Lotta’s Fountain

Lotta's Fountain, SF

Lotta’s Fountain, SF

A 24-foot-high (7m) cast-iron sculpture sits solidly on a pedestrian island at a very busy intersection in San Francisco’s Financial District.


Every day thousands of San Franciscans rush past it. When I worked downtown I did too.


SF Mayor Ed Lee second from right

Lotta’s Ftn, SF Mayor Ed Lee second from right, 2014

But as the oldest surviving monument and meeting place for the 1906 earthquake survivors, Lotta’s Fountain is also appropriately honored. Not only is it Designated Landmark #73 and a National Historic Place, it is spiffed up and encircled with singing residents and politicians every April 18.


During the Gold Rush days of the 1850s, when San Francisco began its first growth spurt and law and order was not yet established, miners and other new arrivals to the city were a bawdy bunch.


Lotta Crabtree, for whom the fountain is named, gave this monument to San Francisco. It was 1875 and she was a famous vaudeville performer. With drunken miners throwing gold nuggets at her dancing feet, she had come upon a surplus of income.


As a gesture of thanks for the city that began her success, she gave this monument to the city.


Lotta's Ftn. detail

Lotta’s Ftn. detail

Years later, it not only survived the 1906 earthquake, but it became a meeting place for earthquake-devastated survivors to congregate. Soon thereafter residents met at the towering fountain every year, on the anniversary of the big earthquake.


They sang, and still sing, of the miraculous survival and spirit of its residents, in spite of the crushing loss of 3,000 people and 80% of the city.


Although I lived in San Francisco for 13 years, I never attended this celebration, chiefly because it occurs at 5 in the morning. Living in San Francisco, for many of us, has meant working long, hard hours to afford rent. So a 5 a.m. event before work was just never on my radar.


But in researching for my novel, I visited the celebration. And it was really fun. I wrote more about it in a previous post, Celebrating Survival in San Francisco. 


1906 EQ ceremony at Lotta's Fountain, 2014

1906 EQ ceremony at Lotta’s Fountain, 2014. Some celebrants attend in period costumes.

Read more about the fountain here.


There have also been numerous performances at Lotta’s Fountain; most notably Luisa Tetrazzini’s Christmas Eve concert in 1910.

Tetrazzini concert, 1910. Lotta’s Ftn. upper far left. Courtesy San Francisco Performing Arts

A legendary Italian opera soprano, Ms. Tetrazini sang her heart out to a wildly appreciative crowd of 250,000 people packing that same street corner…over a century ago.


We live busy lives and quickly scuttle past sculptures, memorials, and plaques every day. Stopping, in fact, can create a sidewalk hazard.


But when something in our periphery causes us to come out of our head and look up, it’s quite amazing what we can find.


Photo credit: Athena Alexander

Golden Gate GraveyardMy new book available today. Click here to purchase.




47 thoughts on “Lotta’s Fountain

  1. Mrs. Eliot, is there anyway to purchase an actual hard copy or paperback of your book? I don’t want the kindle version. Yes growing up I used to wonder about the various fountains around the city. Then when I became a tour guide, I was like “oooohhhh wow”

  2. I remember that post Jet. It warms my heart to think of the monument surviving and giving a sense of something solid for the survivors as they gathered. I agree that often we rush by statues and don’t take the time to think about what they mean now and in their history.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Sue. We all lead busy lives and the world is a swirl of activity and stimulation. But the statues are great reminders that the world is, and always has been, full of accomplished people and important events. Just like your little friends the bakers. My best to you and Dave for a wonderful weekend~~

    • I sure think it’s a fun bit of history, Sherry, and I am really glad you do, too. I don’t think there are that many sculptures in the world where people gather and sing around them every single year for nearly 150 years, add to that cold April and pre-dawn on a busy city street…and it’s unique. I much appreciate your ongoing interest, my friend~~

  3. This is truly fascinating. The book I am reading at present is about the gold rush in New Zealand at around the same time….and so I can well imagine this woman suddenly accruing real wealth from gold, deciding to gift a monument like this. When I next visit San Francisco., I will make a b line for it….and hope to lear more in your book. Thank you, Jet and have a lovely weekend…janet:)

    • It’s a really sweet celebration every April 18, too, Janet. It’s mellow and humble, with grown adults dressed up in costume, and that piercing siren that goes off at 5:12am, the time of the 1906 earthquake. I really appreciate, as always, your close reading and imaginative mind, and your spirit that embraces humans, including me, with such warmth.

  4. You never cease to amaze me with the vast and varied bits of history that you share with us! What a delight! And it seems as if I just saw some of these lovely photos somewhere…. 😉

  5. What a great landmark! Loved reading about the spirit residents of SF have when it comes to marking big events. The dressing up and singing is a wonderful tribute, and to do so at 5am is remarkable. Great attitude!
    Thanks for another informative piece, and have an enjoyable weekend! (Picking up GGG tomorrow from the UPS store!)

    • I am really happy you enjoyed the post on Lotta’s Ftn, pc. When you pick up your copy of GGG tomorrow, you will eventually find the scene that takes place at Lotta’s Fountain. Enjoy, my friend. It thrills me that you will be reading GGG soon. Many thanks for your great visit today, and you, too, have an enjoyable weekend.

  6. Interesting points of San Francisco’s history. Aside from being one of the most beautiful cities in our Country. Thanks my friend for the great post! 🙂

    • And I have more coming next week, too. I’m really glad you are enjoying them, Gunta — I sure had fun researching and writing them. As always, thank you for your spirited visit~~

    • This sculpture is unique because it is in the middle of Market Street traffic. There have been attempts to move it to Golden Gate Park in the past, and it has been moved slightly since it was originally erected. The best time to view it is at 5 in the morning on April 18 when it’s the center of attention and that side of Market is closed. But both your eyes might be shut at that hour, not good for viewing. lol. Always a pleasure, David, to receive your visit here.

    • It’s a unique sculpture, Lola, I hope you do get to see it. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. And likewise, I hope to see the Crown Fountain in Chicago one day. So much to see in this world! Many thanks~~

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