“Last night two of us ventured out on Van Ness Avenue a little late. There came up the noise of some kind of a shooting scrape far down the street. We hurried in that direction to see what was doing. An eighteen-year-old boy in a uniform barred the way, levelled his rifle and said in a peremptory way:
“We took a course down the block, where an older soldier, more communicative but equally peremptory, informed us that we were trifling with our lives, news or no news.
“‘We’ve shot about 300 people for one thing or another,’ he said. ’Now, dodge trouble. Git!’ That ended the expedition.”
If we pass now from the record of the loss of lives to that of the destruction of wealth, the estimates exceed by far any fire losses recorded in history.
The truth is that when flames eat out the heart of a great city, devour its vast business establishments, storehouses and warehouses, sweep through its centres of opulence, destroy its wharves with their accumulation of goods, spread ruin and havoc everywhere, it is impossible at first to estimate the loss. Only gradually, as time goes on, is the true loss discovered, and never perhaps very accurately, since the owners and the records of riches often disappear with the wealth itself. In regard to San Francisco, the early estimate was that three-fourths of the city, valued at $500,000,000, was destroyed.
But early estimates are apt to be exaggerated, and on Friday, two days after the disaster, we find this estimate reduced to $250,000,000. A few more days passed and these figures shrunk still further, though it was still largely conjectural, the means of making a trustworthy estimate being very restricted. Later on the pendulum swung upward again, and two weeks after the fire the closest estimates that could be made fixed the property loss at close to $350,000,000, or double that of the Chicago fire. But as the actual loss in the latter case proved considerably below the early estimates, the same may prove to be the case with San Francisco.
Special personal losses were in many cases great. Thus the Palace Hotel was built at a cost of $6,000,000, and the St. Francis, which originally cost $4,000,000, was being enlarged at great expense. Several of the great mansions on Nob’s Hill cost a million or more, the City Hall was built at a cost of $7,000,000, the new Post Office was injured to the extent of half a million, while a large number of other buildings might be named whose value, with their contents, was measured in the millions.