rejectomorph (flying_blind) wrote,

Rumble, Rumble.

The Sacramento PBS affiliate is showing the 1936 movie San Francisco. The one with Jeanette McDonald and Clark Gable. I saw it in a theatrical re-release when I was about six years old, and was greatly impressed. I had earthquake nightmares for quite a while after that. The special effects were remarkably good for the time. I can't say the same for the plot, though, which was pure sentimental melodrama. I've heard that someone is planning to do a remake, possibly in time for the 100th anniversary of the earthquake, in 2006. But the reason the movie is being shown today is because this is the 97th anniversary. It was at twelve minutes past five in the morning that the earthquake rumbled trough the state, setting off the fires which would, over the following three days, reduce three fifths of the largest city in the west to smoking rubble. On that afternoon 97 years ago, one might have been able to stand on one of the lower ridges hereabouts and seen the plume of smoke from the burning city, which lies about 135 miles south-southwest of Paradise.

This afternoon, I had occasion to visit the west side of town, and went out on one of the ridges above Butte Creek Canyon. The day was hazy, but I could still make out the outline of Sutter Buttes, and the long, rumpled blue line of the Coast Range across the valley. I pictured roughly where the column of smoke might have risen, and what it might have looked like. All around me were new houses, many of them impressive enough to have been among those which went up in flames in the city's better neighborhoods on those warm spring days now gone from almost every living memory. The new houses here are in styles reminiscent of those popular in the early 20th century, too. Just as the styles have come around again, someday the earthquake will come around again. I might yet get the chance to watch San Francisco drift across the valley in the form of a cloud of smoke.

I was quite surprised at the size of many of the houses that have been built recently on that side of town, and how many of them there are. The new construction in my neighborhood has been more modest both in scale and amount, even though a few of the houses here would fit into the costlier neighborhoods of southern California or the Bay Area. But several of those above Butte Creek Canyon verge on the monumental. One large Mediterranean villa with red tile roof, an acre or so of gardens surrounded by stone and iron fencing which would probably cost as much as my entire house, and which occupies a large hillside lot at the end of a narrow ridge, would not be out of place in the priciest faubourg of Beverly Hills. To my astonishment, this house, and a few of the others, actually have mature palm trees on their grounds. It must be costly to maintain those trees at this elevation. Palms manage to survive on the valley floor, but the winter climate of Paradise is more like that of inland Oregon than it is like the borderline-subtropical climate of Chico. It was quite disorienting to see this southerly landscape and its Hollywood fantasy house amid the digger pines and manzanita of the northern Sierra ridges.

Well, it's about time for me to go and watch older Hollywood's version of Victorian San Francisco crumble to dust. (It's the only part of the movie I ever watch anymore.) Oh, I love a good movie disaster!

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