rejectomorph (flying_blind) wrote,

Rumble Rumble

When I lived in Los Angeles, I would sometimes visit the Wells Fargo History Museum which was located in the bank's spiffy, modern regional headquarters building at 5th and Flower downtown. It had only been open for a few years, as Wells Fargo had only recently begun an expansion into Southern California. The company had long operated a similar museum at its headquarters in San Francisco, but I'd never been to that one.

Their Los Angeles museum had fairly roomy quarters, exhibiting various artifacts of western Americana, mostly from the 19th and early 20th centuries, including an actual Wells Fargo Concord stagecoach. There were also many historic photographs and a small theatre in which an automated slide show was presented every half hour or so (depending on whether or not an audience had accumulated for it.) The place was never crowded when I was there, and it was a pleasant spot to linger, away from the noisy downtown streets.

Wells Fargo must have found its museums to be good public relations, as it now has them in a total of eight cities (with two museums in Sacramento), and additionally maintains displays of historic artifacts in the bank's main offices in eight other cities. Given the company's long standing devotion to western history, it is not surprising that they have set up the weblog Guided by History. It is currently running mostly entries about the San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906 and the cultural milieu of that time. It includes such things as period diary entries, letters and reminiscences by eyewitnesses to the event, photographs, and scans of ephemera such as an ad for the New York Metropolitan Opera Company's appearance at Mission Street's Grand Opera House which was in the midst of its season when the earthquake struck.

There are also interesting bits of information such as this, (from one of today's entries):
"1906 started off with an economic bang. On January 12, the Dow closed above 100 for the first time, and with affluence came signs that the country was on the cusp of modernity. While a broad middle class had not yet emerged, urban professionals were already well compensated. A mechanical engineer made $5000 a year—compare that with the average annual income per family, which was about $486. For $2,400, one could buy a three-bedroom home. And the must-have luxury home upgrade of the day? Forget the extra bathroom, homemakers preferred a sewing room!"
I've always been fascinated by those surprising little details about the past. And the San Francisco earthquake has long been one of my favorite (if the word can apply) disasters. It was one of those natural events which, like Katrina, stripped away a complacent society's illusions-- and set many people scrambling to create new ones. When I was growing up, the anniversary of the earthquake was always mentioned in the newspapers even in Los Angeles, and I would read the stories, which always contained reminiscences of the survivors who used to gather (in diminishing numbers each year) at Lotta's Fountain on Market Street to commemorate the event. Any survivors who now remain were infants at the time, so there will be no more firsthand memories to be shared. But the centenary of the earthquake will undoubtedly bring the re-publication of many of them, and Guided by History will be providing quite a few.

This is the LJ feed of Wells Fargo's history weblog: wf_guidedbyhist.

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