Guardians of The City SFFD Home Page - San Francisco Fire Department Museum
Notable Fires:

A. L. Bancroft & Company
April 30, 1886
Box 48 - N. E. corner Market and Kearny

A second alarm in 1886 was considered a GENERAL ALARM

1886 Bancroft Printing Co.

April 30, 1886; Station 48; time 3:55 o'clock p. m. Fire was discovered in the basement of the large five- story brick building fronting seventy-five feet on Market, and extending one hundred and sixty feet to Stevenson street, in the rear, occupied by A. L. Bancroft & Co., booksellers, stationers, printers and lithographers, and L. & E. Emanuel, furniture dealers. The fire broke out in the basement of the portion occupied by Emanuel, and quickly communicated with the upper part of the building through the elevator shaft, and spread so rapidly that a second alarm was sent in, and brought the entire available force of the Department. The walls of the building falling, the fire spread to wooden dwellings on Stevenson street, in the rear, and by great exertion was prevented from spreading to the Grand Opera House and other buildings. The fire was under control in four hours, and required the services of twelve engines, five hose and three truck companies. Loss estimated at $850,000.

This fire being of such magnitude and so threatening, and the entire department being in active service, I deemed it advisable to telephone to the Chief of the Oakland Fire Department for engines to be on hand in case of need at any other fire that might occur in any other part of the city. The Oakland Department responded promptly, and was on hand with two engines for duty. Two alarms were sent in during the progress of the Bancroft fire, but fortunately services of the reserve were not required.

David Scannell, Chief of Fire Department
Source: 1886 Municipal Report, page 293

Persons Reported Missing.
The Losses Estimated at Nearly a Million Dollars.
Engines are Summoned in Haste from Oakland.
Stevenson street Tenement Houses Swept Away
Like Tinder— The Grand Opera House
Saved with Difficulty — Scenes and
Incidents on the Streets
Losses and insurance.

1886 May 1

Perhaps the most destructive and disastrous conflagration this city has known in many years occurred yesterday afternoon in A. L. Bancroft & Co.’s publishing house and adjoining buildings on Market street. As near as can be ascertained the fire started in the basement of L. & E. Emanuel's 1 furniture store, at No. 725 Market street, which occupies the western half of the lower floor of the Bancroft building. The cause is not known, and can only be conjectured, bat the supposition is that it was the result of spontaneous combustion or the careless handling of a pipe or cigar by one of the employees working among the tow and excelsior in the cellars. After shouldering for several hours, perhaps, the flames broke forth and followed the strong draft up the two main elevator shafts of the building to the top floor. The heat and the dense volumes of smoke which immediately pervaded the entire building was the first intimation which the 500 or more employees of both sexes received of the terrible danger which threatened them. The rush for safety which followed was almost a stampede, and before the street was reached many of the girls and young boys were knocked down and trampled upon, though none were seriously injured. The word at once went along, and a moment later, at 3:55 o'clock, an alarm for the Fire Department v/m turned in from box 48, followed five minutes after by


The increasing throngs of people, which began to swarm in from all sides by this time, seemed to have the effect of bringing the female portion of Bancroft's employees to a fall realization of their situation, and, obeying the natural instincts or their sex, they made one grand rush towards the burning building for the purpose of saving their hats and cloaks. One or two determined men at the foot of the stairway, however, prevented the foolish girls from going to a certain death in their desire to recover those missing adjuncts of a complete street toilets. By the time Chief Scannell and his braves arrived on the scene the flames had broken out through the roof and widows on the tipper floors, and great clouds of dense black smoke hung over the doomed building. Ten minutes later the roof caved in and almost instantly a vast volume of roaring flame shot up into the heavens folly a hundred feet in height, and showers of sparks and burning cinders came down like hail in all directions. The heat was something terrific, and the noise of the raging elements was fairly stunning. The scene presented at that moment was one of dazzling, dangerous brilliancy. The streets for blocks around were black with the immense concourse of people, and the expression, "a sea of upturned faces," so often misused, was most applicable there. The surrounding housetops, too, disclosed to view a large number of people whose courage was no less strong than their curiosity.


About half- past 4 o'clock the two upper floors of the building fell in, and immediately there arose a great cry that several firemen had been killed. Investigation proved that four men were in the building, when the floors fell and buried three of them beneath the debris. The fourth man made his escapes before any one could learn his identity, and shortly after one of the other three was dragged out insensible and taken with all haste to the Receiving Hospital. The poor fellow was past all human aid, however, and the body was removed to the Morgue, where thousands of sympathetic men and women called during the next few hours to pay their respects to the man who had perished so horribly while laboring to save the property of another. His name was Patrick Beatty, and for some months past had been employed as an upholsterer by L. and E. Emanuel. He was a native of Ireland, fifty-five years of age, and leaves a widow and one daughter at No. 531 1/2 O'Farrell street. The two men still remaining beneath the burning mass could not be reached, and all means «f ascertaining their identity were exhausted without avail. It is thought, however, that they belong to the Fire Department, and that their names are Miller and Moran. Many other persons were also more or less injured by falling pieces of brick and timber.


With the caving in of the roof the flames followed the direction of the wind and commenced licking up the shingles from the roof of the three story brick adjoining on the east, at 719 Market street, occupied by Connolly & Boyle’s furniture store and the Central Lodging House. Before the progress of the fire in that direction could be checked the entire rear end of the building was destroyed and the interior thoroughly gutted, both by fire and water. At 4 :50 p. m. the rear wall of the Bancroft building went crashing to the ground allowing the fire to spread towards the west and take a firm hold upon the three story frame structure owned by the Shillaber estate, occupied on the ground floor by Edward S. Spear & Co., auctioneers, and the Pacific Coast Trunk Factory. The second floor was used as a moulding (sic) and cornice factory by Schussler Brothers, and the top floor was occupied by Swan, the painter. The dry wood of the building was great food for the flames, and in a very few minutes the entire place was a raging furnace.

