of Glen Park

There is much to remember in San Francisco today – the 108th anniversary of the Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906. An estimated 325,000 citizens became homeless and 75,000 left the City to establish new roots. A large number of the displaced - 250,000 - remained in San Francisco, populating many of the Refugee Camps throughout the City. The U.S. Army at the Presidio partnered with the American Red Cross, the San Francisco Relief Commission, and the San Francisco Parks Commission to ensure the homeless had adequate shelter in the form of tents or green earthquake shacks constructed of coast redwood or Douglas fir and measuring just 10’ x 14’.

Twenty-six camps were located throughout the City from the Presidio to Golden Gate Park, Mission Park (today’s Dolores Park), the Richmond District, Portsmouth Square, the racetrack at Ingleside, and other scattered locations. One would suspect that Glen Canyon would have been a prime location but nothing definitive had yet been found. That is, until the recent discovery of some key evidence.

On Monday, February 3, 1908, an article appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle announcing the formation of the new Glen Park Outdoor Art Club, reported to be the first of its kind in the City. Organized by the “ladies of Glen Park,” their goal was to make the new residential district a “model suburb.” Consisting of 16 members and led by Mrs. Edward N. Nevers, Mrs. Theodore Pinther, Mrs. Laura Bardow, and Mrs. J. Carberry, their first project was to beautify Glen Park and to improve the neighborhood’s sanitary conditions.

The Chronicle article notes, “The great fire of 1906, which scattered the residents of the congested areas down town, discovered Glen Park for those who drifted into the open spaces among the trees. Since then they have bought lots and built homes, varying from refugee cottages to pretty bungalows. The green refugee houses are being transformed into picturesque cottages with shingles and combinations of two or three little houses, to which are added porches."

The article continues, "The fire was followed by canned foods, and these evidences of the march of twentieth-century civilization were a blemish upon the slopes and roadways of Glen Park. The first project by the ladies was to make careless residents realize the harmful effects of a landscape littered with tin cans, so they disappeared as by magic.” The ladies were indeed successful in beautifying their new neighborhood.

The boom in the sale of home lots in Glen Park Terrace, despite previous attempts by realtors that went so far as to establish a pleasure park and zoo in the canyon, did not occur until after the earthquake forced the migration of thousands. The district had become “... a thickly settled quarter of the city in the last two years.” So, the ladies of Glen Park next encouraged residents to “install” garbage cans and establish a garbage system. Gardens were planted and rose bushes appeared in abundance.

This single article from 1908 provides firm evidence that Glen Park and its adjacent canyon were occupied by earthquake refugees in the same type of shacks constructed at various locations around the City. It also highlights the beginning of a long tradition in the village of Glen Park – grass roots activism.

The Earthquake Refugee Camp of Glen Park