15 January 2010

Renewal after Destruction: San Francisco and Lisbon


The tragic disaster in Port-au-Prince, the courage of the Haitian people and the compassion of the world recalls past earthquakes. The San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 is remembered as one of the worse disasters in our countries history. Although reliable counts of fatalities do not exist the destruction of the 8.5 quake and subsequent fire are well documented in photos and film. Much of the “Gateway to the Pacific” had been destroyed but the city was quickly rebuilt in time for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915. The fair showcased San Francisco’s triumph over adversity. The Palace of Fine Arts remains in the marina as a reminder of the event. As painted by American Colin Campbell Cooper, Jr. (1856 -1937) the building designed by Bernard Ralph Maybeck (1862 – 1957) evokes classical architecture. Lisbon, Portugal similar to San Francisco in geography and climate suffered what is estimated to have been a magnitude 9 earthquake in 1755. Tsunami and fires followed that led to near total destruction. The tragedy changed not only the landscape but also the European psyche. Voltaire (1694 –1778), wrote Candide and his Poème sur le désastre de Lisbonne in response to the event. Prime Minister Sebastião de Melo rebuilt the city in Pombaline style that was one of the first examples of earthquake-resistant construction. The Carmo Convent, a Gothic church was not rebuilt and stands today as a beautiful scar against the sky.

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