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Sacramento: Museum for the State : Capitol and the City Are Full of Historic Sites, Tales

September 21, 1986|WILLIAM S. MURPHY | Murphy is a Times photographer.

SACRAMENTO — The telegram from the President was lying on the governor's desk, its message a brief query:

"Hear rumors of great disaster through an earthquake in San Francisco, but know nothing of the real facts. Call upon me for any assistance I can render."

The wire was signed Theodore Roosevelt and was delivered to California Gov. George Pardee five hours after an earthquake rocked San Francisco at 5:12 a.m. on April 18, 1906.

The office Pardee occupied then is one of seven rooms on the main floor of the rotunda in the Capitol that have been re-created to appear as they did at the turn of the century--part of a $68-million Capitol restoration project that was completed in 1982.

Attracted by the restorations and other historic memorabilia, thousands of visitors tour the Capitol and its grounds each year. They have their choice of several tours which are escorted by a staff of 27 guides and about 125 volunteers.

Other Re-Created Offices

In addition to the governor's three-room suite, other re-created offices in the State Capitol Museum are those of then-Secretary of State Charles F. Curry, the attorney general's office and two offices of the state treasurer--one as it would have looked in 1906, the other done in the style of the 1930s.

Capitol museum director David Vincent, 38, pointed to a map lying on the governor's desk. "This is San Francisco," he said. "As reports of the great earthquake and fire were phoned from Oakland, an aide would mark off the areas that had been destroyed. What we wanted to portray (in the restoration) was how the governor's office responded to the disaster."

In fact, according to Vincent, response was immediate and effective. The Legislature was called into session, and the governor left for San Francisco.

San Francisco was a city in chaos. Times readers learned of the magnitude of the quake as the first accounts were telegraphed from Oakland by the Associated Press:

"During six hours of mortal dread and nameless terror, San Francisco was today tossed upon the seismic wave of the most disastrous earthquake known to the history or traditions of America's West Coast. In the mad confusion and helpless horror of this night uncounted bodies of dead men and women are lying in morgues and under uplifted walls. . . . Fire and flame have added to the destruction, the ruination and despair. The material losses are beyond computation. Wounded and hurt inexpressibly, the chief city of the West lies at this hour humbled to the dust, blackened, battered and charred, her glory of yesterday but a hideous dream, and the moans from her stricken heart filling the pitying world. . . ."

In a brief telegram back to an assemblyman in Sacramento, Pardee declared: "San Francisco needs help."

Aid Comes Quickly

The Army emptied its storage facilities of food, tents, blankets, medical supplies and even hay for horses. Hundreds of tons of relief supplies were sent from cities throughout the nation, and long lines of Southern Pacific freight cars filled with donated food, clothing, bedding and other goods formed a procession of trains leaving Los Angeles daily for the northern city.

On April 22, the governor commented to a reporter from the Oakland Tribune: "The nation and the world is taking a great interest in our welfare and is showing material and financial aid. . . . The work of rebuilding San Francisco has commenced and I expect to see the great metropolis replaced on a much grander scale than ever before."

Vincent opened a door leading to a restored office once occupied by the state's treasurer. The ornate safe so popular with visitors "was used to store the taxes that were collected, and they were in gold coin," he said. "The standard denomination used was the $20 double eagle . . . generaly delivered in sacks which held $20,000 worth. One weighed 73 pounds. You see movies where highwaymen hold up stages or trains and go riding off carrying these bags. Why you couldn't get one of them on a horse."

While the emphasis on Capitol tours is on the building itself, there is one room with exhibits that cover California's history. Secretary of State March Fong Eu, who in addition to her other duties is responsible for the state's archives, changing various historical documents in the display cases. Other material on view is on loan from the State Library.

Visitors to the Capitol usually look up other historic sites in Sacramento, a city which represents a kind of a museum-at-large of California history dating back to the Mexican period. For example, Ft. John Sutter, constructed in 1839, was a welcome sight to weary American emigrants who had struggled to bring their wagons across the Sierra. Reconstructed at 27th and L streets, it's a popular attraction for many tourists.

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