|October 17, 1989
A magnitude 7.1 earthquake struck the Bay Area just before the
third game of the World Series at Candlestick Park; the worst
earthquake since 1906. The tremor collapsed a section of the
San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. Six of the deaths occurred
when the exterior of a brick building collapsed at 6th and Bluxome
streets in the South of Market District. Damage was estimated
at almost three billion dollars in San Francisco, which was
approximately one-half of the total damage figure for the entire
The earthquake knocked out power to San Francisco, and the city
was dark for the first time since the 1906 Earthquake and Fire.
Power was fully restored by October 20. Emergency telephone
service became sporadic because a fire broke out in the 9-1-1
telephone equipment room, and citizens had to rely on fire alarm
boxes for three days for emergency protection from fire. The
quake killed 62 people throughout Central California, injured
3757 and left more than 12,000 homeless.
At least 27 fires broke out across the City, including a major
blaze in the Marina District where apartment buildings sank
into a lagoon filled with bay mud in preparation for the Panama-Pacific
International Exposition of 1915. Dozens of people were rescued
by firefighters from fallen buildings in the area that were
imperiled by the flames. As they had done in 1906, citizens
formed a bucket brigade to help firefighters who were without
water because of broken mains. A magnitude 5.2 aftershock struck
37 minutes after the initial shock.
Interstate 280 rocked so viciously during the earthquake that
sections of the freeway slammed into one another, cracking off
pieces. Some columns actually fractured, exposing the reinforcing
steel in places where the concrete disintegrated. The Embarcadero
Freeway along the Waterfront was nearly destroyed by the shaking,
though Caltrans said it could be repaired.
Sporadic but minor looting broke out in the downtown Shopping
District near Fifth and Market streets, the Inner Mission and
Hunters Point areas. District Attorney Arlo Smith said, "If
there's anyone arrested tonight for burglary or looting, tomorrow
morning we're going to go into court and demand that there be
no bail. Anyone engaged in that kind of conduct can expect maximum
sentences." 24-year-old DeSoto Barker was shot and killed
by a motorist upset by the earthquake chaos. DeSoto was at first
depicted as a Good Samaritan, but Police Inspector Michael Byrne
later said he had stolen traffic flares from legitimate volunteers
and provoked his own shooting death.
The earthquake triggered a four-foot tsunami wave in Monterey
Bay as well as a huge undersea landslide. The sea level at Santa
Cruz dropped three feet as water rushed out of the harbor. The
tsunami wave took 20 minutes to travel from Santa Cruz to Monterey.
Lombard St., the "crookedest street in the world,"
was closed because a cable car was left stranded at Hyde and
Lombard by the earthquake power failure.
The earthquake gravely damaged Peoples Temple, housed in the
former Albert Pike Memorial on Geary Blvd. The building had
been badly damaged during the 1906 earthquake.
The Municipal Organ at Civic Auditorium was badly damaged by
the earthquake, and was out of commission. It had also been
damaged during the 1957 earthquake.
People in San Francisco, 56 miles from the epicenter, felt the
earthquake about 23 seconds later than the people in Santa Cruz,
10 miles away. People in Sacramento, 100 miles distant, felt
it about 22 seconds later. The strong motion recorder at Corralitos-Eureka
Canyon Road, near the epicenter, recorded the earthquake beginning
at 5:04:21 p.m. The first quake wave arrived one second later
at the Fire Station in Capitola. The first wave began to shake
the water tank at Gavilan College in Gilroy at 5:04:24 p.m.
Strong motion instruments at the Pulgas Water Temple at Upper
Crystal Springs Reservoir recorded the quake beginning at 5:04:31
p.m. The Sierra Point Freeway overpass monitor, nearest to Candlestick
Park, recorded the quake at 5:04:34 p.m. The quake wave arrived
at the Presidio of San Francisco, nearest the Marina District,
at 5:04:37 with the heaviest shaking recorded at 5:04:47 p.m.
The performance of Mozart's "Idomeneo" at the Opera
House was canceled after the earthquake. Water and sewage were
flowing in the basement of the War Memorial and Veterans' Building.
