On This Date in History: When I was a young stock broker, I had the opportunity to show a limited partnership to my clients. At the presentation by the principals of the partnership, it was explained that the real estate deal involved several hotels including the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco. I annoyed the partners by persistently pressing them on whether or not the partnership had earthquake insurance for the St. Francis, given that it was one of the revenue producing hotels in the deal and San Francisco is prone to earthquakes. After much pressure from yours truly, they finally fessed up and said that they had none but that there was no worry because the hotel had survived the San Francisco earthquake in 1906. My boss was not too happy with me. Of course, a few years later, all payments to investors in the limited partnership were suspended following damage done to the St. Francis hotel following the 1989 ‘World Series” earthquake in San Francisco. Most people agree that California quakes are the result of shifting of the San Andreas fault of some of it’s tributaries. But, the real cause of the Great San Francisco earthquake in 1906 may well have been Edmund Franz Creffield, AKA, Joshua II the nudist prophet!
It was Creffield who called himself Joshua II and led the Bride of Christ Church in early Twentieth Century Corvallis, Oregon. He would preach to largely female congregations in someone’s home. He would shutter the windows and then declare “Vile Clothes Be Gone!” Off came the dresses, the corsets…everything. Then the group would roll around on the floor together. (This really happened!) Joshua was looking for the “second mother of Christ.” Now, it seems that someone took a photo at the height of one of these meetings with Joshua and the ladies in their birthday suits. Needless to say, when the husbands of the female participants found out about this chicanery, the gentlemen were none too pleased. Joshua got tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail. Joshua also got tossed in the slammer for adultery and/or seduction. He ultimately was released and, undeterred, he then gathered another group of women….including a 17 year old girl named Esther Mitchell. This time though, April 17 1906, he put a curse on Corvallis and Portland and Seattle and San Francisco. Not sure what the other cities did to deserve such retribution but they somehow made the list.
The next day…San Francisco was hit with a devastating earthquake. Kinda helps explain the term “holy roller.” In fear, 50 other women rushed to join Joshua.
About this time, Joshua had revealed that he was “told” that 17-year-old Esther Mitchell was to be the chosen “second mother of Christ.” In the meantime, Joshua covered all of this bases and remarried his ex-wife, Maude, and went to Seattle. As fate would have it, Esther Mitchell had a brother who tracked the group to Seattle where he shot the supposed prophet in the head behind the left ear. George Mitchell was acquitted of a murder charge. His sister, the “second mother of Christ”, then proceeded to shoot her brother in the head behind the left ear. Esther explained the killing of her brother by saying, “He had to die. He did a terrible thing killing a prophet.” It was learned that Maude had also planned the killing but she didn’t want to go to trial so she killed herself by taking strychnine. Esther was found guilty by reason of insanity and was sent to an insane asylum. After just 3 years, she was paroled from the Washington State Asylum but died just a few weeks later.
Now, Amadeo Peter Giannini isn’t a household name, but maybe he owes a debt of gratitude to the Nudist Prophet. Or, perhaps Giannini should be remembered and perhaps the company that he founded needs to go back to his philosophy. You see, he didn’t see money as the worlds greatest resource. Instead, he saw people as the greatest commodity on the globe. While it was not his objective, his humble attitude resulted in his founding one of the nation’s most powerful financial institutions.
He worked in San Francisco for his stepfather in a produce market and by the age of 19, he became a full partner. He invested his money wisely in real estate and at the tender age of 31, he was wealthy enough to retire. But, his version of wealth was different than others as he was able to earn $250 a month from his investments, which was fine by him. Philosphically, he said, “I don’t want to be rich. No man actually owns a fortune; it owns him.” I guess he must have gotten bored though because his retirement lasted all but a year.
In 1902 a small bank in the Italian section of the Golden Gate City made him its director. He was interested in banking but he detested the practices, which he felt ignored the common man. So, two years later, he started his own bank and called it the Bank of Italy…even though he was in San Francisco. His investors were small shareholders but the practices that he used would alter banking practices in America…until perhaps the late 20th and early 21st centuries. One thing he did that is still common today was that Giannini solicited business. This was unheard of in 1904. Through advertising and he own personal persuasion he convinced people it was safer to have their funds in his bank than hidden in a shoe box or under their mattress. He put the money back into the community by giving small loans to local individuals with only their wages as collateral. He then thought that banks could better distribute capital so he pioneered branch banking. Then, disaster struck.
On this date in 1906, the city of San Francisco was almost destroyed the aforementtioned massive earthquake and a following fire that burned for several days. You may find photos with this link to the SF museum. The firestorm only was halted when sections of the city were dynamited to form a fire break. The earthquake was estimated to be 7.8 on the richter scale. Death toll estimates vary but it is generally assumed about 3000 lost their lives. Giannini acted quickly and removed all of the money from his bank and put it in a secret hiding place. The very next day, his bank was the only financial institution in the city to be open for business. He set up shop on a wooden plank and began dispensing loans. By 1907 with rebuilding going crazy, a wave of untempered financial speculation took hold and many banks were left in ruins. (sound familiar?)
But, Giannini had speculated that a crash was coming and he had spent his time hoarding gold. He stacked the gold in teller windows so everyone could see it. Customers saw the glittering substance and it gave them confidence that their money was safe with him. By the time he really retired in 1934, his bank was the world’s largest commercial bank with about $5 billion in assets. Yet, the humble Giannini never sold out. He didn’t give himself or a golden parachute. His bank was to serve the public not its officers. When Amadeo Peter Giannini died in 1949, his estate was estimated to be the same as it had in 1904 when he started his own bank.
The bank he started, the Bank of Italy became part of Transamerica in the 1920’s. In 1934, the bank was merged with another financial institution and the new bank was called the Bank of America.
Weather Bottom Line: We will be in a similar pattern as last week with plenty of sunshine for the next several days with temperatures rising each day as the week progresses. Cool nights next couple of nights but we will moderate and afternoon highs up toward 80 or so by week’s end. Next weekend, there could be some excitement.