There were once 5,610 refugee shacks in 11 San Francisco parks, assembled with lightning speed in the months after the April 18, 1906, earthquake and fire. Today, there are fewer than 50 identified in the city. But those that remain are a symbol of civic vision, built in a bureaucracy-free utopia that included a partnership among city officials, labor unions and the U.S. Army. They're also a symbol of post-crisis rebirth, designed to house the displaced workers who built back San Francisco better than ever.
And today, 115 years after the disaster, they're the most visible reminder of the city's most defining event -- preserved by a shifting collection of regular citizens and nonprofit history organizations, advocates so dedicated to the shacks that they feel like a religious order. [...]
Half of San Francisco had burned to the ground, and refugees moved to tent cities in Golden Gate Park, the Presidio and other green spots. But the shelters were a ticking clock. Relief leaders feared they would become waterlogged and disease-ridden when heavy rains arrived later in 1906.
Using redwood and fir lumber sent from Washington state and Oregon, the cottages were built in tight clusters in the parks with cooperation among the San Francisco Parks Commission, headed by John McLaren, the San Francisco Relief Corporation and the Army. Tenants paid $2 monthly rent on cottages valued at $50, with the option to own. And in 1907, many shack owners hauled their new property using literal horse power, becoming starter homes in empty lots across San Francisco and beyond.
Most of the 5,610 relief cottages built in San Francisco parks have been demolished, but a surprising number -- at least 30 and maybe many more -- still exist in the San Francisco Bay Area. The residents who live in them swear the sturdy redwood frames built in a day could last another 115 years.
We've compiled a list of all the San Francisco shacks that are "certified" by local preservationists, plus some more strongly believed to be earthquake refugee shacks as well. Bernal Heights has the highest concentration, but the petite homes are scattered throughout the region and beyond.