The last living survivor from the devastating 7.8 magnitude San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906 passed away on Monday, just 11 days shy of his 110th birthday.
The disaster took over 3,000 lives and forever changed the face of the city, leaving over 80 percent of it destroyed and in need of rebuilding.
William A. “Bill” Del Monte, who was also known as “Uncle Bill,” took his last breath at a retirement home in Marin County on Monday. According to the Associated Press, he was just three months old when the quake struck at 5:12 a.m. on April 18, 1906. His niece, Janette Barroca of San Francisco, said he and his family were forced into the streets of the burning city and escaped in a horse-drawn buckboard wagon with fire burning on both sides.
Del Monte’s father reportedly founded San Francisco’s legendary Fior d’Italia restaurant which was destroyed in the quake and ensuing fire. CBS notes that the family rebuilt the restaurant after the quake and sold it decades later.
The San Francisco Chronicle notes that Del Monte was a stock market trader almost until the day he died. He became a millionaire by the time he was 24 but lost it all during the infamous 1929 “Black Tuesday” stock market crash.
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee offered Del Monte’s family his condolences in a statement:
I am saddened by the passing of Bill Del Monte, a true friend to our City. After being forced out of his home in North Beach after the 1906 Great Earthquake and Fire as an infant, he ultimately witnessed our City’s rise from the ashes more than a century ago seeing it rebuilt better than ever. His legacy is a true reminder of how resilient our City is, and he represents the resilience of the people of San Francisco. We have not only lost a friend, but also a piece of living San Francisco history in his death, just 11 days before his 110th birthday. I offer my condolences and heartfelt prayers to his family and friends in this time of sorrow.
Lee Houskeeper, one of the organizers of the annual marking of the quake anniversary at Lotta’s Fountain, said “It is important, even when your last survivor goes, because, in the end, it is San Francisco that’s surviving.”
The next annual remembrance will take place on Saturday, April 18 between 4:30 and 6:30 a.m. at Lotta’s Fountain, located at the intersection of Market, Geary and Kearny Streets.