Presently the west wall of the Bancroft building began to totter, and then slowly and majestically careened over on the Shiliaber building, crushing all except the front wall to the earth. Here, too, were a number of firemen injured to some extent by the scattering fragments of masonry and wood, and not a few barely got off with their lives. Notwithstanding the heroic efforts of the firemen, the hungry flames crept on, and gradually fastened their destructive hold upon the next building, No. 733 Market street, a four story brick, occupied below by Shirek & Co., carpet-dealers, and above by the Waldo House. The rear portion of this building was partially destroyed, but the fire was at last placed under control and most of the stock saved. In the meantime,


Was one great furnace of heat and flame, slowly, but surely eating its way into the remaining walls and ruins, to the great danger of the firemen whose blistered faces and scorched hands bore evidence of their devotion to the principles of duty and obedience. The fire, however, was now under control and needed only careful attention to keep it from spreading until it finally died away. The cellars and openings under the sidewalk for several rods in each direction were filled with water which had drained from the fire, and a hundred streams were still at work upon the charred and smouldering (sic) embers. About ten minutes past seven in the evening the main gas pipe, which supplies all the buildings in the immediate neighborhood, suddenly burst just in front of the smoking rains end almost instantly, a great sheet of yellow flame arose to the height of the single wall yet standing of the Bancroft structure. Some, time elapsed before the escaping gas could be shut off farther down the street and the consequent illumination gave a wonderful effect to the surrounding scene of devastation. Up to a late hour last night the great heap of ruins was still burning stubbornly and the remaining wall of the Bancroft building was expected to fall at any moment. In the event of this happening the street cars were ordered stopped and all traffic forbidden until this morning, when, if the wall is still standing, shores and props will be placed up as a means of protection and safety.
Source: Daily Alta California, Volume 40, Number 13396, 1 May 1886 — RAVENOUS FLAMES. [ARTICLE]


1886 May 1

The total losses of the fire amount to nearly one million dollars, and the insurance will not cover 35 per cent, of it. About $600,000 of the whole lose is borne by Bancroft & Co. The building occupied by them was a five-story brick, extending clear through to Stevenson street, and includes Nob. 721 to 725 on Market street. The east half of the lower floor was used as their general store, and the whole of the second floor was their general storeroom for pianos, fancy articles and stationery, while the two upper floors were occupied by the printing and book-binding departments. The building originally cost about $250,000, but at the time of its destruction was valued at only about $120,000. A mortgage of $75,000 also rested upon the property. The building was insured for a total of $70,000 in several different companies, among which are the following:
Hutchinson & Mann (nine companies) $17,000.
London and Lancashire, $7,500, Insurance Company of North America and Pennsylvania Fire, $2,500,
Amaza of Cincinnati, $2,500.
Sun, $2,500.
Imperial, London. Northern, Queen, $2,500.
Commercial, $5,000.
Fire Association, Philadelphia, $5,000.
Phoenix, American, State of Pennsylvania, $17,500.
Boston Underwriters, $2,500.
Williamsburg City, $2,500.
Franklin, $2,500.
London, Liverpool and Globe, $3,750.
New Zealand, $5,000.

The stock, presses and furniture were valued at $500,000, covered by only $125,000 insurance. The Bancroft brothers take their misfortune very much to heart, but announce their determination of making one more effort when their affairs are straightened out.

The upholstery store of James Connolly and L. Boyle, at 719 Market street, was damaged to the extent of about $3,000, mostly by water, and the Central Lodging-house, overhead, also sustained nearly the same amount of loss. The upholstery establishment of L. & E. Emanuel, in the west half of the lower floor of the Bancroft building, lost about $125,000, and were insured for $25,000.

The next building, No. 727 Market street, owned by the Shillaber estate, was valued at $20,000; partially insured.

The Pacific Coast Trunk Factory, located in the eastern half of the lower floor, sustained a loss to stock of $4,000, insured for $3,000, and Byron Manzy, a piano agent sharing their store, suffered a similar lose.

Edward A. Spear & Co., auctioneers, in the west half of the lower floor, lost $10,000— fully insured,

On the second floor of the same building, Schussler Bros., manufacturers of moldings and cornices, lost $10,000, while Swan, the painter, on the third floor, sustained a loss of $3,000, insured for $1,500.

The damage to the building occupied by Shirek & Co., carpet dealers, and the Waldo House, at 733 Market, was not over $5,000, but was a total loss. The. building is owned by R. C. Tobin, a stockbroker.

Upon learning of the great loss sustained by the Messrs. Bancroft, H. S. Crocker & Co. sent them the following graceful and courteous letter :
San Francisco, April 30, 1330.

Messrs. A. L. Bancroft & Co. — Gentlemen : It is with deep regret we learn of your great loss by fire this afternoon. We sympathize with your misfortune the more from the fact that we have so lately pasted through the same fiery ordeal. We extend to you our heartfelt sympathies and all the facilities our limited establishment can afford you until you resume business.

Yours truly, H. S. Crocker &' Co.


Adjoining the Bancroft building on the East there was a row of four two-story frame houses on Stevenson street, of which A. W. Thompson is the agent and a resident of Arizona is the owner. The first one towards Third street was occupied as a residence by Mrs. White and her family, colored, and their number was 220. It was totally destroyed, and nothing of the contents was saved.

The building at No. 218 was also destroyed, but it had no occupants.

No. 216 was occupied by Henry Turner, a cook, and his family, and the building and contents were both burned.

No. 214 was occupied by Mrs. Gray and family, and was also completely destroyed, together with the possessions of a number of lodgers.

At No. 212 Alex. MacKay had his carpet shop and J. A. Shaber had an upholstery business in connection with his Market-street establishment. The roof and rear were burned off and all the stock well saturated with water.

