STILL FLYING AND NAILED TO THE MAST
Chapter Five: Early To Bed And Early To Rise
Historical remnants leave much to be guessed about the Fireman's Fund in that thirty-odd-year period between the conflagrations of the seventies and the fire of 1906. But enough survived on paper and in the memories of those whose lives were part of the Company to form a rich, if slightly irreverent, potpourri which the generous might call corporate biography.
It is known in certain underwriting circles that the Fireman's Fund and the kingdom, the territory, and now the state of Hawaii have carried on an affair for more years than anyone living can recall. It began in 1872 when the Company hired Tom Grant, who was at liberty after the Chicago fire had closed the doors of the then mighty, long-forgotten Pacific Insurance Company. Grant wrote to Bishop & Company of Honolulu, the Pacific's old agency, to see if they would agree to represent the Fireman's Fund. They did, and the two companies have worked together since.
Charles R. Bishop enjoyed a longer, richer life than is given to most. In 1846, at the age of twenty-four, Bishop sailed from Massachusetts round the Horn bound for Oregon. Two years before, the Democrats had elected James Polk with the rallying cry "Fifty-four forty, or fight!" Oregon was destined to become part of the Union, but this wasn't certain when young Bishop left home. It might make quite a story had Bishop taken part in the winning of the Northwest, but it wouldn't be part of this book. He never got there. Tired after a rough voyage, he laid over in Honolulu and the beauty of the islands held him. Bishop was to spend the next forty-eight years in Hawaii building a great banking company and serving as adviser to five Hawaiian kings.
In 1850, he married the striking twenty-year-old Princess Bernice Pauahi Paki, a descendant of Kamehameha I. In 1872, following the death of Kamehameha V, the Princess was offered the throne, but she declined, thereby ending the fabled dynasty. She died in 1884, and in her memory Bishop founded the internationally known Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum.
Back in 1876, William Dutton, then almost thirty, took his first trip to the islands. His health was poor when he left, and by the time the eighteen-day voyage ended he was almost dead from seasickness. A few days after he arrived he regained his shore legs and was presented with a horse and a letter of introduction from the house of Bishop & Company.
"I was down there," he recalled, "for three or four months, and during that whole time I never had a chance to spend a cent except for the dimes and quarters that I paid the natives for holding my horse. Everywhere I went I presented a letter from Bishop & Company, and I had entree to everything..."
Although he spent most of his time developing marine business for the Fireman's Fund, he found time to make the first fire insurance map of Honolulu and form the first board of fire underwriters. His map was later adopted by the Sanborn Map Company. The Sanborn maps, incidentally, were to fire underwriters what the Bible is to the clergy.
While he was gone, two of the newer men in the home office, William Sexton and E. W. Carpenter, were working on a brand-new idea. A man in Stockton had been insuring fields of standing grain against fire by endorsing standard dwelling policies. The Fireman's Fund men, undaunted by the fact that they had nothing to go on but common sense and familiarity with the rancher and his problems, designed a special form and rate tables that would enable all their agents to write standing grain insurance.
California in those days was one of the world's breadbaskets. Irrigation and diversified farming were almost unknown in the vast and rich Central Valley: wheat needed only the spring rain and the hot summer sun. Staples could look back to the time when he was the first granger of the San Joaquin. Now hundreds of thousands of acres were yielding the golden harvest.
The agents and farmers welcomed the new policy, and the Fireman's Fund made money. Before long, agents of the Hartford dropped into the office to discuss the policy and mentioned that they were planning essentially to copy it. Carpenter made the mistake of suggesting, after they left, that the Company might enforce the copyright to make it as difficult as possible for others to get into the field. Staples didn't even pause before replying:
"Well, do you suppose to hold a copyright on the right to insure growing grain? Why, you will have a row with every other underwriter on the street if you try to grab that business. Send them over a policy and give them all the information you can. If we can't get along living on a par with our fellows, we had better give up shop."
William Sexton, or "Uncle Bill," as he was known in later years, was another redoubtable man of the Fireman's Fund. A Nova Scotian by birth, he sailed from New England and arrived in San Francisco in 1852. After mining for several years, Sexton got into politics in the Gold Country and was eventually elected to the legislature. It was there he became friendly with George Dornin.
