SAN ANDREAS FILMS & CAVMEDIA STUDIOS
THE DAMNEDEST, FINEST RUINS
NARRATED BY PETER COYOTE
A DOCUMENTARY FILM
It was the most dramatic event in American history outside of war. San Francisco, dubbed “The Paris of the Pacific” for its wealth and libertine spirit, had witnessed an explosion of art and literature: Mark Twain, Jack London, Isadora Duncan, and Ambrose Bierce were either born or launched their careers there. Mark Twain said, “San Francisco was paradise to me.” In 1906, Shanghaiiers were still kidnapping men into slavery on sailing ships, and Chinese girls, some as young as seven, were still being sold in the basements of Chinatown. In mid-April, a massive corruption probe, launched in the White House office of Theodore Roosevelt, was about to indict San Francisco’s mayor, Eugene Schmitz, political boss Abe Ruef, and the city’s Board of Supervisors. The brilliant fire chief, Dennis Sullivan, had been fighting to get city officials to build a massive fire suppression system: the Board of Fire Underwriters had stated that San Francisco was on the verge of a fiery disaster. Five hours after Enrico Caruso delivered a stunning performance as Don José in Carmen, a massive earthquake struck. In three terrible days, military and national guard and “special police” would be authorized to shoot suspected looters: dozens of their victims were innocent people. The military would use dynamite in an attempt to blast fire breaks on wood frame buildings, spreading the disaster. A city of 430,000, the jewel of the American West, would be gone.
In the 1960’s, Gladys Hansen, founder of the S.F. Public Library’s history section, began an investigation and found that the official death toll of 478 was a serious undercounting of the victims. On January 25, 2005, after more than 40 years of work, she and author/filmmaker James Dalessandro delivered a resolution to San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors which they passed unanimously to set aside the death count and pursue a more accurate figure by the Centennial. By any standards, the death count was more than 3,500: it may higher than that by several thousand.
Narrated by acclaimed author Peter Coyote, written and directed by James Dalessandro, author of the best selling novel 1906, The Damnedest, Finest Ruins includes interviews with Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White and Gladys Hansen.