By JAMES DAVID MARTIN, director of the CIIS Communications Department
Panorama of San Francisco in ruins, May 28, 1906. Taken via kite photography from height of approximately 2,000 feet above San Francisco Bay overlooking the waterfront. The sun is setting over the Golden Gate. Photo by George R. Lawrence.
To set the scene in San Francisco prior to the construction of the Gantner & Mattern building at 1453 Mission Street, we have to begin with the earthquake and fire of 1906, which destroyed 80 percent the city. Although the official death toll was reported as 375, current estimates place the number of deaths at 3,000, with hundreds of casualties in Chinatown unrecorded and unreported. Anywhere from 220,000-300,000 people were left homeless out of a total population of 410,000.
The city began rebuilding almost immediately, but the economic effect on San Francisco and the rest of California was immediate. Prior to the quake San Francisco had grown to become the 9th largest city in the United States, and was not only the largest city on the west coast, but the economic and cultural center of the west. During rebuilding much of the trade, industry, and population shifted south to Los Angeles. The economic and cultural devastation thrust upon San Francisco at that time could be compared to the effect that Hurricane Katrina had on New Orleans. It was in this context that John Gantner and George Mattern set out to build their factory.
As I noted in my previous post, the building at 1453 Mission Street was designed with great concern for the safety and comfort of its workers. It was constructed from reinforced concrete, with a basement ceiling height of 11 feet, first floor ceiling height of 19 feet, and a ceiling beight of 13 feet all the rest of the floors. Currently at CIIS we don’t enjoy the full height of the original ceilings due to the drop ceilings that were added later to hide utilities. However, the plans for the new library on the second floor allow for the full ceiling height of 13 feet, and subsequent rennovations will take into consideration the original ceiling heights in an effort at restoration.
According to the original plans, raw materials used in the maufacturing of knit goods were sent via freight elevator to the 5th floor, where the knitting machines were housed. The 5th floor was the primary work space for employees and featured sawtooth skylights that allowed natural light to fill the factory floor and ensure a well-lit environment. The following photo is not of the 5th floor of the Mission Street building, but is included to present a picture of what the floor may have looked like and to show the type of circular knitting machines that were used at Gantner & Mattern.
From the 5th floor, knitted goods gradually worked their way down through a series of chutes; the garments becoming more finished as they went. The third floor, which is now home to the CIIS library, bookstore, café, and classrooms, was where goods were boxed for shipping. The second floor, currently home to academic offices, classrooms, and the site where the new library will be, was used for storage of finished goods. The first floor was used for storage of both raw materials and of finished goods. The sixth floor, or “sun room,” was a lunchroom and cafeteria where workers could buy meals at cost; there were plants, flowers, and benches outside the lunchroom so workers could be out in fresh air during the day. More than 90 years later, CIIS uses that same outdoor space as a Zen Garden.