Part III - Deutches and the Anniversary of the SFO Earthquake

Posted on Saturday, April 17, 2010

Here is a much delayed Part III of our story. Did I mention that I'm embroiled in a student teaching field experience? I'll catch you up with all that one of these days. In the meantime, here is, finally, the continuation of our story...

What sort of mother was Elizabeth McMahon Deutch? I wish I knew. Unfortunately, after the passage of a century, very few clues remain about their day-to-day family life in San Francisco. I can tell you with a fair amount of confidence that Liza was probably a bit of a stage mother. We have a brief blurb from a turn-of-the-century San Francisco newspaper that mentions the Eddy and Claire Deutch would be dancing the Parish of St. Brendan’s on an upcoming afternoon in 1904. Edward would have been 12 that year and Claire eight. I imagine little sister Thelma at age six, sitting in the audience as the emotions of pride and envy duel in her imagination. Thelma and Claire were particularly close, and Thelma must have wished it had been she herself on the stage with her beloved sister rather than Eddy. But Thelma’s day would come.

There is another record of the Deutch family from this period that bears looking at. It is a voter registration record for Isaac from 1907 (women hadn’t yet attained the right to vote, so no such records for Liza). Although he declined to declare a party affiliation at that time (later records indicate he would become a staunch Republican), his address was included on the document: 1223 ½ Geary Street.

JoJo (who reads here, Hi JoJo!), already spotted the significance of these two unrelated crumbs of information about the Deutch family—that they were in the heart of San Francisco during the great earthquake and fire of 1906. The earthquake struck on Wednesday, April 18, at about 5:00 in the morning as most of San Francisco’s citizens lay sleeping in their beds. It was estimated at a 7.9 on the Richter scale. Thousands of people died, many in the earthquake and even more in the ensuing fires. Although we have no way of knowing what the Deutches’ specific experience was, the entire family survived intact. Perhaps even more surprisingly, their home was not damaged beyond repair. They continued to live there for several more years. And that means that son Edward’s little spelling book probably rode out the earthquake at the Geary Street address as well—a fact that makes me feel slightly more justified in trying to save it and return it to the family.

By 1916, Edward was in his twenties and had evidently joined his father in business. Edward’s first reported occupation was “liquor dealer,” while his father Isaac continued to report his own job as “saloon keeper.”

But then 1920 arrived, and with it Prohibition. Isaac must have been in a panic. Then in his late sixties, lost the only job he had ever known. Or did he? In 1920 he told the census-taker that he worked as a bookkeeper—a word that bears a bit of a similarity to “bootlegger,” don’t you think? Coincidence? He certainly wouldn’t be the only saloon owner to go underground during Prohibition. Realistically, how many options would he have had in launching a new career at his age? All we know for sure is that he ultimately did not survive Prohibition. The last record we have from him is from 1922. After that, he drops off the records. It’s probable that he died shortly thereafter.

Elizabeth lived many more years as a widow, still on Geary Street, although their address had changed back in 1911 to “1263 Geary Street.” Either the family had moved, or perhaps the city simply changed the street numbering system. Either way, the new address would be associated with the Deutch family for many years to come.