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The mystery of the three lamp posts

Three old-style lamp posts on Fillmore are dedicated to Katie Flavel. But who was she?


For nearly a century, three lamp posts on the sidewalk in front of Calvary Presbyterian Church have added enlightenment on the busy corner of Fillmore and Jackson.

The two on either side have plaques attached dedicating them to the memory of Katie Flavel, who apparently died on August 19, 1910. But there is no record she was ever a member of Calvary.

A little sleuthing turned up the Flavel House Museum in Astoria, Oregon, a Queen Anne style home built in 1885 for Columbia River boat pilot George Flavel and his family. It is open to the public and some of the rooms are believed to be haunted, including the bedroom of — yes! — Katie Flavel, one of Captain Flavel’s two unmarried daughters. The archivist of the museum reported that Mrs. Flavel and her two daughters made frequent shopping trips to San Francisco and that, when here, they attended services at Calvary Presbyterian Church.

During one of those trips, the 1906 earthquake struck. Katie’s older sister, Nellie, wrote an extensive account of the quake: “The plastering was falling all around us but we did not seem to be struck with it. We held on to each other expecting every minute to be crushed to death by the house falling in on us.” They were staying at the Occidental Hotel, on the southeast corner of Montgomery and Bush Streets, which was severely damaged by the quake and ultimately destroyed by the fire that followed.

The three women managed to escape the hotel, walk to Union Square and get a ride to Pacific Heights, where they had friends who were members of Calvary.

Nellie wrote: “As we passed Calvary Church it appeared to be standing all right. I could not see a thing the matter with it. Dr. Hemphill [the church’s pastor] was standing across the street from the church talking to some men. We stopped and spoke to him and he said he had been down to see his house and that he would not give 25 cents for it now. He said he would ask us to stay with him, but he hadn’t any place.”

Calvary member and elder H.L. Van Winkle invited them to stay at his mother’s home on Broadway. Van Winkle also volunteered to go downtown to the Occidental Hotel and try to rescue their luggage. Despite the risks of the spreading fire and buildings being dynamited by the army, he was successful in getting to the hotel and was able to retrieve most of their luggage, to the amazement of the family.

The final clue came when the Oregon archivist found a record that Nellie Flavel had made a donation to Calvary Presbyterian Church, used to create the three lamp posts, and had them dedicated to her younger sister.

It was in appreciation for Van Winkle’s courageous help to the family in the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake that the Flavel family gave the church the lamp posts, dedicated to Katie Flavel, that still light the night sky on Fillmore Street.

The lamp posts on either side have plaques attached dedicating them to Katie Flavel.