When Dornin became secretary of the Fireman's Fund, he looked around for someone who could take his place in the field. He remembered Bill Sexton, who was by that time chief of police in San Jose, and hired him in spite of the fact that he knew little about insurance. Sexton was to become dean of West Coast loss adjusters. Uncle Bill had a dry sense of humor and fortunately much of both his wit and keen business sense was preserved in copies of his speeches and in the Fireman's Fund Record, the oldest fire insurance company magazine in the world. For instance, on the subject of fire insurance he said:
"The old saw 'If foresight were as good as back-sight we would know a great sight' is more apt than applicable... In the Loss Department we are somewhat like the Irish pilot who told the Captain that he knew every rock on the Coast of Ireland, and when the ship struck a rock, said, 'That is one of them.' We know the bad risks and when a loss comes in, can say, that is one of them; we have plenty of backsight."
When Dutton was an old man he remembered him this way, "Bill Sexton was Bill Sexton, and there wasn't any two of them."
Shortly after the Company raised its capital to $750,000 in 1880, came a blow that was long remembered. A British company, the Lion, came to Dornin and offered him the position of West Coast manager. He refused, but they increased the salary offer to twice what he made with the Fireman's Fund. He said he couldn't do it alone and that the only man he knew qualified to do the field work was Uncle Bill Sexton. The Lion was happy to take Sexton too.
Dornin regretfully went to Staples with the news, but Staples, even though he knew it meant trouble for the Fireman's Fund, wished both men well. Only a fool would have turned down the Lion's offer.
As the editor of the Record said years later, "We met a Lion on the path - the Lion roared (and a mighty handsome roar it was, too, full of the rattle of crisp Bank of England notes, with solid silver back and corners and a gold contingent clasp) and we reluctantly but gracefully surrendered Secretary Dornin and Special Agent Sexton..."
Staples moved quickly. He called a meeting of the directors and wired Dutton, who was vacationing with his family on the Russian River:
"Come down immediately by first conveyance. Very important. Staples."
Dutton caught the morning train. Before the week was over, Dutton had been elected secretary, and E. W. Carpenter, assistant secretary. It was their job to get on the road and become acquainted with the hundreds of agents established by Dornin up and down the coast. It was a big task and an exhausting one, but they did it well if one can judge by underwriting results for 1881: fire premiums, $602,000; fire losses, $250,000.
Dornin and Sexton weren't the only ones to leave. It started in 1875 when Tom and George Grant were lost to the North British. In 1885 E. W. Carpenter left to take charge of the Royal's Pacific Coast business. As the Record said, losing him was like "taking off a leg."
In 1888, Nathaniel James, who had been appointed marine secretary when Dutton took Dornin's place, was elected president of the Union Insurance Company. Finally, in 1891, a newly appointed assistant secretary by the name of George Tyson was taken by the German-American. With this, the Record noted:
"The Fireman's Fund had been so often called upon to sustain a sacrifice of this kind that it has become a byword that the road to a Pacific Coast management leads through the Fireman's Fund office... For the benefit of future aspirants for Fireman's Fund talent we beg to state that we have cornered the market and established a compact price with a heavy penalty for deviation, twenty thousand a year and all the profits."
Of all the men drafted from the Fireman's Fund ranks only one came back, and that was Uncle Bill. He was made chief adjuster in 1895 and served with distinction until 1914 when he retired at the age of eighty-two.
Business east of the Rockies expanded so well under Chard that Staples decided in 1885 to divide the territory. It so happened that the directors of the Shoe and Leather Insurance Company of Boston had, in the face of severe marine losses, decided to retire from the business. This left their newly hired vice -president, Charles Wetmore Kellogg, looking for work. Dutton liked what he saw in the man, so much, in fact, that he hired him even though Kellogg refused to move to New York. It would be Boston or nothing. Boston it was, and until 1956 it remained as Eastern fire underwriting headquarters for the Fireman's Fund.
From the time of the Chicago fire the Fireman's Fund was far and away the leading California company. Then in 1885, a group of the wealthiest men in town, including Comstock millionaires John W. Mackay and James C. Flood (son of a Fireman's Fund founder), James Ben Ali Haggin of Wells, Fargo, and Louis Sloss of the Alaska Commercial Company, put together $2,000,000 to capitalize the Anglo-Nevada Assurance Company.
In 1890, after two years of extraordinary losses, the Anglo-Nevada directors decided there were quicker and easier ways to make a profit. They reinsured their fire business in a pair of English companies, and their marine business with the Fireman's Fund. After looking over the book of marine business, Dutton decided that the Company would be wise to hire the Anglo-Nevada's twenty-eight-year-old marine secretary. In November 1890, Jacob Bertha Levison became marine secretary of the Fireman's Fund. With fourteen years' experience behind him, he was to add fifty-seven more in the service of the Fireman's Fund and in so doing carve one of the most distinguished careers in the history of American insurance.
