To the Neighbors of 369 Valley Street (2014)

From Jane Cryan, Founder and Director of The Society for the Preservation
and Appreciation of San Francisco’s 1906 Earthquake Refugee Shacks:


Late in 1906 San Francisco Chronicle reporter Louis J. Stellman wrote:


"The (newly opened refugee shack) camps are picturesque and full of interest, especially at dusk when the fogs steal in and wrap them in their soft gray mists, when the lights of the little many-paned windows creep out, one by one, and lend their half timid luminance to the scene."


As the refugee camps began to close beginning late in 1907 and the shacks were moved to leased or purchased lots around The City, a citizen-fueled movement began to place one of the shacks in Mission Park (now Mission Dolores Park) to forever remind the citizens of San Francisco not of the earthquake and fire but of what was called "the greatest charity the world has ever known," the construction of the refugee shacks. A memorial shack was placed at Mission Park but it disappeared from its setting after a few short years and the refugee shacks became little more than a footnote in San Francisco's history.


The San Francisco Relief Survey, published in 1915, was very nearly the last mention of the refugee shacks except for an occasional nod to the little cabins on random anniversaries of The Fire, as its survivors chose to call the disaster.


In 1982 I leased a ramshackle cottage at 1227 - 24th Avenue in the Sunset District. A few days after I moved in an elderly neighbor who lived across the street approached me as I worked in the front garden. "Young lady," he sternly shouted, "do you know what you're living in? This cottage is four refugee shacks from after the fire and they're just pasted together. The one at the back of the lot is a shack, too."


A year later I, upstart historian with absolutely no training for the job I had undertaken, had amassed the first primary research on the shacks in 67 years, founded a society dedicated to preserving what was left of the world's greatest charity, saved my beloved cottage from a developer's wrecking ball and convinced city officials to landmark the property.


Now, 109 years after The Fire, I am honored to stand with Neighbors of 369 Valley Street in your fight to stop demolition and/or misguided development of this splendid Shack cottage.


Since construction of the shacks in 1906-1907 San Franciscans have frequently stood up to save and memorialize the little cabins. Here are some of their words:


  • The late Bill Bailey, longshoreman, Unionist and shack advocate, said of the fight, "Heritage and cultural roots is like good wine. It has to be forced on people before they realize what they have been missing."


  • It is a certain bet that whatever might be put in place of the shack cottage will be of less value to the people of the neighborhood and of the city.


  • The spirit of [the shacks] should never be forgotten. It should be memorialized openly and often.


  •  [The shacks] are from a young America. There are few roots left in San Francisco that are evident today, and without roots we have only a way station.


Thank you for loving your Shacks! Don’t give up the fight! Believe you will win!

Jane Cryan
The Society for The Preservation & Appreciation of San Francisco’s 1906 Earthquake Refugee Shacks



More on Earthquake Shacks from Jane Cryan.  (Click here.)

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