Monday, September 5, 2011

Following the Footsteps of My Great Grandparents, 1906-1916

I visited San Francisco last week and took a couple of hours to seek out the homes of my great grandparents George and Fredrikka (Herstad) Allen. They were married shortly after the Great Earthquake of 1906, which took place in the early morning hours of April 18. Since George had just arrived at port on the S.S. Sierra a month earlier, I don't know how long they knew each other. He was a crew member and had been in San Francisco off and on since 1903, so it is possible that they had met before, but they were, apparently, not contemplating marriage. George always said that the earthquake "shook them together."  Fredrikka was already 35 years old and well on her way to being a spinster when they married on June 28, 1906.  I guess I have that devastating earthquake to thank for my existence!

George and "Dikka" Allen, wedding photo June 28, 1906

Their 1906 marriage license lists both of their residences as 595 Fell Street, so I started there.

I don't know if they were living together in this apartment building after the quake or if they listed this address because they intended to live together there after their marriage. I have been told that during the quake, George was sleeping in his bed and a very large picture fell off the wall just barely missing hitting him. He then got his things together and immediately went to Dikka's home to check on her. This is, most likely, that place and it, apparently, survived the quake.

For their next addresses, I scoured the San Francisco City Directories from 1906-1919. In 1907 and 1908, George (and, presumably, Fredrikka) are listed at 114 Divisadero Street.

Now, this address is an apartment tucked under the stairs. In 1907, it might have been a larger part of the house or, possibly, all of it.

My grandmother's sister Flora was probably born in this home in February 1908.

The city directories for 1909-1911 as well as the 1910 Federal Census show the growing family living at 230 Valley Street. That means that my grandmother Wanda was born in this home in December 1909.

The house next door has a plaque on it stating that it was built in 1884. The owner told me that this house was subdivided at some point, but has been restored back to its original condition in recent years. This information tells me that the Allens inhabited this entire home. Isn't it homey? When they walked out their front door, they encountered quite a site.

Saint Paul's Catholic Church, located on the corner of Church and Valley Streets, was first the site of a mission in 1876 and construction started on this tremendous building in 1897. Their site says it wasn't officially dedicated until 1911 when the Allens were living there. Funny, since they weren't religious at all. I wonder what they thought of it.

In 1912 and 1913, the Allens do not appear in the SF city directories at all. I know that George was transferred to Salt Lake City at some point in his career to oversee some stores that weren't doing well, so that may be when they moved. If so, that solves the question of when this photo was taken of George. However, that means that he would have been about 32 in it and he looks a bit older than that to me.

Taken in Salt Lake City, UT, c.1912?

In 1914 and through 1915, the Allens reappeared in San Francisco at this beautiful home at 635 Castro Street. It was strange, when I was walking down the street, oblivious to the addresses, I immediately knew that this was their house.

George was, obviously, doing well at his job with the United Cigar Stores and, as a result, "moving up in the world".

You can probably see from the photos that there are multiple doors on this residence. Undoubtedly, it has been subdivided in more recent years. The Allens, most likely, inhabited the whole house. I would need to check the historic property records to confirm this.

Judging from this detail work, someone has lovingly restored this historic home. It is impossible to know if it looked like this in 1914 when the Allens lived here, but I sure hope so!

This photo may have been taken there.

In 1916, the Allens again disappear from the San Francisco city directories. Luckily, I have George's World War 1 draft record, which lists the Allens residence as 663 Fairview Street, Oakland on September 12, 1918. (I didn't have a chance to visit that residence on this trip, but will likely do so next time I am in the Bay Area.) His draft card also confirmed that by 1918, he was the District Sales Manager for his company. In the early city directories and 1910 Federal Census he was listed as simply a clerk. I also notice that he listed the address of his work as 555 Howard Street, San Francisco (another one to add to my list for next time), so he must have been traveling from Oakland to San Francisco daily. Although I know that he loved to walk long distances, that would be too far even for him, so perhaps he had a gotten a car by then.

By the 1920 Federal Census, the young family had moved to Seattle, Washington, leaving the beautiful city by the bay behind.

I've often visited San Francisco, even working there for weeks at a time on a couple of occasions. I have always loved the city, but hadn't really considered my personal connection to it. It was fun this trip to have an excuse to explore the residential neighborhoods, discovering historic buildings and comfy cafes that we wouldn't have thought to seek out if not for following the footsteps of George and Fredrikka. Visiting the homes of my great grandparents made me feel more connected to this historic city than I ever had before and made me realize, one more time, how so many events, places and people make up the road to our existence.


  1. Sounds like a great trip and you are lucky so many of the buildings are still there and looking good!

  2. Coincidentally, Jim Grandy was in San Francisco during THE earthquake, also.