Levison recorded his feelings in a letter to Charles Mather, a settling agent in Philadelphia:
"As far as I am concerned, the retirement of the Anglo has been a severe disappointment to me... and the whole thing was brought about by what might be termed a very unfortunate chain of circumstances. At the same time, now that it is all over I have really nothing to regret, as it has resulted in my becoming associated with the 'boss' Company of the Coast, and in addition has given me the opportunity to go deeper into the mysteries and difficulties of marine under-writing under the supervision and by the side of Mr. Dutton, who, in my opinion, and as you no doubt know, stands in the front rank of marine underwriters of this country."
In the same year, the Company suffered an unexpected loss when Vice-President Alpheus Bull fell off an embankment at the Presidio and drowned in the ocean below. Bull had made a fortune in the Comstock Lode, but unlike his fellow millionaires in the Anglo-Nevada, his investment outlook was conservative. He held a great deal of Fireman's Fund stock and had supported Staples vigorously in his effort to keep the Company afloat after the Chicago fire. Although his position was largely an honorary one, Bull kept an office at 401 California Street through the eighteen years he served.
Staples, who was sixty-six that year, had been having trouble with his health and was forced to lean on the younger men. William Dutton became the Company's first working vice-president, and Bernard Faymonville, who had come in to help fill the vacuum left by Dornin and Sexton nine years earlier, was elected secretary.
For more than forty years, 401 California Street was the scene of an annual celebration long remembered by the "Street," as the insurance community calls itself. May 3 was the date for the yearly election of directors, but that was more or less a formality. On that day the huge Fireman's Fund flag was run up the mast to announce open house for all the Company's friends.
President Staples personally greeted all the visitors. Caterers supervised an elaborate board - cold turkey, ham, chicken salad, smoked tongue, spiced fruits, cheeses, pickles, and much more. The janitors dressed up and spent the day serving champagne. If you preferred claret or cider or lemonade, it was there, and if you hankered for something stronger, Staples was happy to share the bottle of whiskey he kept in his desk.
When the last visitor left and the front doors were closed, the young clerks were ushered in to help themselves to the leftovers. What they couldn't eat they took home. The Company's venerable treasurer, Franklin Wells Lougee, presided over the cigar box. Each young man was entitled to one of the fine Havanas, but this didn't prevent him from trying to get two. On the second time around Lougee would say:
"Haven't I seen you at this box before?"
"Oh, no, sir."
"Well, then have another."
There are other memories, just as innocent, that have been carried through the years by yesterday's youngsters. The Christmas bonus, for instance. Every employee, regardless of rank, received $25 if single, $50 if married. That may not sound like much today, but there was a time when salaries began at $15 or $20 a month.
Once a year all hands had to work over in the evening to get the books in order for the annual report. This extra labor was rewarded with a fifty-cent allowance for dinner. Far from being inadequate, the half dollar was considered extra income. If you were really hungry you could run down to Coppa's in the Montgomery Block and - well, this is how Mary Austin described it in 1904:
"Such heaping platefuls of fresh shrimp for appetizers! Such abalone chowder, such savory and melting sand dabs, salads so crisp, vegetables in such pro fusion, and pies so deep and flaky. Such red wine, fruity, sharp and warming! And all for thirty-five cents."
The nineties were wonderful years for the Fireman's Fund. To be sure, there was another numbing depression which made the decade anything but gay for millions, but the Company sailed on as it had through the equally difficult times after the panic of 1873. Over the years the Company has swallowed up all or part of the business of dozens of companies which for one reason or another retired from the field. Only one has any significance today. In 1892 the Fireman's Fund bought the Home Mutual, another company founded by the ever-buoyant Captain Holdredge. The Home Mutual was formed in 1864, just four months after he had been asked to leave his first creation - the Fireman's Fund. In 1900 the name was changed to the Home Fire and Marine, and that it has remained ever since. By 1895 the last competing California fire and marine insurance company vanished. Beginning in 1857, thirty-one companies had been formed; only the Fireman's Fund and its new subsidiary remained in 1895.
Eighteen ninety-five was a big year for the Company. Dutton went to Macon, Georgia, to set up a Southern Department under Edgar Wilson, secretary of the Macon Fire Insurance Company. Dutton personally selected Wilson, a highly respected underwriter, to spread the Fireman's Fund through the former Confederate States. Wilson, like Kellogg in Boston, refused to leave his home town. If he were to run the Fireman's Fund, it would be from Macon and nowhere else, even though Dutton wanted the office in Atlanta.
