At 11:58 a.m., on September 1, 1923, Japan was struck with an earthquake that was the worst natural disaster of their recorded history.  A 60-square mile segment of the Philippine sea plate shifted, and the resulting tectonic release was a 7.9 earthquake. A few minutes later, a tsunami hit, and a 35-foot wall of water washed over coastal cities.

Next came the fires.

The fires spread quickly through Yokohama, and there was no recourse, because the water mains had been destroyed in the earthquake. The hundreds of fires in the city soon became one, and the heat became so intense that the firestorm formed its own weather. At 4:00 pm, four hours after the earthquake, a 300-foot-high fire tornado finished off Yokohama. More than 40,000 people crowded along the banks of the Sumida River, seeking refuge from the flames. Less than 300 survived.

When it was over, more than 140,000 people were dead. Forty-five percent of Tokyo was burned.  Yokohama, “The City of Silk,” with a population of a half million people, was described as “unrecognizable.”

September 1st is now “Disaster Prevention Day,” and in schools throughout Japan, children take a moment of silence at 11:58 a.m. to honor the memory of the many who died.

And why is this a topic on a blog about kit homes?

Sometime ago, Rachel Shoemaker shared a page from a 1931 Gordon Van Tine catalog that claimed that one of their kit homes had “withstood the recent Japanese earthquake.”

Initially, I was more interested in the fact that a Gordon Van Tine kit home had been sold and shipped to Japan. But then I started to wonder, what kind of earthquake are we talking about? And that’s when I learned about the Great Kantō Earthquake of 1923.

I’m always interested to know if these old kit homes are still standing, but that’s ever more the case with this Gordon Van Tine #535 in Tokyo. If I have any readers familiar with Tokyo, I’d sure be grateful for some clues on where to start looking.


The Gordon Van Tine 535 (aka The Roberts) as seen on the cover of the 1916 catalog.

The Gordon Van Tine 535 (aka "The Roberts") as seen on the cover of the 1916 catalog.



From the 1931 Gordon Van Tine catalog.



I strongly suspect that "The Daily Times" is a fictitious name and that this was never a real "news" article in any local press. For one thing, three-fourths of it is a quote from some fellow who's seen dead bathtubs walking.



I guess this is a real photo (center) but the images on the periphery are a little silly.


Rachel Shoemaker found this beautiful Gordon Van Tine Roberts in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.

Rachel Shoemaker found this beautiful Gordon Van Tine "Roberts" in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Photo is copyright 2013 Rachel Shoemaker and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.



The whole reason that GVT put this "news" in their 1931 catalog was because it made an honest and important point: Pre-cut kit homes were very sound and well-built.


The devastation

The devastation throughout Japan was unimaginable, and the loss of life was horrific. See all the rubble in front of these buildings? That's a masonry facade that's fallen off the fronts of the buildings. I found this image online and was not able to find photo credit information.


To visit Rachel’s blog, click here.

To learn more about the Kantō Earthquake, click here.

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