There was no word on whether "Othello" will open this
weekend as scheduled.
San Francisco was wrecked by a Great Earthquake and then destroyed
by the seventh Great Fire that burned for four days. Hundreds,
perhaps thousands of trapped persons died when South-of-Market
tenements collapsed into liquefied "made" ground.
Most of those buildings immediately caught fire and trapped
victims could not be rescued. Fire Chief Engineer Dennis T.
Sullivan was mortally wounded when a chimney of California
Theatre and hotel fell upon the fire station in which he lived
at 410-412 Bush St. Acting Chief Engineer John Dougherty commanded
fire operations. All telephone and telegraph communications
stopped within the city, although some commercial telegraph
circuits to New York and to India remained temporarily in
operation. There were 135 aftershocks on April 18 and 22 on
The earthquake was so strong that sensitive seismographs around
the Bay were either knocked from their supports or the records
went off the scale, so that they gave no information as to
the actual earthquake movements.
The shock was perceptible from Coos Bay, Oregon, to Los Angeles,
and as Far East as central Nevada, an area of about 375,000
square miles, approximately half of which was in the Pacific
Ocean. The region of destructive effect extended from the
southern part of Fresno County to Eureka, about 400 miles,
and for a distance of 25 to 30 miles on either side of the
fault zone. The distribution of intensity within the region
of destruction was uneven. Of course all structures standing
on or crossing the rift were destroyed or badly damaged. Many
trees standing near the fault were either uprooted or broken
off. Perhaps the most marked destruction of trees near Loma
Prieta, where, according to Dr. John C. Branner, "The
forest looked as though a swath had been cut through it two
hundred feet in width." In little less than a mile he
counted 345 earthquake cracks running in all directions.
The earthquake dreadfully damaged the U.S. Post Office at
Seventh and Mission Streets. Assistant to the Postmaster Burke
said, "walls had been thrown into the middle of various
rooms, destroying furniture and covering everything with dust.
In the main corridors the marble was split and cracked, while
the mosaics were shattered and had come rattling down upon
the floor. Chandeliers were rent and twisted by falling arches
Within the area of destruction, the distribution of destructive
effects was far from uniform. These were greatest in the immediate
neighborhood of the fault zone, but there were place many
miles from the San Andreas Fault where the earthquake destruction
was greater than in other places near the fault. Intensified
effects were found in the alluvial valley region extending
from San Jose to Healdsburg. Santa Rosa, twenty miles from
the San Andreas Fault line, sustained more damage, in proportion
to its size than any other city in the state. This suggested
to scientists the possible movement on the Hayward fault,
and perhaps others, although no surface indications of such
movement were found.
Earthquakes and Chinatown.
On April 18, 1906, a huge earthquake devastated San Francisco.
As fires raged, Chinatown was leveled. It seemed that what
the city and country wanted for fifty years, nature had accomplished
in forty-five seconds. Ironically, because the immigration
records and vital statistics at City Hall had been destroyed,
many Chinese were able to claim citizenship, and then send
for their children and families in China. Legally, all children
of U.S. citizens were automatically citizens, regardless of
their place of birth. Thus began the influx of “paper
sons and paper daughters" - instant citizens - which
helped balance the demographics of Chinatown's "bachelor
society." Finally, Chinatown had what it had been missing
for so long - children.
The city fathers had no intention of allowing Chinatown to
be rebuilt in its own neighborhood, on valuable land next
to the Financial District. While they were deciding where
to relocate the Chinese, a wealthy businessman named Look
Tin Eli developed a plan to rebuild Chinatown to its original
location. He obtained a loan from Hong Kong and designed the
new Chinatown to be more emphatically "Oriental"
to draw tourists. The old Italianate buildings were replaced
by Edwardian architecture embellished with theatrical chinoiserie.
Chinatown, like the phoenix, rose from the ashes with a new
facade, dreamed up by an American-born Chinese man, built
by white architects, looking like a stage-set China that does