It was also in 1895 that Levison completed arrangements with Joseph Hadley, a gentle and successful marine underwriter, to create an Atlantic Marine Department. When this was announced, the New York companies immediately claimed the Fireman's Fund had no right to reenter the business. Under a New York law, promoted by the New York companies, out-of-state fire companies were not allowed to write marine insurance unless they had been writing it prior to enactment of the new bill. The Fireman's Fund had withdrawn marine operations years before the bill was passed. However, Dutton, with a great deal of foresight, had written one or two policies each year after 1872, and dutifully filed an annual statement with the New York Insurance Department. All was in order.
Each of the four departments (Eastern, Central, Atlantic Marine and Southern) operated independently of the home office and of each other. They were, in fact, separate companies in all but name. Although department managers still operate with a great deal of freedom, in the old days they were virtually autonomous.
Each locale has its own traditions and friends. In the Southern Department, for instance, you might hear Betty Epting tell about the summer days in Macon when they floated a watermelon in the bathtub in the ladies' room (the department occupied an old house) to cool in anticipation of the hot-afternoon watermelon break.
Or in Boston George Hutchins will tell you of the annual picnic. Once a year, all hands gathered in front of the office for the parade to Rose Wharf where they boarded the excursion boat for the picnic grounds on Nantasket Beach. They carried a large banner that read "Fireman's Fund Annual Picnic," and marched to the tune of a hired brass band. No one was supposed to drink on the occasion, any more than they were allowed to smoke in the office, but some of the daring young bucks were known to take a beer, or something stronger, if they found the chance.
In Chicago, Thomas Chard has become a legend. Although he had hundreds of agents under his control, Chard for years reviewed every policy sold and acknowledged each one in his fine Spencerian hand. One volume of his letters consists of 700 handwritten pages, written between August 30 and October 25, 1872. And he found time to write hundreds of lines a month for the Central Department publication, Golden Gate. A typical entry is his account of an incident in the life of Staples. It seems that Staples had traveled one Sunday to the village of Pescadero on the coast south of San Francisco, where his religious inclinations were eclipsed by an overwhelming urge to cast a fly in the clear, rushing waters of Pescadero Creek. Chard goes on:
"In pursuit of this purpose he stepped upon an uncertain boulder and in another moment disappeared like McGinty in a deep pool at its base, whence floundering he made his way to the tavern to dry his clothes and ponder the text which declares that 'sinners stand on slippery places.'"
Called by the bell to evening services at one of the village's shabby churches, Staples listened to the sermon and, when the plate was passed, dropped a five-dollar gold piece in it. It was soon found by a deacon who hastened to the pulpit to whisper the news to the preacher. The young man announced to the congregation that the person who had mistakenly put a five-dollar gold piece in the collection could retrieve it after the service.
"Up rose our hero [Chard didn't use Staples' name but there is no question as to whom he refers] and strode to the pulpit. 'No, my honest friend, it was no mistake. I saw your church was poor and struggling, and trying to do some good in this God-forsaken community, and I have had some experiences today that moved me to make this little contribution to your cause.'"
In the Atlantic Marine Department, the office traditionally closed an hour early in the summer if the temperature rose above ninety degrees at lunchtime. Harry Reed, who for more than thirty years was second in command and in charge of the loss department, had the task of making the official temperature check on his way out to lunch. He learned, many years after the custom passed, that as soon as his steps were heard, on certain summer days, one of the young fellows near the thermometer would hold a lighted match under the bulb. How many precious hours were pilfered by this mischief will never be known.
In the Pacific Northwest, the Fireman's Fund has roots almost as deep as it has in San Francisco. One of the Company's early special agents, Eugene Fabj (pronounced Fabby), regularly rented a rowboat in Olympia, which is on the southernmost reach of Puget Sound, rowed up the Sound to Port Angeles, making his calls along the way, then rowed back to Olympia. The circuit covered about a hundred and fifty miles.
Although the Fireman's Fund has commanded a good part of the Alaskan marine insurance from the time the vast region was purchased from the Russians, it was of little consequence until the summer of 1896 when a prospector found color in a pan of sand on the banks of a stream in the Yukon. His story precipitated the second greatest gold rush the world has known.
