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The nameplate of Bacigalupi and Sons was affixed to hundreds of San Francisco phonographs, pianos and slot machines in the early part of the century.

At the time of the 1906 earthquake Mr. Bacigalupi had three establishments in San Francisco, all of which burned. His wholesale house was at 786 Mission Street, a Penny Arcade and retail phonograph outlet in the Phelan Building at 840 Market Street, and another Penny Arcade in the famed Bella Union Theatre, 804 Kearny Street, near Washington, on the edge of the Barbary Coast.

A copy of this eyewitness account, from the Edison Phonograph Monthly, was provided to the Museum by Tim Gracyk, editor and publisher of Victrola and 78 Journal .


On the day after the June PHONOGRAPH MONTHLY went to press we received from Peter Bacigalupi, Edison Jobber at San Francisco, the interesting story of his experiences and losses in the great disaster in his city in April. Although somewhat delayed in its publication, we feel sure that the entire Phonograph trade will be interested in it.

On the morning of the 18th of April I was awakened from a sound slumber by a terrific trembling, which acted in the same manner as would a bucking broncho. I sat up in bed with a start. My bed was going up and down in all four directions at once, while all about me I heard screams, wails, and crashing of breaking china-ware and nick-nacks. I was very quietly watching the clock on the mantel, which was doing a fancy stunt, while the ornaments in the parlor could be heard crashing to the floor. A great portion of plaster right over the head of my bed fell all around me, and caused a cloud of dust, which was very hard to breathe through.

I did not get up until the quake was over, then dressed in a hurry, with the thought in mind that there must have been a great deal of damage done down town. I managed to get a cup of coffee with the gas that remained in the pipes, which was very slow work, indeed. After this I rushed to the street and looked all round for a [street]car, but there were no cars running that morning.

I started to walk down town, and arriving within about eight blocks of the business section, noted that there were hardly any panes of glass left in any of the show windows. When I got still further down I began to see still further vagaries of this sleeping giant, which had so disturbed us. Buildings were tumbled over on their sides, others looked as though they had been cut off short with a cleaver, the whole front having fallen through the sidewalk into the basement.

On seeing this my first thought was of the condition of the [phonograph] Records in my store. I hurried as much as possible, but did not make much headway owing to the fact that the majority of people were hurrying in the opposite direction to which I was going. They were taking to the hills. Some were dragging trunks; others carrying valises on their shoulders. I saw more talking machines in that one day than I believe I will ever see all together again in one time. I seems that the first thought of the owners of these machines was to save them in preference to anything else.

There were also a great many comical sights such as a woman carrying ironing boards and an iron. One woman carried a parrot’s cage in one hand, while in the other was a bundle of clothes, hurriedly gathered together. I noticed that the bottom of the cage was gone, having doubtlessly dropped out on the way without being missed. It is needless to say anything further regarding this, as the papers were full of it, and they have been read by all.

On reaching 7th street, I noted that Mission street, one block from Market, the street on which I was walking, was in flames. I again hurried on, and reaching 6th street, still saw a massive wall of flame eating up that section of the town. Seeing this I broke into a run and continued running over bricks on the sidewalk, and dodging automobiles, which were doing ambulance duty until I reached my store on 4th and Mission streets.

Immediately across the street from my store was a brand new building, lately finished, and which had never been occupied, six stories in height. This was one sheet of flames bearing down on my side of the street. I ran down to my store, trying to unfasten the door, but the lock was so hot that in trying to unfasten same I scorched my fingers. I worked for what seemed to be an hour, but which in reality must have been from twenty to thirty seconds. Some of my men who had gotten there before me motioned to the show window. Then I noted that the plate glass was in splinters on the sidewalk. I climbed through this into the store.

We immediately started to work moving such machines as we had in the front of the store towards the back to get them away from the heat of the fire, thinking that perhaps our place might be saved. Later we packed all our books in a large basket, such as those used in a dry-goods store, taking them to the back of the store, awaiting the arrival of our express wagon, which we expected every minute. When all this was ready, I took a trip though the whole store for one last look. You can imagine my feelings on going to the second floor where my Phonograph salesroom was located, and seeing every Record standing on its shelf in perfect order, just as though there had been no earthquake at all. This was the greatest wonder to me of all—to think that the Pianos had been thrown down on their faces, and Records, which stood by the thousands on our shelves, had not been moved.

