Anyone who has ever hired a contractor to do construction or renovation work can probably relate to the expression of concern on the face of the gentleman who is striding towards the camera in this photo. I’m guessing that Mr. Frank Stumm, owner and proprietor of Stumm’s Jewelry Store (626 First Street, currently Bookshop Benicia), has just inquired as to how much longer the job in progress (to his left) will take. I’m also guessing that the “brickie” (British slang term) laboring in the background replied something along the lines of “… how long is a piece of string?”
I pity Mr. Stumm, who must have been experiencing a very trying and expensive month—the great San Francisco earthquake occurred on April 18, 1906—and the photo was taken shortly afterwards. As well as building repairs, Stumm must have been required to replace a variety of fragile and expensive stock items and display cases. From a newspaper article written by Earl Bobbitt at the time, we know that the 5:12am quake brought down twenty chimneys in the Arsenal, and partially or wholly destroyed the Arsenal Gatehouse, the Western Creamery, the Kullman-Salz & Company Tannery, the Carquinez Packing Company, the Benicia Iron Works, most of the wharves along Benicia’s shoreline and several homes.
All told, damage to military, commercial and residential property was approximately $100,000 in 1906 dollars; thankfully, no lives were lost. We have other post-earthquake images of Benicia taken by John Molfino, whose glass plate negatives were gifted to the Museum, and are now available to view on the Museum’s website. Most of these black and white images simply show mounds of rubble in various shapes and sizes. Without any human figures in the foreground to lend a sense of scale and/or other identifying landmarks, it is difficult to differentiate one ruin from another. We know that it is just a matter of time before we experience the next “big one,” and when it comes, we will have the advantage of today’s cell phone camera capabilities to preserve for posterity the very moment and aftermath of yet another bump-and-grind event, courtesy of Mother Nature. We can only hope that there will be very little to record.