This is not about George R. Stewart, although he makes an appearance, except for the fact that he lived in the San Francisco area long enough to experience his share of earthquakes; and the 1989 Loma Prieta Quake, which happened after his passage, seems to have been a factor in the passing of his widow, Ted (Theodosia) Burton Stewart.
Instead, this is to honor all those who did live through the Earthquake, and those who still live in San Francisco because they carry that story in their blood and because they love the City – with all its problems, still one of the world’s great cities.
The Founder of the family arrived in San Francisco, so the legend goes, just after the Civil War. Since he was a life-long railroad man, he may have worked on the Union Pacific RR construction. He was verifiably a horse-drawn street car driver; then, a Gripman on one of the early Cable Car lines. There is a story that on the day the first line opened, the Gripman got frightened and turned over the grip to the designer Andrew Hallidie. I wonder if that was Great Grandfather Bernard Hendry Scott. Probably not, since he worked on the cable cars for several years, clearly not afraid of them.
The Quake brought the first living history into my generation, thanks to Dad’s aunt “Tia Maria.” The Quake happened very early, before dawn, on April 18, 1906. Great Aunt Mary used to regale us with the stories of the adventure, including the weeks camping in Golden Gate Park. She lived in the City until she and her husband bought a home in San Mateo; but even when they moved, the City never left her heart, and so we younger Scotts grew up imbibing San Francisco into our bloodstreams.
Tia – for so she was nicknamed by my father and uncle, short for “Tia Maria” – married Frank MacDonald. Between the Scotts and the MacDonalds, there have been several generations of San Franciscans who’ve lived there, and added to its culture. Frank MacDonald was a real mover and shaker, Manager of Kortich Manufacturing Company, confidant of Mayor Sunny Jim Rolph. He and his friends ate (or drank) lunch most days at Schroeder’s Cafe on Front Street. Great Uncle Frank is still there , surrounded by his friends, presiding over nearly a century of San Francisco history. He’s the one holding the beer mug.
A good way to celebrate Earthquake Day is to have lunch at Schroeder’s.
Or you can go to the Buena Vista Cafe, at the bottom of the Hyde Street Hill, and have an Irish Coffee served up by iconic bartender Ken Scott. Ken is Frank MacDonald’s Great-Grand Nephew, who keeps the City traditions alive in another of its legendary places.
Great Uncle Frank and Great Aunt Tia’s son Jack was the Announcer for the pre-Giants San Francisco Seals Baseball team. He went by the moniker “The Old Walnut Farmer” because he had a walnut tree on his place down the Peninsula. Jack MacDonald still holds a fond spot in the hearts of old San Franciscans
A few decades later, Brother Ray and I moved independently into the City. Ray became one of the legends of the great age of Rock, playing with Jerry Garcia in both bluegrass and rock days, and continuing with Keith and Donna Godchaux. One of their Winterland performances is online; Ray’s long guitar solo about half way through the set has been called one of the great performances of the day. Ray left the rock scene and got into jazz, played with the 49er band in Europe, performed at the Ahwahnee on New Year’s Eve, and was flown to Paris, France, to play salsa and Latin Jazz on the eve of the Third Millennium. Ray is still playing, often with his friend Anna Estrada, in San Francisco and the Bay Area.
I married, taught school, de-married, drove cab, worked as a groundsman. Then became a Park Ranger on the San Mateo Coast at Thornton State Beach. The small park was a gathering place for some of the great minds of the day: Wilder Bentley the Elder, who with his wife, published the first book of Ansel Adams photographs; Chiura Obata, legendary painter of the Sierra; and George R. Stewart. That is where I met Stewart; and I spent many happy afternoons with the Stewarts in their Geary Street Penthouse, talking about his books and their life together.
Later, as a National Park Service Ranger working on Alcatraz, I played a role in the 1989 Earthquake, setting up a refugee center at Fort Mason and otherwise assisting on the first night of the emergency.
So this tale comes full circle – from the Great 1906 Quake, and Great Aunt Tia’s stories, to the Great 1989 Quake, and my stories.