The Alaska Commercial Company, with its headquarters in San Francisco, had been formed to take over the trading posts which the Russians relinquished with the land. The company was given exclusive rights to choice sealing grounds and controlled all trading in the territory. The Fireman's Fund wrote insurance on the company's hulls and cargoes from the beginning.
In addition, the Alaska Packers fleet, which in later years carried the men and provisions necessary for the rich salmon harvest, was and still is insured by the Company.
With the discovery of the bonanza, almost 100,000 adventurers poured into the country and many thriving towns sprang up. The Fireman's Fund moved in boldly with them. Alaska was so remote and conditions were so alien to the fire underwriters that it fell to the lot of the Marine Department to arrange coverage. In 1896, Marine Secretary Levison wrote instructions to Louis Sloss, Jr., of the Alaska Commercial Company outlining the procedure for mapping the new camps.
"I have just arranged fire insurance for the season at Forty Mile and Circle City, and found considerable difficulty in so doing, because of the fact that there were no satisfactory diagrams in existence of either one of these places. The folks in the office had a rough one of the former, but nothing at all of the latter.
"In order to meet the requirements of the underwriters, I am sending you, under separate cover, a package of diagram paper, and enclose instructions herewith for making diagrams, such as are sent to fire insurance agents. Of course considerable will not apply in this case, owing to the fact that the buildings are all practically primitive log huts... I do not know how much ground either one of the places cover, but would suggest that you paste sheets together and give us maps of both villages in their entirety, if possible."
The fire business was good - at least until Dawson burned down one night - but the marine business was even better. Hundreds of shiploads of men and supplies sailed northward to Skagway, and in August of 1897 the first of hundreds of treasure shipments sailed southward. Arrival of the steamer Portland in Seattle with $1,000,000 in gold aboard caused the greatest excitement the city had ever known. The Fireman's Fund covered all shipments of gold for many years, and there were the inevitable losses, which we will get to in good time.
One might wonder whether news of gold on the Yukon made old Mr. Staples a little restless. Probably not, because mining was "too much like shovelling sand and rolling a wheel Barrow." But it must have stirred his memory. Almost fifty years had passed since he first heard of the California discovery. He could look back with pride, for in the intervening years he had left an indelible stamp on his state and city. No San Franciscan was held in higher affection. Years before, biographer Alonzo Phelps had written:
"When after the present generation has passed away and in the future the history of the founding of the State is written it will be shown that there were few if any who did more to organize all of its best elements so as to promote good morals, good laws, education and religion than David Jackson Staples."
The years bore down on him. His shoulders were never quite so square after he lost his wife Mary in 1895. Only one of his five children was still alive. Five years later, anticipating life's only certainty, Staples submitted his resignation to the Board of Directors. He outlined briefly the Company's history, and then said:
"The pressure of declining years and of infirmities now urges me to put the reins of government into hands younger in years, but with an experience in the Company's service almost as long as my own, and I do it confident that our interests will not suffer by old age giving place to middle age." v Three of the directors sitting at the table had served the Company longer than Staples, and one of them, John Barton, read their prepared reply. It is touching to note that Barton had placed Staples' name in nomination thirty-three years earlier.
"Whereas President D. I. Staples, under the influence of declining years and recently developed infirmity, has presented his resignation of the Presidency of the Fireman's Fund Insurance Company, said resignation to take effect from and after December 31, 1899; therefore be it
"Resolved, That this Board of Directors desires to bear witness to the ability, integrity, untiring zeal, and independence, which have characterized his long and varied business career. These qualities, linked with a keen judgment of human nature, and broad experience in handling men, have caused him to be ever recognized as a leader among his fellows, and have enabled him to pilot his company to steadily increasing success amid the constant failure of less fortunately directed companies all about it.
"Resolved, That this Board of Directors accepts said resignation with profound regret, and tenders its most sincere sympathy to President Staples in the physical infirmity which impels him to retire, even though full of years and honors such as fall to the lot of but few men."
With Staples' retirement, William Dutton was elected president, Bernard Faymonville, vice-president, and J. B. Levison, marine secretary and second vice-president. Staples rose at this meeting, touched by the gifts and messages which had reached him, and said:
"If I have deserved all the kind expressions to which I have listened and which have reached me in the past few months from all over the country, I have not known myself all these years. I have endeavored to follow a simple rule - that the Company, whatever it does, must never resort to anything that is not thoroughly straightforward or that will not bear the light of day."
