In April 1906, more than 1,000 people died in San Francisco during the great 7.7 to 8.3 magnitude earthquake, and its ensuing fires. But not William "Bill" Del Monte. And it was starting to seem, along with a couple of his other centenarian peers in survival, that he may never have to say goodbye.
The crowd noticeably thinning at John's Grill's annual 1906 Great Earthquake and Fire survivor's dinner two years ago, the then 107-year-old Del Monte joked, “I’m still here. They’re having trouble getting rid of me.”
Del Monte went to high school in the Mission, told tales of swimming In Sutro Baths (when that was a thing), and generally served as a memory-keeper for San Francisco — not least a token of the quake which he experienced as a four-month old infant.
Ruth Newman, the second-to-last quake survivor still kicking, died last September, leaving just Bill. But now, 11 days shy of his 110th birthday, Del Monte has also passed away. He died peacefully at a retirement home in Marin County, according to the Associated Press
In a statement, Mayor Lee called Del Monte a "true friend to our City... After being forced out of his home in North Beach after the 1906 Great Earthquake and Fire as an infant, he ultimately witnessed [San Francisco's] rise from the ashes..." Indeed Bill saw this firsthand, when his family's famous restaurant Fior d'Italia (which is still around) reopened and flourished soon after.
"His legacy is a true reminder of how resilient our City is, and he represents the resilience of the people of San Francisco," Lee noted. "We have not only lost a friend, but also a piece of living San Francisco history in his death..."
San Francisco plans to dedicate this April’s 110th Anniversary of San Francisco’s 1906 Earthquake and Fire Annual Lotta’s Fountain Commemoration to Bill. But life in San Francisco goes on. Be it noted that Ron Conway, who was somehow named an honorary survivor of the 1906 quake, presumably because he is some kind of dinosaur, is still alive and at large.