Life in the Roaring Twenties

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Why does the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 mark a turning point in the city’s history?

The San Francisco earthquake of 1906 was a turning point for the city because it created an opportunity for massive cultural and infrastructure growth. There was a large uptick in immigration from China following the disaster, revitalizing Chinese-American culture and Chinatown. New infrastructure was built with stricter safety codes and included many modern additions.

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The 1906 San Francisco earthquake and the fires that followed were some of the greatest disasters in American history and they forever changed that city. As soon as the dust settled, plans to rebuild San Francisco got underway. Developers and residents were determined to rebuild the city better and grander than it had been before. This required a large amount of investment from out of state. A condition of many investors was stricter building codes to help prevent a repeat of the disaster. Ever since, San Francisco has had some of the strictest building safety codes in the country.

The earthquake even allowed San Francisco to become more diverse. The destruction of city hall and most of the municipal records allowed Chinese residents to claim citizenship as there was no longer proof that they were not citizens. This allowed many to circumvent the Chinese Exclusion Act and bring over their family members from China. Chinatown was rebuilt with stronger and more substantial buildings than before. It has since become one of the major and most emblematic neighborhoods of the city.

In the years immediately following the disaster, San Francisco reinvented itself as a modern American city. What had before been a city associated with pioneers and prospectors became a cosmopolitan, modern city of development. It was the first place in the western United States to have an underground subway and multiple steel-framed skyscrapers. When it hosted the 1915 Panamanian-Pacific International Exposition, San Francisco was lauded as a city rebuilt from the ashes.

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