Death came swiftly. Levison wrote to Faymonville, who was in Chicago reorganizing the Western Department following Thomas Chard's retirement:
March 13, 1900
April 6, 1900
As a final gesture, the directors wrote a eulogy for the Company records which included these brief paragraphs:
"As a citizen he was ever found at the front, defending the rights and advancing the prosperity of the commonwealth.
"As a man he was large of stature, with a character as broad and solid as his frame, and possessed in a marked degree the faculty of attracting the affectionate regard of every acquaintance.
"By his death the community loses an upright and enterprising citizen, our Company a wise counselor, and each one of its directors and staff a personal friend."
Two weeks later the last of the founders, John Barton, died. The Fireman's Fund entered the twentieth century in the hands of a second generation. And the third generation was already gathering.
In 1902, another name that would live on in the Company tradition was added to the rolls. Charles Page, an eminent San Francisco admiralty lawyer, had represented the Fireman's Fund in marine legal matters for many years, and had struck up a warm friendship with J. B. Levison. On one of the frequent mornings when the two walked to work together, Page admitted that his young son, Charles R., seemed to lack interest in law. Young Page had entered his office to read for the Bar, but thoughts of a girl who lived down the street from their home on Pacific Avenue seemed to occupy his mind.
"Would you have anything for him?" asked Page. Levison knew Charlie and liked him, but at the Fireman's Fund young men started at the bottom. It mattered not that Page had graduated from a New Hampshire prep school and Yale University. In fact, his college degree was more of a drawback than a help. But Levison hired him as an office boy, and the dignified young man spent a year on trial with duties that included carrying passbooks to and from shippers and staying after hours to make copies of all home-office correspondence on the copy press in the basement of 401 California. Carbon paper had not yet entered into use at the Fireman's Fund. During his first year, Page married his young lady and moved to Alameda. He was to become the only native Californian to serve as president of the Fireman's Fund in its first century.
In the few years between the inconspicuous hiring of Page and the 1906 incident in San Francisco, the Company (1) flinched a bit when the better part of Baltimore burned in 1904, (2) launched agencies in Hong Kong, Singapore, Manila, Kobe, and Yokohama, and (3) wrote its first automobile policy. When Levison approached Dutton with the idea of entering the automobile field, Dutton replied to the effect that if Levison felt he didn't have enough troubles already to go ahead.
The Fireman's Fund wasn't the first American company to write motorcar insurance, but it was the first to write it on a nationwide basis. No one then could have foreseen the extraordinary role auto underwriting would play in the Company's future.
The Baltimore fire produced two major efforts in the industry to protect other American cities from similar catastrophe. As soon as it became apparent the fire had run out of control, the call went out to neighboring cities to send equipment. Many of the steamers sent in by rail were in perfectly good working order, but their couplings didn't match those in use in Baltimore. It was a bitter lesson, but one well learned. The need for standardization was drummed home by the National Board of Fire Underwriters.
The Board at the same time undertook a survey of all American cities to rate them for conflagration potential. They found that San Francisco's 36,000,000-gallon-per-day water system was inadequate to stop a major conflagration and expressed the opinion that it was remarkable the town had not burned up yet. As far back as 1872, an Eastern newspaper writer who visited San Francisco had reported the following:
"With the fearful destruction recently wreaked in Chicago by the dread demon of fire vivid in my mind, it is impossible to walk through the streets of San Francisco without feeling a presentiment of an even more terrible fate in store for this great metropolis. One is forced irresistibly to look upon it as a doomed city, and the mind cannot but paint itself a horrible picture of the lapping flames leaping from one frail tinder-box to another, until not one-third of a thriving, prosperous city is swept from existence, but the whole. ...It needs no gift of prophecy to predict the future, for it is inevitable."
Although no one in the Company ever publicly commented on the fact, the Fireman's Fund-as a result of the Baltimore fire-took a long look at San Francisco and, by 1905, had reduced its liability in the downtown area by about twenty per cent.
On April 16, 1906, the Board of Directors declared the Company's 155th dividend at $4 per share. Checks were mailed on the seventeenth before the sun set for the last time on Old San Francisco.
The air was clear and sweet that evening, and the streets of the town, innocent of what the morning would bring, echoed the sound of footsteps and laughter and small talk, and the walls rang back with a newsboy's cry. The Duttons retired early to their suite in the Palace Hotel; Levison, who had just returned from New York, gave his opera tickets to his sisters and worked late into the night at home catching up on home-office affairs; and Faymonville, thousands of miles to the west, bound from Manila on the steamer Doric, might have looked out across the water with a touch of longing for the city.