After locking all doors securely to keep out the draught, I went to the third floor, which we had just plastered and fixed up as a show-room for musical instruments. I was all alone in this trip, and feeling the great heat that came from the front of the store, shoved three or four pianos the whole length of the store. I then locked this floor, and went through the fourth and fifth floors in the same manner, locking the doors and windows securely, and then up to the roof. As soon as I got there I saw how hopeless was my chance of saving our building from the fire, which was then burning in front. It was consuming a building on either side of us, and as I stood there I saw the flames break through the roof, and attack our walls. When I turned around to go down the fire escape at the back of the building, I saw that the fire was also coming on the opposite side of the alley, on which the back entrance of our store faced . The fire was consuming a row of fame buildings, which had stood for years and years, and were now burning like so much paper. The fire was so hot that I decided it was better for us to get away.

The basket containing our books and papers we shoved from Mission street to our Penny Arcade, which was on Market street, and which we did not think for a moment was in any danger of fire. Aside from this all we saved was a small hand basket, also containing books. We placed implicit reliance upon a large safe that we had in our office, and which contained all of our valuable books and papers, and they were left just as they were. On Market street automobiles were going at the rate of forty or fifty miles an hour, carrying the wounded and the dead, so we had quite a task in getting indoors, which we finally succeeded in doing.

Near the Penny Arcade, where we were now quartered, there were great stacks of clothing; taken into the streets by the crazed owners. I was so overcome with my feelings that I sunk into an office chair, from which I could watch my place on Mission street, which seemed to be withstanding the fire at that time. A great many of my employees were around me, trying to say a cheering word. I watched the wholesale house burn; first the roof falling, then floor after floor.

The fire kept on coming, never stopping, reaching Market street, opposite the Arcade, until it got so hot that we had to move, carrying our books with us, which we were bound to save. It took about eight of my men to move this basket to the store of a friend of mine, about four blocks away, where we thought they would be in safety. We could not carry them any further if we wanted to, as we were all tired out. I have discovered a friend, who took a snap at us as we were shoving the basket up Market street, near Taylor street, three blocks away from our store, and am enclosing same. We could not stay to see whether the Arcade burned or not, as we were ordered off Market street by the militia, which had been called out, being put in charge of the city. The next day I learned that the Arcade burned about 11 o’clock that night. I did not hear for about two days later that my third place on Kearny street had also burned.

The same morning of the earthquake, while standing across the street from the fire, I saw a merchant of the city, who was sobbing as though he were in mortal agony. I was feeling pretty bad at the time, but could not help asking him what his troubles were. He said, “Don’t you see the fire right next to my store? I have $10,000 that I will lose if my store is burned.” I thought that I saw a chance for a store in a good location, and offered him $500 for the lease of his place just as it stood, and after much thinking and deliberation, he refused my offer. While we stood there fifteen minutes later his place was burning fiercely.

I then went home to my wife and children, whom I knew were worried about me, and in terror of more earthquakes. I could not stay very long, being restless, and went around town watching the city burn. For two days and two nights the fire ate its way gradually towards my home, but was finally stopped within six blocks of my residence. This was all that was spared me, with the exception of my son’s house, which is still standing. For this I am thankful.

The earthquake was on the 18th, and on the 20th, of the same month, and while the fire was still burning close to the store from which I am now writing, I secured this good location at a nominal cost for my Phonograph business. One week later I was offered three times what I am paying for rent, but I refused.

I am now engaged in the real estate business; have opened a market place two blocks from the main street of New ’Frisco, and am also interested in a restaurant, cigar stand, and last and most important of all—the Phonograph business. My store is now only 22 x 60 feet—very small in comparison with my old store, which was five stories high, with basement, all 25 x 165 feet. I have decided to use this store, which is centrally located, in which to retail talking machines of all the leading makes, and am putting up my own building on leased ground, two blocks from here, in which to conduct the business of jobbing Edison Phonographs, which has been my chief occupation for the last eight years.

I am fifty-one years old now, and it seems hard for me to start business anew, just as I did thirty-five years ago, but I am game, and intend to go to it now as I did then. I have taken into the firm my two sons, with the aid of whom I believe I will be able to do a better and larger business in talking machines than has ever been done in the West.

I wish to take this opportunity to thank all parties who have written me sympathizing with me, and especially to those from whom I have received help in a more substantial manner, and to those Dealers who have been so kind as to furnish me with statements of books, for, I have neglected to state, that every paper, book and record of any kind that I ever had was destroyed inside my safe.

Regardless of all those ordeals I AM GOING TO STICK WITH ’FRISCO.

Edison Phonograph Monthly
July 1906.

Return to the 1906 earthquake eyewitness accounts.