Twenty years after the fact, a geologist and a historian say we must not forget
“Loma Prieta was a humbling experience for most of us. a reminder of our diminutive stature in the grand scheme of things. I think that remembering events like that is a perfect antidote for our collective hubris; it keeps us honest.” —Sandy Lydon, ‘History Dude’
Exclusive '89 earthquake footage shot by filmmaker Peter McGettigan.
Twenty years ago, Chip Scheuer was a photographer for the Pajaronian. He happened to be on the scene after the quake pummeled downtown Santa Cruz. The following is his story—in words and pictures.
THE GROUND WAS STILL SHAKING AS I ran toward a mushroom cloud of black smoke billowing from a home engulfed in flames on Myrtle Street across from the Santa Cruz High School pool. One of the residents was fleeing the inferno and I photographed him as firefighters battled the intense flames. Approaching Pacific Avenue, I couldn’t believe the devastation. Santa Cruz looked like a bad Japanese science fiction movie—as if a drunken Godzilla had stumbled through the center of town.
The 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake may have shaken Santa Cruz to the core, but it did one thing and one thing very well—it brought the community together. Here, GT probes the minds of several well-known Cruzans to get a better perspective of how things unravelled back then and … what may lie ahead. (Pictured: Mark Primack on a piece of the old Cooper House.)
What do you remember most? With my family safe and our home secure, I walked the length of Pacific Avenue a half hour after the earthquake. As an architect and Zoning Board Chair, I felt compelled to attempt my own assessment of damages. I didn’t have a camera, so I tried hard to take indelible mental notes on the apparent condition of each building I passed. Those first impressions informed later efforts at housing displaced businesses and saving older buildings. It is those white-knuckled images of cracked and battered buildings that come most clearly to mind when I remember the ’89 quake.
We were inundated with essays for The Loma Prieta Earthquake writing contest. This one stood out.
It was 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 17, 1989. I had one hour left before 30 people would show up at my front door for a meeting on Child Abuse Prevention. Our guest speaker was Diane Siri, the new Superintendent of Schools for the Santa Cruz County Office of Education. As Board President of the Santa Cruz County Child Abuse Prevention Council, it had taken me months to pull together this gathering of department directors and social service providers. But it was worth it. This was going to be a golden opportunity to integrate the sometimes contentious elements that impacted the life of every foster child in Santa Cruz County. Ms. Siri would be the spark that ignited this important effort. I could sense the possibility of change. I wanted everything to be perfect.
UCSC class captures earthquake survivors’ recollections in new audio archive
“Twenty minutes before the earthquake, the dog suddenly stopped and just went down, spread-eagle, on the ground, and would not budge … like, holding the earth.”
So spoke one longtime local to the students of “20 Years after Loma Prieta,” a five-week UCSC class that examined the infamous 1989 earthquake’s repercussions on the City of Santa Cruz. Sarah Yahm, a graduate student in the university’s social documentation program, created this class with the goal of creating an audio walking tour of downtown Santa Cruz that would reflect the experiences of locals during and after the quake. The results can be heard at santacruzafterthequake.wordpress.com.
It was a true crosswalk of Santa Cruz. The location was absolutely perfect, right at the corner of Pacific Avenue and Cooper Street. Notice how even the space in front of O’Neill’s where the Cooperhouse stood, attracts people. If you came here after 1990 or you are under 20 “The Cooperhouse” is only a bunch of old photos and wild stories. Now it’s just a part of Santa Cruz history. It was once our County Courthouse and from June 1972 to 1990 it was the happiest, busiest, gathering, shopping-drinking place (or as we now say, “small locally owned business incubator”) in all of Santa Cruz. For a little while longer, while we older long time residents last, the Cooperhouse will be a bit more important than the Santa Cruz Mission or the vanished bridge at Natural Bridges because it was a real part of our lives.