At No. 210 Wm. B. Gallagher had a furniture manufacturing establishment and workshop, and both were considerably damaged by fire and water. The fire progressed no farther on this side of the street, and the heaviest losses were on the opposite, or south side. The fire began here at No. 213, and after going through a Chinese laundry, Finnerty's Philadelphia beer depot and the cottages of two colored families it devoured the large frame structure at No. 225, occupied as a residence by John F., Charles J. and Victor Kloppenburg and their families. The house was thoroughly gutted, and their united loss of furniture, pianos, etc., amounted to about $2,000. Miss Emma Kloppenburg lost an elegant wardrobe valued at $1,500, but managed to secure her diamonds.

John Ross, a plasterer, resided at No. 222, and sustained considerable damage by scattering patches of fire, and also by water. The residence of M. W. Bryant, at No. 227, was also gutted and mostly destroyed. John Hobs, a shoemaker, at No. 229, escaped with a drenching and the loss of a portion of his roof.

No. 231 was occupied as a colored people's lodging-house by J. F. Wheatleigh, who is insured for $1,000 and loses about $1,500. Mrs. Wenschne's lodging-house at No. 223 was also gutted and partially, burned, as was the floor over a vacant grocery adjoining. The upper floor was occupied by two colored families.

Mrs. Jackson's lodging-house, at No. 235, was severely damaged by water, and had her roof end the rear of the building burned. The old lady is a helpless cripple, and was only saved from serious personal injury by the exertions of Billy Waters and a brother fireman. Another lodging house, at No. 237, owned by Mrs. Jenness was damaged by water, as were several other families adjoining on the north.

The total loss to residents of Stevenson street is roughly estimated at $15,000, with very little insurance.
Source: Daily Alta California, Volume 40, Number 13396, 1 May 1886 — THE LOSSES. [CHAPTER]



1886 May 1

George Oaks, of One Truck Company, stated last night that when be brought out Beatty's body from the basement of Emanuel Brothers, he felt what seemed to be the bodies of two other persons. . The two bodies are believed to be those of ,two upholsterers, named Fred Miller and Edward Moran. At a late hour last night the bodies had not been recovered. Some of the firemen are of the opinion that there are no bodies in the ruins, and that Beatty is the only person who lost his life.

Some friends of James Brown, a mattress-maker, who was employed in the basement with Beatty, called at the Central Police Station about 9:30 o'clock last night, and stated that they feared Brown had been burned in the basement. They did not have any proof of the matter, but based the belief entirely on the fact that he was with Beatty, and had no better opportunity of leaving the cellar. They did not know where Brown lived, and could not say but that he was at home uninjured.

Victor Hegeman, an employee of the Pacific Coast Trunk Factory, was struck by a falling mass of brick and mortar, and was cat on the head and received a compound communite fracture of the thigh.

Patrick Curran; Foreman of Steamer No. 4, who had one of his legs broken at the Crocker fire, became entangled in the hose last night, and his leg was again broken in the same place. He was taken to St. Mary's Hospital for treatment.

A fireman, known as “ Reddy," had a narrow escape when the walls of the Shillaberger building fell. He was standing in front of the upper end of the building and heard a crunching noise, and glancing up saw the front wall failing. He dropped upon his hands and knees and crawled from under the falling debris, uninjured, but badly frightened. A drink of liquor revived him and he took care to shun the dangerous walls the rest of the night.

The landlady who keeps the lodging-house at No. 831 Minna street reported at police headquarters last night that Robert Fleischer, who boarded with her, and had been in the employ of Bancroft & Co. for the past three years, had failed to came home at his usual hoar, and it is thought he may be in the burned buildings. James Dorian of No. 3 Engine was severely cut about the face by breaking glass.
Source: Daily Alta California, Volume 40, Number 13396, 1 May 1886 — PAINFUL ACCIDENTS. [CHAPTER]


1886 May 1

While the entire department was busy with the Bancroft fire some individuals, at present unknown, foolishly turned in three other alarms for trifling blazes in the southern part of the city, that could as well have been extinguished by hand as not, and the risk of a spread of the big fire by calling the department away avoided. One box, No. 61, was turned in when the Grand Opera House commenced to smoke. At the time all that could be done to save it was being done, and successfully, as will appear elsewhere. Box 56 was turned in for a trivial blaze in the residence of Mrs. Sharpton Hawthorne street, and this was extinguished with a few buckets of water, dashed on by energetic citizens. Box 67 was for an equally trivial blaze on the roof of the Silver street Primary School, due to a cinder from the Market-street fire. It was also extinguished without loss.
Source: Daily Alta California, Volume 40, Number 13396, 1 May 1886 — Other Fires. [CHAPTER]


1886 May 2

Special to the Herald by the Associated Press

San Francisco, May 1

— Four persons are this morning reported miming, who are believed to have perished in the ruins of the Bancroft lire yesterday. A search will he rustle as soon as possible. The fire is still burning among the ruins. A. L. Bancroft & Co, have opened temporary offices at 110 Geary street, where they will attend to all business as usual. Alt their account and business books were saved. The firm has received the following letter, which explains itself:

"Messrs. Bancroft & Co.—Gentlemen: It is with deep regret we learn of your great loss by fire. We sympathize with your misfortune the more from the fact that we have so lately passed through the same fiery ordeal. We extend in you cur heartfelt sympathies and all facilities that our limited establishment can afford until you remain business. Yours truly,

H. S. Crocker & Co."

Mr. Emanuel, of the firm of L. & E. Emanuel, makes the following statement as to the origin of the fire: "Philip Wenzel, a delivery clerk of the firm, was in the basement unpacking goods which were packed hi excelsior, the name given to thin shavings used for that purpose. It was dark, and he held a candle in his hand as be took out the guilds, and piled the excelsior at his side The candle fell from his hand into the inflammable material, and like a flash it blazed about him. He jumped on it and tried to stamp it out, but in vain. The flames spread rapidly and smoke filled the basement. Wenzel escaped by the rear door."

