Thursday, August 24, 2006

Grand - Grace

Nineteenth Century Grand Avenue. Or, more accurately, Grandiose. It’s an alley, and it only lasts one block. In fact, it’s one of two alleys (along with Washburn) that slice through the block from 9th to 10th, and Mission to Howard.

(Since the great street renaming around 1909, Grand lost some of its grandeur with a new name: Grace—which is still a touch high-falootting for such a modest alley.)

Number 35 Grand Avenue was home to the O'Brien family in 1906. 13-year old James Joseph O’Brien, his older brother Milton and their parents rented the 3-story wood-frame flat for $18 a month, sub-letting the top story to the engineer of the bath house across the street and the engineer’s wife. (The sub-renters paid the O’Briens $18/month, thus offsetting the cost nicely).

In pre-fire-quake days, Jim and his family shopped around the corner on 9th street. (Five cents for a loaf of bread, a dozen donuts for a dime. The butcher gave them free liver for the cat and knuckle bones for the soup.)

The first jolt that Wednesday morning on April 18 caused Grand Avenue’s wood-frame houses to dance a nice shake-rattle-and-roll. When the music was over (45 seconds after it started), the houses readjusted themselves and returned to their original upright, standing positions. But, while redwood sways nicely when it needs to, brick chimneys don’t. Showing little grace, the chimneys toppled, as did the contents of the kitchen- and medicine-cabinets.

But don’t worry about Jim and his family. Fire did wipe out their flat but not until many hours later—plenty of time to move their belongings south out to Potrero and Oakdale. And, the family had insurance with Liverpool, London and Globe, which paid sufficiently that the O’Briens could put up a pre-fab house with funds left over for a 14-person burial plot at Holy Cross Cemetery.

(Mr. O’Brien’s reminiscences were published in a now out-of-print volume called 1906 Remembered.)

No comments: