5. California Street and Old St. Mary’s

In this sketch, Bailey shows the view down California Street looking east from Nob Hill. On the left, about midway down the street is the belfry of Old St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, which was originally built as a cathedral in the 1800s but by 1906 was a parish church. Behind Old St. Mary’s in the distance is the iconic clocktower of the Ferry Building.

“Looking down California St.; Ferry Building in distance, San Francisco Disaster, U.S.A” Photo by H.C. White Co., via NY Public Library Digital Collections

Many of the buildings along California Street were destroyed.  However, as shown in the photo above,  Old St. Mary’s was still standing, though fire ravaged the structure. Apart from its brick walls, the rest, including the marble altar, was reduced to ashes.  The church was rebuilt in 1909 using the surviving walls and it continues to operate as a church today.

Old St Mary Cathedral

As destructive as the earthquake and fires were, examples like St. Mary’s, the Call Building, and the St. Francis Hotel are testaments to the city’s amazing recovery.