John Fleming, a member of truck No. 2, stationed on Broadway, near Stockton street, was found dead in his bed at the truck-house to day. He worked very hard at the fire yesterday, and his death is supposed to be the result of exhaustion.

Emanuel reports to-day, that James Brannan a mattress maker in his employ, is believed to be lying under the debris. His work shop was under the pavement, and it is supposed that his egress was cut off before he knew of it. Inquiry at his residence developed the fact that he had not been home. The family believed that be had met his death in the fire. This makes three victims of yesterday's fire.
Source: Los Angeles Herald, Volume 25, Number 51, 2 May 1886 — TELEGRAPHIC. [ARTICLE]


Another Victim Dies, and the Loss of a Third Tolerably Certain— The Losses and the Insurance General Notes.

1886 May 2

The scene of Friday afternoon's fire had a large audience all day yesterday, and the force of police on duty were almost as well worn out as the firemen. Their exertions were necessary in two directions on Market street, where it was essential to keep up a brisk remonstrance with the carious gazers to keep them away from the ruins, and at each end of the burned district it was necessary to forcibly torn teams back. The Fire Department's Architect, Mr. O'Connor, made an examination of the premises yesterday morning at daylight, and then agreed with Chief Scannell that it would be safe and proper to close the street for a day or two, until the fragmentary walls of the Bancroft building could be either shored up or palled down. Chief Crowley was notified of the desire of the fire officials to close the street as well as possible, and he in response placed a large force at their service. The pedestrians were entirely limited to the south side of the street, and in the roadway only the cars of the Market-street cable road are allowed passageway. The horse-car track on the inside of the cable track is closed, and the Folsom and California-street branch cars, that operate through that block, were compelled to go round by way of Dupont and Post streets. No teams, whatever, were allowed to drive by, and this made an immense traffic on Geary, Dupont, Third, Fourth, and Mission streets. The report of the architect was that the front wall, which is intact, barring the loss of its cornices and decorative work, had a list to the south, or in over the ruins, still where it would do the least damage in case it fell.


Were not untimely, and even if there were no immediate danger they afford the firemen room to work, and will give the same to the laborers that will be set to removing the debris as soon as the fire is entirely extinguished. Friday night Mr. O'Connor took a survey of that portion of the east wall that remains standing to its full height, and found it eight inches out of plumb, the lean being outward. Yesterday morning as the bricks cooled they warped partially back again, and the top is now only four inches from the base, although the bulge in the center is double this distance in protrusion. The top of this wall is fourteen feet above the roof of "The Center," the lodging-house at No. 719, which it immediately adjoins. Although it overhangs only slightly, should it topple over the firewall of "The Centre," the experts say that the weight would stave in the roof and every floor between it and the ground. Danger notices were accordingly served on the tenants, but they took no heed, and preferred to rely on a few props from their roof to moving out.


Worked all night, and it was after midnight when the majority of them got home, leaving 2 engine, 6 engine, and four hydrant streams to play on the smouldering ruins. From the confused mass of debris dense banks of smoke and steam continued to ascend during the entire day, notwithstanding, the continued streams that poured into it. The last engine, No. 2, was sent home about dark, leaving four watch lines at work with hydrant streams. Stevenson street is entirely blocked with bricks and debris from the fallen walls. In this locality another fire broke out among the wrecked tenements yesterday morning, but it was speedily extinguished by pipemen from 2 engine. All expert visitors to this locality commented on the cleanliness of the bricks from the building. Very few of them adhered to others, and the separate ones were entirely denuded of mortar, except in very rare instances.


Yesterday the exact cause and original location of the fire was given out by Mr. L. Emanuel, of the firm of L. & E. Emanuel. This gentleman, from conversation with his own employees, learned that Philip Kenzel, the delivery clerk of the firm, was unpacking an invoice of Eastern goods, protected in their cases by a sort of fine shavings, known as "excelsior." He was about midway between the Market and Stevenson street ends of the basement, and it was so dark that he lighted a candle to avoid breakage. As he pulled out the “excelsior" he dropped it at the side of the case, and when the pile had grown to considerable proportions, he unfortunately overturned the candle on it. Like a flash the light stuff was a solid mass of flame, which Kenzel vainly tried to stamp out. The spread was so rapid that he soon relinquished his exertions and ran for his life to the Stevenson-street door, out of which he escaped only a few feet in advance of the fire. The vast basement was filled with fire in an incredibly short space of time, and it climbed the elevator shafts for an outlet, thus sending the blaze on to every floor at once. Patrick Beatty, who died en route to the Morgue, and James Brannan of 3011 Clay street, also in the employ of the firm, were at work making mattresses under the Market-street sidewalk. The firemen smashed the door open at this end as speedily as possible and found Beatty close to it. Up to noon yesterday Brannan had not been home, and his family believed that


Lies buried in the ruins. When the firemen dove in after Beatty they were fortunate enough to find him very near the door, or they would likely have been drawn further into the basement and suffocated or burned to death. As it was, they were driven out almost immediately on entering, and then were out barely in time.

