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