The city before the fire contained numerous handsome structures, including the famous old Palace Hotel, built at a cost of $3,000,000 and with accommodations for 1,200 guests; the nearly finished and splendid Fairmount Hotel; the City Hall, with its lofty dome, on which $7,000,000 is said to have been spent, much of it, doubtless, political plunder; a costly United States Mint and Post Office, an Academy of Science, and many churches, colleges, libraries and other public edifices. The city had 220 miles of paved streets, 180 miles of electric and 77 of cable railway, 62 hotels, 16 theatres, 4 large libraries, 5 daily newspapers, etc., together with 28 public parks.
Sitting, like Rome of old, on its seven hills, San Francisco has long been noted for its beautiful site, clasped in, as it is, between the Pacific Ocean and its own splendid bay, on a peninsula of some five miles in width. Where this juts into the bay at its northernmost point rises a great promontory known as Telegraph Hill, from whose height homeless thousands have recently gazed on the smoke rising from their ruined homes. In the early days of golden promise a watchman was stationed on this hill to look out for coming ships entering the Golden Gate from their long voyage around the Horn and signal the welcome news to the town below. From this came its name.
Cliffs rise on either side of the Golden Gate, and on one is perched the Cliff House, long a famous hostelry. This stands so low that in storms the surf is flung over its lower porticos, though its force is broken by the Seal Rocks. A chief attraction to this house was to see the seals play on these rocks, their favorite place of resort. The Cliff House was at first said to have been swept bodily by the earthquake into the sea, but it proved to be very little injured, and stands erect in its old picturesque location.
In the vicinity of Telegraph Hill are Russian and Nob Hills, the latter getting its peculiar title from the fact that the wealthy “nobs,” or mining magnates, of bonanza days built their homes on its summit level. Farther to the east are Mount Olympus and Strawberry Hill, and beyond these the Twin Peaks, which really embrace three hills, the third being named Bernal Heights. Farther to the south and east is Rincan Hill, the last in the half moon crescent of hills, within which is a spread of flat ground extending to the bay. Behind the hills on the Pacific side stretches a vast sweep of sand, at some places level, but often gathered into great round dunes. Part of this has been transformed into the beautiful Golden Gate Park, a splendid expanse of green verdure which has long been one of San Francisco’s chief attractions.
Beneath the whole of San Francisco is a rock formation, but everywhere on top of this extends the sand, the gift of the winds. This is of such a character that a hole dug in the street anywhere, even if only to the depth of a few feet, must be shored up with planking or it will fill as fast as it is excavated, the sand running as dry as the contents of an hour glass. When there is an earthquake—or a “temblor,” to use the Spanish name—it is the rock foundation that is disturbed, not the sand, which, indeed, serves to lessen the effect of the earth tremor.