The fatalities known to be connected with the fire are now generally considered to be three in number. Several people who were missing Friday evening turned up yesterday and depleted the list of probable deaths, while only one fresh case was reported. The unfortunate was John Fleming, an extraman of Two Truck, located on O'Farrell street, scarcely a block from the fire. The deceased did not have a constitution for prolonged exertion, but all Friday afternoon worked in the heat and wet and suffocating smoke until thoroughly exhausted. Shortly after dark he got a tumble from a ladder, but did not seem to be hurt much, and he continued to perform his part until relieved at 1 A. M. Then he went to bed in the truck-house, so thoroughly exhausted that he could not change his wet clothing before falling asleep on his bed. At noon yesterday the company steward visited his room to see why he did not get up, and found him dead. Whether inhalation of smoke, the over-exertion or internal injuries from his fall caused death cannot be known until after the autopsy. The deceased was a native of this State, aged twenty-six years, and leaves two brothers residing in San Francisco. This completes the list of fatalities as far as known, and all the firms whose premises were destroyed have found their employees uninjured, with the exception of the unfortunates named above. The firemen have also all been accounted for, and their casualties foot up less than anybody supposed.


Of the victims, Fleming alone is single. Brannan was about forty-five years of age, and leaves a widow, but no children. Beatty's family was constituted by his wife and unmarried daughter, about twenty years of age. He will be buried in St. Mary's Cemetery, Oakland, this afternoon.
The sidewalk is all burned away in front of Emanuel's place, this being the result of the bursting of the large pipe running into the building from the street main. The gas from this burned desperately for a long time, but the gasmen finally reached a faucet, three feet under ground, in the centre of the street, and turned it off. The losing firms have not sat down with folded hands to grieve over their calamity, but every one has gone to work with a will. A. L. Bancroft promptly opened an office at No. 110 Geary street, and set the manufacturing department at work, with the limited means of hand, in Wangenheim building on Sacramento and Davis streets. Until A. L. Bancroft gets here from San Diego, where he has been directing the erection of a Summer residence, the future course of the firm will not be determined in detail. Spear & Co.. set up at 32 and 34 Sutter street, and will be all right as soon as they can get something to sell.

Swan, the irrepressible painter, spent all night in painting a sign for himself, and yesterday the outer wall of 625 Market street. The Emanuels made an office in their factory at Fourth and Bryant streets, and the Schusslers. went to 716 Mission street.


Of course are hard to estimate, with the exception of those in whose cases it is complete, and they cannot be exact until their books are dug out of the ruins. Bancroft & Co.'s building cost something over $125,000, and was insured in thirteen companies for a total of $51,250. Their stock and machinery was valued at $550,000, and was insured for $136,550 in forty-seven companies, a total on building and Bancroft's part of the contents of $187,800. L & E. Emanuel place their loss at $140,000, and they are insured in eighteen companies for $41,500. The Shillaber building was insured with nine companies for $11,000, probably a thousand dollars in excess of its value on the morning before the fire.

Other amounts of insurance carried are as Spear & Co., $14,100; Schussler Bros., $12,000; California Trunk Company, $6,000; Swan & Stein, $2,150; Byron Manzy, $3,500. On Stevenson street the residents were insured in little dabs of from $100 to $2,000, and in such number as to aggregate an insurance to be lost by the companies of about $295,000. Taking owners' estimates this will cover a little over one fourth of the loss, which makes it much better for the sufferers than was anticipated.
Source: Daily Alta California, Volume 40, Number 13397, 2 May 1886 — ASHEN AFTERMATH. [ARTICLE]


1886 May 2

The recent burning of the Bancroft building and others on Market street, has occasioned much comment in commercial circles regarding the best fire-proof structures. An Alta representative yesterday afternoon appointed himself a committee of investigation and took occasion to visit various prominent architects of the city and elicit their opinions of building materials in genera) and of those most suitable for protection against fire.


Mr. Augustus Layer, at the Stock Exchange Building, was first interviewed. He has been connected with the construction of many of the finest business blocks and larger residences in this and other cities of the coast. He stated that from the results of a large course of reading and study into the structure of buildings with the view of protection against fire and of the greatest conflagrations in this and other countries, cast and wrought iron as building materials compared to the best woods are failures, unless in buildings where uninflammable materials are to be stored, such as the National Capitol at Washington, Custom Houses and other such public edifices. The most noted chief engineers of fire departments is the greater cities of Europe and this country, so far as can be recalled from this observation, state that building of properly constructed wooden beams and breastsummers are entered when burning with an assurance of greater safety to men and the property contained in them than is accorded to any ironribbed building. This construction lasts so much longer than the iron one, and particularly is this true in the case of columns supporting beams built of rolled iron. Fire authorities say that in such a wooden structure the flames may be much more promptly extinguished and with a greatly diminished loss of the contents. When any metal used in building is overheated, it becomes soft and tends to give away, while a heavy timber of wood will char under the flames, but retains its position till the last point of its strength is tested.


Turning to the office of architect J. Gash, who has designed the new Sharon grand entrance to Golden Gate Park, it was found that still other opinions were held, and different clans for fire proof construction have been devised. When questioned as to the relative merits of wood, iron. etc., as building materials from the fire proof, point of view only, Mr. Gash contributed his information thus : “Iron has its great merit of durability: if there were no fires, iron would be superior to wood for constructing purposes. Granite is not to be considered at all in this matter, for it snaps and cracks under heat. Marble is the best fireproof material that I know. But we can not all use it in this country. That fire on Friday reminds one of the great Chicago conflagration in this respect: The Board of Investigation, composed of architects, organized there to inquire into fireproof materials, attributed the burden of the prime cause of the rapid spreading of their city's great fire in 1870 to the prompt ignition of the heavy wooden cornices on high fronts, which were beyond the reach of the hose streams, and which prolonged the opportunities for the flames catching on the cornices of adjoining structures. The same event was observed in the burning cornice the other day, for that on the Bancroft building was repeatedly blazing oat again after being extinguished. If those east walls had not stood as they did, nothing would have saved the Third-street comer. They held the excessive heat to a great extent within their limits. The best columns for fronts are marble. The great objection to iron columns is the thinness of their flanges. While this flange material is amply sufficient to sustain the superstructure, from their conformation they fail to resist the heat driving oat from a hot fire upon their surfaces. Then they warp and the front falls. As to elevators, an ordinance should enforce their construction hereafter upon outer walls or in positions detached from the building. The elevator in the Merchants' Exchange rises from the courtyard in the center, and is made of wood, but detached from the building as it is, it might born before our eyes and leave the building unharmed. This is the rule of their construction in New York, and it should certainly be applied here, in the hotel buildings at any rate.

