San Francisco 
City Hall 

Behind the Scenes...

San Francisco 1906 Earthquake
Marriage Project
Two webmasters, researchers, historians and genealogists. That is who and what we (Pamela and Ron) are. We decided awhile back that it would be nice to put together some type of physical presentation for the Project. That would be a way to reach out to the general public who would not normally find it on the internet.

We spoke with two local museums who were doing exhibits for the 1906 centennial and naïvely asked if we might add something about our project. Well, we found out that they had professional designers who put together these productions. Ah, okay, we understand why they wouldn't want an amateur production in the mixture.

Nevertheless, we looked around for options. Maybe a couple of poster boards in an empty retail space? Possibly a presentation in one of the library's display wall cases? What about those relevant offices at City Hall, the City Clerk and the Assessor-Recorder?

So, we put together a proposal for the library and contacted the two City Hall offices. The City Clerk (who issues marriage licenses) did not have any space available, but the Assessor-Recorder (who maintains copies of the marriage licenses) were definitely interested!

The Assessor-Recorder's office in City Hall!! Seriously!? City Hall!! 

The idea of two poster boards went out the window quickly. So, we eventually got approval from them and met with their representative. He showed us a twelve-by-five foot space near the front door which we may use. Now, we had just one month to pull this together!

I don't remember how we came up with the idea, but we definitely wanted to bring the Project's logo (couple and panorama) to life. That is, two mannequins in front of a large banner of the devastated city. 

Of course, we had to add some information about the Project! So, we decided to put together enough information to make it interesting, but not too much to bore someone. We decided on four panels.

Now, have I mentioned that we are not graphic designers? I put out a message on craigslist for a volunteer graphic designer to help us with the four panels. But, I didn't hear from anyone who would help us. Of course, we couldn't afford to pay anyone.

So, between Pamela and myself, we pooled our creative talents and did our best. 

This is our first mock up of the overall exhibit. I used various pictures from the internet along with our own Project material, and put it together using Gimp (a graphics computer program).

We did eventually meet with an artist who made some suggestions. Although we didn't go with their vision, we did modify ours slightly.

Okay, now we had a concept, but no money. But, I was full of optimism and ready to work. And, Pamela was right beside me.

While we put out a call for donations, we searched for the materials to make our exhibit. We found the dress on eBay, the groom's suit and wedding arch on the internet, and a local printer willing to give us a discount. Pamela's father is a carpenter and we were going to have him build the mannequin base. All we had to do then was to figure out how to hang the panorama and the panels.

But, first, we had to design the panels. We started out with ideas on a piece of paper.

(continued to the right)

Then, eventually, we did full size mock ups.

From those, I put together everything on the computer. I wasn't even sure if it was going to work. Pure optimism. Examples of the finals can be found here. The originals were much sharper.

So, back to figuring out how to hang the panorama. The lamps shown in the first mock up were not sturdy enough. After a few trips to the local hardware store, iron pipes supported in concrete seemed like the easiest method. 

We were recommended to use Gator board to display the panels, but we had never used it and didn't have a clue as to how that was going to work.

In the end, we decided to hang the panels the same way we would the panorama banner. We even decided to print them on banner material too. In hindsight, they probably would have looked better mounting them on Gator board. But, at least they are now easier to store.

As for the mannequin base, we originally were going to just paint it black and maybe put our name on it. Pamela came up with the idea of having them stand on brick with cracks in them. I added the idea that we make them a little bumpy too. So, the bricks were just printed out on photo paper and taped together.

What I found amazing about this project is that the creative process didn't end until it was finally installed. We decided to paint the pipes blue during the last week because the contact paper didn't look right; we added red tulle in the bases to represent fire; and we added blue ribbon while we were installing it to cover the some of the braces we used.

Towards the end, and through Pamela's diligent efforts, we were lent two mannequins from Macy's. We almost bought a couple! Pamela also found a bakery who gave us free wedding cakes for our opening. She also managed to get discounts and some other free materials. It never hurts to ask, all they can say is no.

Finally, I didn't mention all the local stores Pamela and I searched looking for various ideas and materials. It was a treasure hunt! 

Well, we staged some of the exhibit in Pamela's living room and garage. We created wood frames for the four panels and the panorama so they would stay straight. 

(As a side note, one of the major considerations we had was that the exhibit would be relatively unattended, especially by us. We had to make sure everything was stable and easily moved if necessary.)

Finally, the night came to install the exhibit. We had made a list, checked it twice, and once more after that. When we loaded the van (which we rented), we made sure we didn't forget anything or any tools for any problems. Planning does really pay off. We didn't forget anything and we had all the tools we needed!

When we reached City Hall, we had to unload it at the service entrance. At the same time, caterers were working around there getting ready for a large corporate party that night (which we didn't get an invitation). 

So, we unloaded everything and tried to make sure nothing was broken before we could get it to the staging area. I thought it would only take us an hour to put it together. Pamela correctly estimated it would take at least three hours. But, I was moving pretty slowly, on purpose.

Slowly, but surely, we put it all together according to plan. I knew hanging the panorama was going to be the toughest part, so we did that first. Then, Pamela went to work dressing the mannequins and I worked on the panel banners. Finally, it was all done. 

I had wanted to put skirts on the bases, but we ran out of time. That's okay. We also wanted to add blinking lights on the arch, but our host didn't think it was a great idea for every day.

But, we did forget one small thing and it turned out better that we did. We needed a carnation for the groom. At the same time, we bought some flowers which I attached to the arch and tulle to give it a little more character. So, designing even after the installation!

Also, we asked for a rope barrier to keep people away from the mannequins. The one that used added a bit of class to exhibit. Well, I thought so.

The next night, we had our "unveiling" party. You can read the details of the party here.

Well, we had absolutely no problems with the exhibit. Nothing fell down. I had visited a couple of times and the only thing I had to do was restock the postcards and calendars. During one the visits I even saw a guy photographing the exhibit!

Pamela and I had visited most of the longer-term 1906 Earthquake related exhibits. I ranked ours third, tied with the Presidio's tent camp. The Oakland Museum of California was the best, and Wells Fargo had an impressive exhibit (number two).

Today, we finally took dismantled the exhibit. We did it pretty quickly. I wasn't paranoid about ripping or breaking anything. We actually managed to fit it all into a regular car. 

I'm not sad that it's over. It was absolutely great that we were able to stage it for a whole month and at City Hall!! If we got even one person interested in their own family history, than it was a success.

Our next exhibit is going to be interesting too. I already have an idea for it. :-)

Ron Filion, 02 May 2006

copyright © 2006 Ron Filion and Pamela Storm. All rights reserved.