Approximately 75,000 people left San Francisco after the April 1906 earthquake and fire, but about 20,000 hardy souls who stayed moved into makeshift housing created across 26 refugee camps—city parks that were transformed into tent cities. As the city rebuilt, these temporary structures were sold to private owners; a well-preserved specimen remains in the Inner Sunset on 10th Ave.
San Francisco Call, 5/24/1906
Rebuilding began as soon as the last fires were extinguished, but early housing demand far exceeded the supply. Although refugee camps started to close by the summer of 1906, thousands were left in canvas tents with winter approaching. To avoid another housing crisis, relief officials designed a more durable shelter that could be made from local materials.
Funded by the San Francisco Relief Corporation and managed by the Parks Commission, earthquake shacks came in three sizes and cost anywhere from $100 to $742 in labor and materials. According to the Western Neighborhoods Project, union carpenters built about 5,600 cottages in three sizes. Decked out in olive drab paint (more Army surplus), earthquake shacks were rented out for $2 to $6 per month.
San Francisco Call, 1/6/1907
At peak occupancy, 16,448 San Franciscans lived in earthquake shacks, which could be purchased for $50. The May 24, 1906 edition of the San Francisco Call declared that “Refugees May Remain as Long as They Are Without Homes,” but a January 6, 1907 headline, “Single Men Must Leave Parks,” suggests that officials were eager to resettle refugees in neighborhoods.
Even for the era, $50 was a sweet deal for a free-standing home, even if it had to moved at the owner’s expense. The structures were built from fir, redwood and cedar and were so durable, they could be hoisted by their roofs and transported by cart.
courtesy Bancroft Library
The earthquake shack at 1842 10th Ave. is one of approximately 100 that remain in the city. Since it was relocated from one of the city’s refugee camps in 1908, it’s been remodeled to include two bathrooms and expanded to 920 square feet with two bedrooms. The front yard has a garden area and is enclosed by bamboo and a privacy fence.
Boasting a living room fireplace and a large unfinished attic, Zillow reports that the property last sold for $509,000 in March 2009. Today’s estimated value is $960,000, giving this dwelling a nearly 20,000-fold increase in value.