“No wooden or iron columns should be tolerated in basements of large buildings. In the Crocker fire, I believe, the basement piers gave way, and the floors supported only by a purchase upon the side wall gave way under the weight of machinery, etc. All basement supports should then be of brick piers. Fires, through some stupidity of theirs, have a fancy for originating in the lowest floors. But these are mere suggestions on a very large subject."
Source: Daily Alta California, Volume 40, Number 13397, 2 May 1886 — FIRE-PROOF STRUCTURES. [CHAPTER]


1886 May 3

The destruction by fire of the book and publishing establishment of A. L. Bancroft A Co. in San Francisco is really great km to the State. The legal blanks plates destroyed will occasion no little inconvenience to the public; the destruction of several thousand law books, some of which are rare, will enhance the values of law publications on the coast ; the loss of the map plates of H. H. Bancroft's superb History of the Pacific State of the Americas will be felt as :a serious blow, for it is scarcely probable that they will ever be replaced. It is gratifying to know that the greater number of the plates of the text of the histories escaped destruction, these volumes, which at first were received coldly, have now won an enviable place among historical productions, and had the plates been melted down it is probable that the pages would not have been reset, for Mr. Bancroft has expended such a great sum of money, and so many years of a useful life upon his histories, with comparatively so small financial return as yet, that the destruction of the stereotypes would have been almost equivalent to blotting out his life-work. The fire throws out of employment also nearly 400 wages-winners, and destroyed one of the most extensive business houses of the country. The insurance is so light that we can scarcely expect the house to attain its old prominence in trade again, though it has the pluck to announce a new beginning of business at once. But when men have reached middle age, and the labors of their life-time arc swept away in an hour, they are unlikely to rebuild their business to its former full proportions. Where the gain comes in to the people, is, of course, in the new demand that will be created for the importation of book stock. A trade that justified the filling of shelves with a hundred thousand volumes of the best literature of the world, will justify the bringing to the State of another stock. But it is more than likely that this will be met in large part by other houses, so that there will be something of a stimulus given to the general book trade in San Francisco as a result of the great fire. But whatever the incidental gains such destruction of valuable property is a heavy blow to San Francisco and will be seriously felt.
Source: Sacramento Daily Union, Volume 55, Number 61, 3 May 1886 — THE SAN FRANCISCO FIRE. [ARTICLE]


1886 May 3

David Coleman, of 133 Clara street, and Elizabeth F. Steen, of 741 Harrison street, who were reported missing: after the Bancroft fire, have returned home.
Source: Daily Alta California, Volume 40, Number 13398, 3 May 1886 — Returned Home. [ARTICLE]

A Portion of the Frost Wall of the Bancroft Building to be Torn Down To-day

1886 May 4

The fire in the ruins of the Bancroft building was thought to be so far under control yesterday morning, that the wornout firemen were relieved from their arduous duties of incessant watchfulness, and only one stream was kept playing upon the centre of the huge pile of debris, from where a thin column of smoke ascended, as a signal of warning that all danger was not removed. During the afternoon, Chief Scannell and Architect O'Connor visited the scene of the great conflagration, and made a careful inspection of the ruins. Mr. O'Connor did not think there was any immediate danger of the front wall giving way, but as a matter of precaution considered it advisable to have the upper portion, if not all of it, torn down. Mr. A. L. Bancroft was accordingly consulted, and this morning a gang of men will commence the work of taking off the two upper sections of the front wall. Beginning at the top, the masonry will be removed piece by piece and thrown into the debris below. Some difficulty is expected with the two gargoyles on either corner, as they are almost detached and liable to fall at the slightest movement. Mr. Spear, the auctioneer, put several men to work clearing away the wreck of his building yesterday forenoon, but was forbidden to remove anything until the insurance companies had settled upon the losses. One of the safes, however, was unearthed, and although it was red-hot Saturday night, the books were found to be intact and only slightly scorched on the outside. Upon being interviewed by an Alta reporter yesterday, Mr. A. L. Bancroft stated that he had several of his men out in search of suitable quarters to continue the business, and as soon as possible the firm would once more be in active operation. An effort would also be made to keep all his people in his employ if it can be so arranged. Notwithstanding these assurances several of the clerks began seeking work in other houses yesterday. It is the opinion of the foreman of one of the departments that the plates of the histories will be found uninjured, as they were stored in the extreme bottom of the basement and the water is so deep there that the fire has not been able to reach them.

Profiting by the sad lesson which the fire has taught him, Mr. Bancroft intends hereafter to have the different departments of his establishment conducted in separate buildings, at least a block apart. The lithographic and law departments are now located at Davis and Sacramento streets, and the business office is for the time being at No. 110 Geary street.

Mrs. James Brannan, wife of the man whose charred remains are supposed to be buried under the sidewalk in front of the burned building visited Chief Scannell's office in great distress yesterday afternoon and made an affecting appeal to have the work of excavation commenced at once, but the Chief was compelled to inform her that to do so before the wall was torn down would be almost certain death to the workmen.
The funeral of John Fleming, the unfortunate fireman who died from the effects of internal injuries received at the fire, took place from the residence of his brother, at 1404 Powell street, yesterday afternoon. An escort of four firemen from each company in the Department accompanied the remains of their departed comrade on the sorrowful march to the grave, and assisted in the last sad rites to the dead.

About 7 o'clock last evening the flames suddenly broke oat from the smoldering pile and caused so much alarm that Chief Scannell ordered three or four additional streams to be played upon the fire.
Source: Daily Alta California, Volume 40, Number 13399, 4 May 1886 — THE RUINS. [ARTICLE]

The Front Wall Still Standing, but Will be Taken Down.

