Historic Preservation

Earthquake refugee cottages or “shacks” were built by the Department of Lands and Buildings of the Relief Corporation to house refugees from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire.  5,610 cottages were constructed to house over 16,000 San Franciscans in 11 refugee camps in San Francisco. Union carpenters built three main sizes of cottages between September 1906 and March 1907.  Cottages had cedar-shingle roofs, fir floors and redwood walls.  All were painted green to better blend into the parks and public squares in which they were erected. 

When the camps began closing in August 1907, refugees were offered the opportunity to purchase their cottages.   Those who did hauled them  to private lots and often cobbled together two or more to form larger residences.  Of the 5,343 moved from the camps, only a handful are standing.

Earthquake cottages came to public attention in the 1960’s when “shack archivist” Jane F. Cryan of the Western Neighborhoods Project
(http://outsidelands,org/red_shacks.php) began lobbying for their preservation.  Her efforts created City Landmark #171, a complex of four shacks at 1227 – 24th Avenue, San Francisco and helped rescue two
others that are on public display in the Presidio.  

More information about the 1906 Earthquake Shacks can be found by visiting The TinyHouse Blog at http://tinyhouseblog.com/tiny-house/earthqke-shacks or Etc. Magazine at http://www.theguardsman.com/etc/spring2006/HTML./2_cityshack.html. The Society for the Preservation and Appreciation of San Francisco
Refugee Shacks (SPARSFRS) contributed their research, correspondence and memorabilia to the San Francisco History Center at the San Francisco Public Library in 2002.

Earthquake Cottage to Artspaces and Community Center

Of over five thousand 1906 Earthquake Shacks that housed many Californians, defining for them the Bay Area’s most significant historic event, few remain.  In 2006, the Fifth Avenue Point community was contacted by the Western Neighborhood Association because three of these shacks stored at the San Francisco Zoo corporation yard needed a home and the shacks could be donated only to another nonprofit organization.  With the cooperation and sponsorship of J. W. Silveira, Fifth Avenue Point property owner, the shacks were acquired by the Fifth Avenue Institute and brought to Oakland.   Silveira agreed to restore two of the cottages for reuse as artspace.  The third and largest shack will be retained and reconstructed by the Fifth Avenue Institute as a community space for meetings and as an interpretive center on the history of the Oakland waterfront and the arts and crafts of the Fifth Avenue Point community. 

It is estimated that the reconstruction project will require 2 years of volunteer work and $15,000 in funds for planning, design, and specially milled lumber.

Shacks at SF Zoo Corporation Yard
Shacks Arrive at Fifth Avenue Point
Victorian Cupola
Matchbook Cover
Metropolitan Yacht Club 1970's
1999 -Clinton Basin
A prominent building at 896 Broadway in  Oakland, known for its ornate cupola, was scheduled for demolition during 1960’s urban development.  The cupola was offered to the Metropolitan Yacht Club at Jack London Square, which arranged for its installation.  Again threatened by destruction when the Yacht Club facility was demolished, the cupola was left in an open field near Clinton Basin, adjacent to Fifth Avenue Point.   The Fifth Avenue Point community began a campaign in 1999 to obtain custody of the cupola so it could be restored.  In 2005, the Port of Oakland donated the structure to the Fifth Avenue Institute, the nonprofit organization of the neighborhood which could legally take ownership of the historic structure.

The cupola has been restored and installed on
a new office building at Fifth Avenue Point near the corner of the Embarcadero and Fifth Avenue, where it is visible from the I-880 Freeway.  It is a new old visual point of reference for visitors and a neighborhood landmark. 

July 2009 Fifth Ave Point
     August 2009
Fifth Avenue Point
7th and Broadway, Oakland
Source:  Ilustrated Directory of Oakland, 1896
1906 Earthquake Cottages