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FBG Project 063 - Appendix

Source: JDG-1

The Canadian Bank of Commerce and the Mutual Life Building

The Canadian Bank of Commerce was a longtime institution in San Francisco, having been there since the start of the Gold Rush as the Bank of British Columbia. In 1893 they moved into the first floor and basement of the new Mutual Life Insurance of New York Building… which had been their previous location before they sold the site to Mutual Life.

In the aftermath of the disaster, they did what many banks did and set up shop in streetcorner sheds, living rooms of wealthy partners and clients, and eventually in two modular buildings the company kept in reserve for new branches in the vast Canadian provinces. But as soon as their old quarters could be cleared and refitted, they returned to the Mutual Life Building, even as FBG crews were demolishing the upper six stories. Photos show a broad wooden canopy around the street sides of the building. Even protected from most mishaps, the occasional brick bouncing off the canopy must have startled more than one customer. Newspaper notices report their intent to remain in the building, just as Mutual Life would return to the reconstructed floors above.

From there it gets murky. CBoC bought some lots a few blocks away, at Sansome and Sacramento, and were at first mysterious about their purpose, or whether they had bought it for themselves or on behalf of of a customer. Later notices announce their intention to raise a 10-story building there and occupy its lower levels as owner-tenants, rather than just tenants as at Sansome and California. This they appear to have done… and possibly moved back to their old location when it was demolished and rebuilt as the Balfour Building in 1919.

All of which sounds straightforward, but there are contradictions of time and stated intention through the entire period… and despite it seeming like a good fit subject to some misinterpretation, FBG did not apparently build the new “Canadian [Bank of] Commerce Building” down the street. Unless further details are teased out of the record, we have to assume that Edna Yost confused the demolition of the Mutual Life Building and any reconstruction as two separate jobs, and for the returning tenant.

  • SF Chronicle, 28 Dec 1906:

  • SF Chronicle, 28 Dec 1906:

  • SF Call, 28 Mar 1908:

  • SF Examiner, 29 Mar 1908:

  • SF Call, 12 Apr 1908:

  • SF Chronicle, 18 Jan 1919:

  • SF Examiner, 17 Sep 1920:

The Vault Disaster That Wasn't

Though observation, wisdom or luck, the CBoC avoided a secondary disaster that struck a number of banks and financial firms in the aftermath of the disaster. Many firms opened their vaults as soon as the rubble had cooled, only to discover that the heavy vault shells and contents were still heated to high temperatures. Instead of just brittle paper, though, the heat and inrush of oxygen caused the contents to explode into flame, destroying millions of dollars' worth of currency, banknotes, securities and irreplaceable documents.

The CB0C waited until May 7th to open their fire-soaked vault… to find the papers inside intact, without so much as a scorch on the vault table blotters.

cboc1906.txt · Last modified: 2023/11/11 19:58 by