1886 May 5

Although several days have elapsed since the Bancroft fire the smoking mass of ruins still possesses a strong fascination, and, at almost any hour of the day, and even until late at night, large numbers of people gather around to gaze upon all that is left of a once handsome building. It was intended that the work of tearing down the front wall should be commenced yesterday morning, but the mode of operation seemed to be a subject of much difference in opinion, and at a late hour last night the wall was still standing and untouched. Mr. Bancroft thinks the most feasible plan would be to shore up the wall until after the debris had been removed and then drag it down by ropes into the basement during the night. Chief Scannell, however, declares that it shall not be so, and will not allow either firemen or laborers to imperil their lives by working in the ruins while the wall remains standing. Even if shored up, a strong wind or an earthquake shock which is likely to occur at any time, would send it crashing to the ground. The large quantity of water, too, which has been poured upon the fire, has in all probability undermined the foundation of the wall, making the danger of its fall most imminent. The vault in the basement of Bancroft's was opened yesterday, and the books found to be in very good condition. There was about eighteen inches of water in the vault, and the books were pretty well soaked, but quite legible. Some of the presses and machinery were also unearthed, and what cannot be made use of again will be sold for old iron. The flow of water from the broken mains on Stevenson street was so great yesterday that the Spring Valley Company was compelled to set a gang of men to work digging down to the pipes in order to repair them.

The inquest on the body of Patrick Beatty, the mattressmaker who was suffocated at the fire, resulted yesterday in a verdict of accidental death.
Source: Daily Alta California, Volume 40, Number 13400, 5 May 1886 — THE BANCROFT RUINS. [ARTICLE]


1886 May 7 In part

The firm of A. L. Bancroft & Co. has decided not to rebuild the burned down store, and the land is offered for sale for $300,000. The lot has a 75-foot front on Market street, which makes the asking price $4,000 a foot front.

Willie Daily, a youth 16 years of age, left his home as 668 Clementina street last Friday afternoon, a short time before the Bancroft fire broke out, and has not been heard from since. His mother thinks he is buried under the fallen walls of the burned building
Source: Sacramento Daily Union, Volume 55, Number 65, 7 May 1886 — SAN FRANCISCO ITEMS. [ARTICLE]


1886 May 7

Willie Daily, a lad of sixteen, left his home on Clementina street just before the Bancroft fire broke out last Friday and has not been heard of since. It is feared that he visited the scene of the fire and was accidentally buried beneath the debris of one of the falling walls. He has an uncle at Portland, Or., however, and it is possible he may have gone to that city.
Source: Daily Alta California, Volume 40, Number 13402, 7 May 1886 — Another Missing Boy. [ARTICLE]


San Francisco, May 15. In part

—For several days past there have been rumors that another corpse lay buried beneath thee Bancroft fire. This arose from the of an intensely disagreeable odor which arose from one particular spot. The search which was made to-day brought to view the remains of a boy named Daly, who is believed to have been killed by the falling ruins. There was a deep and wide hole in his skull, in which a portion of a brick was found imbedded. This makes the fourth victim of the Bancroft fire.
Source: Los Angeles Herald, Volume 25, Number 63, 16 May 1886 — LOUISVILLE RACES. [ARTICLE]


1886 May 16

The heap of debris in the rains of the Spear building, which emitted such a frightful odor last Friday, proved yesterday to be the burial place of another unfortunate victim of the great Bancroft fire. About half-past three o'clock in the afternoon, the workmen employed in the excavation came upon a few charred human bones and shreds of putrified flesh. A small portion of a maroon colored vest, with a single smoked pearl button, was all that could be found for purposes of identification. The stench was so overpowering that no one could remain near, and it was no on viable task that fell to the lot of Deputy Coroner Groom, who was sent to remove the unknown remains to the Morgue. The bones were apparently those of a youth, and it was at first thought that they were all that was left of young Willie Daily, who has been missing since the afternoon of the fire. Mrs. Daily, the mother, called at the Morgue last night, however, and after being shown the piece of vest, she declared that it had not belonged to her boy. Who else it could be yet remains to be ascertained.
Source: Daily Alta California, Volume 40, Number 13411, 16 May 1886 — A FEW CHARRED BONES [ARTICLE]


1886 May 20

The identity of the remains which were found in the ruins of the Bancroft building last Saturday is now quite certain. The father of Willie Daily, the youth who has been missing since the afternoon of the fire, visited the Morgue yesterday and pronounced the fragment of vest found upon the body to be that of his boy's. The lady who gave the vest to the lad also holds the same opinion. Acting upon these conclusions, Mr. Daily prevented the burial of the remains in the Potters' Field yesterday and ordered them to be interred in the Catholic Cemetery.
Source: Daily Alta California, Volume 40, Number 13415, 20 May 1886 — Willie Daily's Remains. [ARTICLE]


1886 May 22

Mr. A. L. Bancroft says that he will probably rebuild on his vacant lot, the scene of the late fire, and that he has no intention of selling his property. He thinks he will recover about $20,000 worth of presses.

Daily Alta California, Volume 40, Number 13417, 22 May 1886 — Bancroft Will Probably Rebuild. [ARTICLE]


1886 June 1

Fire Marshal Durkee has footed up the losses occasioned by the Bancroft fire on Market street which took place on the 30th of April, and the aggregate is $958,211 27, not counting minor fires which occurred at a distance of many blocks away and caused by wafted cinders, for which losses claims are now pending. The greater loss was by A. L. Bancroft & Co., viz., $849,988 47, which loss was only partly insured.

