William “Bill” Del Monte  (1/22/06 – 1/11/16)
The last known survivor of the 1906 earthquake and fire in San Francisco, Bill Del Monte, died on January 11, 2016, shortly before his 110th birthday. Bill was the youngest of six children, born in San Francisco to Angelo and Assunta Del Monte, the founder of the Fior d’Italia restaurant. The earthquake hit the city when he was only four months old. At the age of 23, Bill lost much of his family’s money in the stock market crash, but he later became successful as a movie-theatre owner and someone who continually invested in the stock market. In 1934, he married Vera, his wife of 57 years. Bill Del Monte at an annual earthquake and fire commemoration. When asked later in life what it was like what it was like to live for more than 100 years, Bill answered, “I’ve lived in a century that was like no other century before. ... More things have happened in the last century than in all of mankind: electricity in the home, automobiles, airplanes, radios, television, space travel, computers, the Internet.” When asked what his secret was to a long, happy, and fulfilled life, he said that there was no secret, just “find happiness in everyday things and enjoy life because we’re only here for so long.” Rest in peace, Bill.
—From Bill Del Monte’s Memorial Booklet


Gary Sterling during his birthday celebration at the SFHA monthly meeting in June 2013.
Paul Gary (“Gary”) Sterling, longtime SFHA member and dear friend, died on September 29, 2013, at the age of 79.

Gary was born in Superior, WI on June 25, 1934. He earned a bachelor’s degree and a law degree from the University of Minnesota. He was also one of the first people in the United States to receive a master’s degree in maritime law (John Marshall School of Law). He served in the U.S. Navy’s Judge Advocate General Corps from 1959 to 1966 and later worked for the Department of Justice in San Francisco. In 1993 he and attorney Rex M. Clack formed the San Francisco law firm Sterling and Clack.

Gary was a longtime member of the SFHA. As a board member, he handled  the association’s legal affairs. A great collector of San Francsco history books and ephemera, Gary recently donated materials to be sold to benefit the SFHA. 

A few months before he died, Gary sent a message to all SFHA members: “I had the great pleasure of attending, with my family, the SFHA monthly meeting on June 25, my 79th birthday. It was wonderful to see many old friends and meet new ones. The birthday greetings are very much appreciated. Thanks to everyone who was there—and to Ron. I particularly enjoyed seeing some of my books being offered for sale.”

We are still selling some of Gary’s rare books at our monthly meetings. But we’ll miss his friendliness and warm personality.


José Sarria "The Widow Norton" 

 December 12, 1922 or 1923 – August 19, 2013  

about Jose Sarria "The Widow Norton"


October 9, 1902–February 18, 2012

By Vicky Walker

The further we get from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake 
and fire, the more it passes out of living memory and into 
history. So it is with Rose Cliver, one of the last known 
survivors of the quake—and one of the last who lived in 
Bernal Heights when it happened.

Rose was born in October 1902 to Joseph Wyrsch, a laborer 
with the Western Sugar Refinery, and his wife, Lena. The 
family had already settled in Bernal Heights by 1899, 
living first on Brewster Street and then Montcalm before 
moving to 527 Gates (now 559) in 1904. At the start of the 
20th century, the neighborhood was still sparsely populated 
and mostly rural.

On the morning of the quake, Rose and 11 of her siblings 
(there would later be 13) climbed Bernal hill and watched 
the fires raging downtown. Many families said later that
the quake barely registered thanks to the hill’s solid 
bedrock. Rose, at just 3 and a half, was too young to take 
much in, but she recalled seeing the fire and fretting that 
it would spread. Joseph feared that their house might collapse, 
so he put up a makeshift tent in the backyard for the family 
and they cooked outside for a few days.

The Wyrsches later moved across the hill to homes on Precita 
and Mission, and Rose and her siblings attended St. Anthony’s 
School. Rose married Charles Cliver in 1923 and moved to the 
Ingleside, where they raised their children, Don and Roberta, 
and shared 62 happy years of marriage. Rose remained modest 
about her memories throughout her exceptionally long life, 
although her family persuaded her to attend the 5:12 a.m. 
April 18 ceremony at Lotta’s Fountain in 2009, which brought 
her a smallamount of international fame and attention.

Rose is survived by her son, Don; her 8 grandchildren, 
including Don Stegeman and Donna Locati- Rose; and 14 
great-grandchildren. Thanks to Don Stegeman and Donna
Locati-Rose for their help compiling this article.