On anniversary of 1906 San Francisco quake, desire for new memorial grows

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Over 100 years ago today, San Francisco was left reeling after a 7.9 magnitude earthquake shook the city during the early morning hours, sparking fires and causing violent aftershocks.

People gathered at dawn Tuesday morning at Lotta's Fountain on Market Street to remember the devastation the quake left behind and the city's ability to rise from the ashes. The event included sirens and a moment of silence to mark the 111th anniversary of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire.

Over 3,000 people died during the quake and the resulting fire. All of the survivors from that fateful day have passed on.

Officials now want to create a proper memorial for the quake and those who perished in the fires and collapsed buildings.

"The reason we are here is to remember all those who died but also to honor those who survived and rebuilt this city," said Bob Sarlatte, who presided over the festivities.

For some attendees, the event serves as a reminder to be prepared for the inevitable next big quake.

"I pray for all the people in the hope that we never have another earthquake," said Flora Ballard, an attendee at the 5:15 a.m. ceremony. "But you know there is gonna be another earthquake one of these years and we have to be prepared for it."

Part of that preparation is erecting a suitable memorial for the quake victims.

The San Francisco History Association and Joseph Amster, who guides city's historic tour while dressed as San Francisco Emperor Norton, said Lotta's Fountain does not do justice to the memory of the quake victims who lost their lives.

"It's just shocking to me that all those people died (and) all that devastation and we don't have a designated memorial," Amster said.

The history association says it wants to erect a fitting memorial for future generations to come.

"It's going to be 6-feet wide, 4-feet tall (and) made of bronze," Amster said. "It's gonna have a map of the fire zone, a description of what happened that day so that people can come to a better understanding of devastation and also photographs of the devastation."

"If you don't remember where you came from, you can't appreciate where you're going and that's a significant part of why we come out every April 18 at these ungodly earthly hours," Diana Martin Vyberg, a descendent of an earthquake survivor, said.

Officials say it would cost $22,000 to build the memorial that organizers envision and $6,000 of that has already been raised.  >>>>>To donate to the effort: Click here

Said Amster: "Our goal is to unveil the plaque one year from today at next year's earthquake commemoration." 

The festivities during the ceremony include Mayor Lee laying a wreath for earthquake victims, and giving a fresh coat of gold paint to a fire hydrant, which was the only working hydrant and is credited to saving an historic neighborhood in the Mission District.

Watch historic footage of the 1906 quake 

View the aftermath of the quake here

Watch previous interviews of survivors of the quake and fire share their memories of the tragedy

KTVU reporter Tom Vacar and KTVU.com producer Leslie Dyste contributed to this report.