At the fire on the block bounded by Bryant, Brannan, Sixth and Seventh streets, which occurred on the 24th of May, Marshal Durkee foots up a loss of $88,000 in round figures, upon which there was an insurance of $76,050, but the majority of the occupants of the forty-nine buildings burned were uninsured.
Source: Daily Alta California, Volume 40, Number 13427, 1 June 1886 — More Than a Million. [ARTICLE]

How the Fire Affected the “Wasp"— It Will Continue, as Usual
Something About Lithography and its Position on this Coast

1886 June 22

The conflagration of Sunday morning which destroyed property on Main street valued largely in excess of a quarter of a million of dollars, and the additional fact of its being the third time that the came firms have buffered by fire within three years, seems veritably to be the irony of fate. However, with the same commendable spirit of enterprise which characterized their efforts succeeding their last disasters by fire, Tatum and Bowen have opened an office in the building adjoining their former quarters, and will continue their business as speedily as possible when matters have been set to rights. Their heavy and valuable machinery and material was insured to a fair proportion. The table below gives a statement of the amounts and of the insuring companies: State Investment, $4,500; Western, $5,000; Fire Insurance Association, $5,000; Pacific, $5,000; Amazon, $2,250; New Zealand, $1,500; Svea, $1,000; Providence, Washington, $2,000; Firemen's, Baltimore, $2,500; Boatman's, $2,500; Pennsylvania, $1,000; Teutonia, $3,500; New Orleans, $3,500; St. Paul, $2,500; Firemen's, Newark, $2,000: Continental, $2,500; Citizens', $2,000; People's, $1,000; Sun Fire Office, $3,750; Phoenix, London, $4,000; City of London, $4,000; Anglo-Nevada, $4,000; Western of Toronto, $1,500; South British and National, $6,250.


The Schmidt Lithographic Works, sustaining the heaviest loss, is insured also to a fair amount and in a large number of companies. Yesterday afternoon the Board of Underwriters met and elected I. Gutte President and Arthur Donnell Secretary. The committee selected to adjust the losses, consisting of Messrs. W. McDonald, T. Pope, A. J. Metzler and Louis Mel, reported the insurance of the Schmidt Company, as shown by the following tabulation : Royal, N. U. and L., $2,500; Home and Phoenix, $2,000; Merchants, N. J., $2,000; Ham.-Bremen, $2,500; Home and Phoenix, $1,000; Western, Canada, $2,500; Sun, San Francisco, $1,000; Connecticut, $3,500; Home and Phoenix, $1,500; National Assurance Company, $2,000; Royal, N. U. and L., $2,100 ; Guardian, $2,500; Lion, $2,000; Washington, $2,000; Orient, $2,000; Germania, $1,000; Ham.-Mag., $2,500; /Etna, $1,000; Royal, N. U. and L., $2,900; Imperial, L. N. and Q., $5,000; Home Mutual, $1,500; Niagara, $1,500; National Assurance Company, $1,000: South British and National, $2,500; Svea, $2,500; State Investment, $2,500; Germania, $1,000 ; British America, $2,500; Liverpool, London and Globe, $2,500; North America, $2,500; Pennsylvania, $2,500; City of London, $2,500; So. Brit, and Natl., $2,500; Hartford, $2,500; Svea, $2,500; Howard, $3,000; Niagara, $1,000 ; German, Fpt., $2,000 ; Etna y $1,500; Home and Phoenix, $3,000; New Zealand, $2,500; Atlas, $1,500; Atlas, $1,500; Fireman's Fund, $7,500; North German, $3,500 : Boston Underwriters', $1,500; Southern California, $1,500; Anglo-Nevada, $1,000; Westchester, $1,500; Prussian National, $1,500; Commercial, San Francisco, $1,000. Total, $110,000.

R. R. Thompson, the owner of the building, was insured in the following companies and to the amounts shown: Commercial Union, $5,000; California. $3,750; Union, of New Zealand, $3,750; Anglo-Nevada, $1,500; South British and National, $1,250; City of London, $1,250; American Fire, of Philadelphia, $5,000; Springfield, $2,500; Phoenix, of Brooklyn, $2,500; Atlas, $3,500. Total, $80,000.

The most valuable stones of the lithographic works were some of them stored in the basement vault, and as they are at present inaccessible it is not known to what extent they are damaged. It has been estimated that the total loss by the fire, to buildings and contents, over all, above the insurances reported, reaches $150,000. But this cannot yet be definitely settled upon.


Inquiries at the editorial rooms of the Wasp on California street yesterday disclosed the facts from Colonel John P. Jackson that all their material bad been lost. The most disastrous feature is the destruction of the lithographic stones. There was no insurance whatever upon the property and belongings of the paper. The artist, Mr. S. H. Walter, however, had the email sum of $300 security on his materials, but he assures the management that it will not cover one fifth of his loss. A few graver's tools, stencils, etc., are the only salvage, and these because of the situation of the artists room in the rear of the burned buildings and adjoining the premises of the Schmidt Lithographing Company. All of the valuable collection of engravings, pictures and sketches of notables and drawings of local interest and of local characters, which have been the pith of the publications throughout the entire history of the Wasp since 1876, were entirely destroyed by fire, water and smoke, there being nothing whatever of value left of the large cabinet and portfolios in the artists department.

It is assured, however, that the coming week's issue will appear as usual, but without the illustrations being colored. They will be in black and white. A. L. Bancroft & Co. have kindly offered the Wasp company temporary quarters in their lithographic establishment at the corner of Davis and Sacramento streets. The following number, that known as the Fourth of July issue, will be colored as usual, and it promises both in quantity and quality of matter, Mr. Jackson says, to be as creditable as any others of preceding years, notwithstanding the present crippled stats of the management through their unforeseen misfortunes.
Source: Daily Alta California, Volume 40, Number 13448, 22 June 1886 — VIEWING THE RUINS. [ARTICLE]

Extracted from original sources with grammar and spelling as published.

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