On April 18, 1906, at 5:12 a.m., one of the largest earthquakes in California history erupted along the San Andreas Fault.The earthquake reduced San Francisco to rubble which fed devastating fires that raced through the city in the earthquake's aftermath. Martial law was quickly declared. The United States Army, overseen by General Frederick Funston, took over command in cooperation with city officials, the Red Cross, and volunteers to provide medical attention, sanitation services, and shelter in the form of refugee cottages and tents in camps that appeared in parks and on streets across the city.
The Society for the Preservation and Appreciation of San Francisco's 1906 Refugee Shacks (SPASFRS) was formed on October 1, 1983. SPASFRS was founded by Jane Cryan, a local activist, after she learned that a red cottage-shack she had rented at 485 34th Avenue in San Francisco was slated for sale and demolition in 1983. The, nicknamed the "Goldie Shacks" after a former resident, was actually a combination of three Type A and one Type B 1906 refugee shacks. Cryan appealed to the San Francisco Landmarks Preservation Board to recognize the "Goldie Shacks," located in San Francisco's Richmond District, as San Francisco landmark No. 171. After much protest, the "Goldie Shacks" were given a temporary reprieve from demolition, but debates continued regarding whether the building should be moved or remain in its current location as a "signpost" for the neighborhood.
At this time, the Presidio Army Museum expressed interest in the shacks for exhibition. In the end, the U.S. Army moved two of the "Goldie Shacks" to the Presidio of San Francisco and installed them behind the Presidio Army Museum building. The museum staff painstakingly restored the buildings, going so far as to mix paint based on the chemical composition of original paint chips.
The cherished relics were dedicated on the 80th anniversary of the earthquake and fire on April 18, 1986, a day which was proclaimed "Earthquake and Fire Refugee Cottage Day in San Francisco" by Mayor Dianne Feinstein. The ceremony marked their opening as a formal, permanent museum installation. The cottages remain on display behind the former museum building. Currently, one of the cottages is outfitted with a period room display showing what living quarters would have been circa 1906 while the other cottage contains an exhibition about the history of the San Francisco earthquake and fire.