A cultural melting pot, a center for international commerce, the western banking hub, or the West’s cultural heart are all accurate descriptions of San Francisco in 1906. As with all lofty cities, there is a dark side to the glittering façade – grinding poverty, virulent racism, and a simmering tension that threatens a society's stability – San Francisco was no exception.
Natural disasters do not distinguish between the rich and poor; the earthquake ripped houses from their foundations and the fires burned them to the ground – from Chinatown to Nob Hill, the city lay in ruins. A teeming mass of humanity, Chinatown was the most densely populated area of San Francisco, with nearly 25% of the cities’ denizens calling the area home.
Conversely, Nob Hill possessed a panoramic view of San Francisco; elevated above the fray, the wealthy and powerful built grandiose mansions as a testament to their power and wealth. A peaceful enclave removed from the bustling hub below, Nob Hill seemed worlds removed from Chinatown.
The earthquake not only leveled the buildings, but the social landscape as well. In the days following the disaster, rich and poor alike struggled to find shelter, food, and clean water. Refugee camps emerged among the ruins, food lines snaked around corners as citizens sought succor from government relief efforts. A violent earthquake and uncontrollable fires reduced San Francisco to ruins and did the same to the walls dividing rich from poor — at least temporarily.