Loma Prieta Earthquake – 20 years later

If you live in the Bay Area, it’s hard to not be aware of the fact that tomorrow is the 20th anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake. It was the biggest earthquake in the Bay Area since the “big one” of 1906, and at the time, was the nation’s most expensive natural disaster (now grossly surpassed by Katrina).

I didn’t yet live here in ’89, but I was not far away, living in another earthquake-prone region, Southern California. I remember watching the images on tv… the fires raging through the marina, the collapsed upper deck panel of the Bay Bridge and the car that careened off where its support had once been, and of course, the images of the collapsed Cypress Freeway, built before the 1950’s and the use of modern seismic safety standards. This is where the highest number of fatalities occurred… 42 people on the lower deck were literally crushed to death.

The freeway was rebuilt years later in a different location, further west to provide access to the Port of Oakland, and what now remains where that portion of freeway once was, is the recently redeveloped Mandela Parkway, which I have featured in several other posts. Between 13th and 14th Streets is located Oakland Memorial Park, which is a beautifully rendered tribute to the events of that day.

Here is the actual seismograph from those 15 seconds…




Designed by April Philips Design Works and artists Gilman and Keefer, the landscape work conveys the waves that moved through the earth that day, with undulating sections of native grasses, and plantings arranged in concentric arcs emanating from the “epicenter,” Story Plaza at the corner of 14th and Mandela. Here, three curved ladders represent both the literal ladders thrown up against the damaged structure that day by local residents to save those trapped within, and the symbolic hope of community spirit rising skyward from the dust of destruction. Excerpts from stories offered by local residents are imprinted into the concrete, such as “When the quake stopped, a rain of concrete dust obscured everything.”





On this anniversary, it seems fitting to remember that we do live in an earthquake prone region, and it is extremely likely that we will see another earthquake of similar magnitude in our lifetimes. In fact, there is a 62% probability of at least one quake of this size within the next 20 years. This statistic and an incredible wealth of information on the science of earthquakes and what we can do to prepare for them is located at the U.S. Geological Survey’s site “Putting Down Roots in Earthquake Country.” Please check it out. Strap those waterheaters. Get your disaster kits together. These things really do make a difference.

And by all means, go visit the Oakland Memorial Park… it’s a lovely spot to sit and remember.

2 thoughts on “Loma Prieta Earthquake – 20 years later

  1. Ryan Sullivan

    Thanks for featuring Oakland Memorial Park which I have inexplicably never managed to visit. I did a lot of reminiscing about the 89 quake with friends on the anniversary while enjoying the soothing sounds of Jesus Lizard at the Fillmore that night. We took turns telling where I was stories while driving over the Bay Bridge and getting a little spooked with the construction of the new bridge right next to us. It really was a bit surreal. After the quake, my dad ran down to the Marina to help run the hoses from the bay to fight the fire. I knew some folks who used to live at the old Phoenix Ironworks Building at the time of the quake. All of them were up at the old Cypress with ladders trying to get people out of there. In a sad twist of fate, the PIB was torn down to make way for the new Cypress. It was an amazing gigantic building covering two city blocks where so many artists, musicians, skaters and freaks lived. My old band used to practice there and played a few shows there too. The Survival Research Laboratory folks used to do their thing there. You would enter the building through this unassuming metal door and step into this art space cathedral with an enormous archway made of pianos hanging over your head. Me, I was at home dressed up as a paramedic when the quake hit. A friend had this great scam to get into the baseball playoff games. He would tag along with his buddy who was a paramedic and they would drive his ambulance up to the stadium during the games and walk right in. I was invited to go to what would have been my first World Series Game, but missed my ride and found myself at home alone getting ready to watch the game on tv almost in tears still dressed as a paramedic and it hit. So many memories stirred up by this post. I think I might just bring Reilly down to the memorial on Friday and take a look. Thanks again for this.

    1. studiodeb333 Post author

      Thanks for sharing that story!! Please send us an update if you make it to the park…

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