Wednesday, June 30, 2010

[californiadisasters] 1925 (Santa Barbara) Earthquake - Day 3

The Great Santa Barbara Earthquake: Day 3
updated: Jun 30, 2010, 2:23 PM

By Neal Graffy XNGH

(cut from my forthcoming publication " The Great Santa Barbara Earthquake - The Disaster that Built a City")

The front page of the Daily Press announced "Spanish Architecture to Rise from Ruins." Community leaders and organizations had met on Tuesday to devise a strategy for rebuilding the city and their decision was unanimous, the "Santa Barbara style" would prevail. For their inspiration, they pointed to the buildings of that design which had survived the earthquake with little or no damage - the Southern Pacific Depot (1906), Lobero Theater and Santa Barbara High School (both 1924); and surrounding de la Guerra Plaza, the Daily News Building (1922), City Hall (1923) and El Paseo.

El Paseo was the brainchild of Bernhard Hoffman, a successful engineer who had brought his family to Santa Barbara in 1919 for treatment of his daughter Margaret's diabetes. The following year they bought the historic de la Guerra adobe. As fate would have it, their next door neighbor was architect James Osborne Craig who had renovated the two Orena adobes to the east of Casa de la Guerra. Hoffman's vision of what Santa Barbara could become, or rather should become, was expressed through the talents of architect Craig (and his wife Mary, also an architect) in El Paseo. Created alongside and to the rear of the de la Guerra adobe, the quaint Spanish village of shops, offices and restaurants was his blueprint for future Santa Barbara. Another of Hoffman's innovative ideas was to rid the horizon of ugly wiring and poles by putting them underground.

On the day following the earthquake, a Board of Public Safety and Reconstruction was created and within two weeks, an Architectural Advisory Committee and an Architectural Board of Review would be established (with Bernhard Hoffman a member of both). The earthquake had truly been a blessing in disguise. "Now when everyone is absorbed in the story of our misfortune, let us surprise the balance of California and the world by turning our misfortune into a source of rejoicing."

The first block of West Ortega. The Fithian Building (aka "The Lower Clock Building), built in 1895 still stands at the corner of State and Ortega but without its third story and famed clock tower and chimes which were removed after the quake. The other building, the Van Ness Hotel was rebuilt without it's second floor and still rocks today with the Wildcat Lounge as one its tenants.

Santa Barbarans were relieved to hear that more than 300 Marines were being sent from San Diego to take over the task of patrolling and securing the city. City police, the American Legion, the Naval Reserve and many volunteers had been at the job for over 48 hours. Though aided by the Los Angeles police and the sailors and marines that had come in on the 30th, they were tired and overworked. Plus, they had a much bigger job ahead of them - the clean-up and rebuilding of the city.

Though there had only been two real acts of looting (one by a well-known local drunk) several shopkeepers reported various items had gone astray and for some reason the LA police were taking the heat. The Arlington Hotel barber was missing a few of his "better razors" and claimed they hadn't been missing until the LA police arrived.

The Marines left San Diego around noon and pulled into the Santa Barbara station at 8:30 that night. A fleet of trucks carried the rations and tents to the new Peabody Stadium (above) at Santa Barbara High School where "Marines in charge of the commissary department set up the officer's quarters and commissary tents in the dark and then sent word to the station." To the delight of the public who had gathered to watch the proceedings, the marines "marched" and "double-timed" it up State Street to the stadium where the rest of the men had to set up their own pup tents. Within three hours of their arrival they were out patrolling the streets.

Carl Sylvestor (above) found himself a media star as this photo appeared in newspapers across the country. The Santa Barbara Meat Packing Co. employee had parked in front of the Bon Ton Market at 914 State Street to make a normal morning delivery. As he climbed back into the cab he noticed the latch was still open on the tailgate. Deciding to be safe rather than sorry, he jumped out and went to the back of the truck to secure the latch. A second or two later…

Another indication of the fortunate timing of the earthquake can be seen in the remains of the Junior High School at de la Vina and Anapamu. It had opened in 1902 as the high school, but became the junior high when the new high school was completed in 1924. There was an unfortunate side of this photo though. A number of students who now thought they had the summer free found out that "Summer school is to resume this afternoon [July 1] at the three Jr. High bungalows."

Much progress was being made in getting services restored. Street lights were back on by nightfall, gas and electricity had been restored to Montecito, phone lines were getting repaired and some subscribers had long distance service available. For those still without phones, thousands of messages were being sent and received by the Western Union Telegraph Co. Now, with more messages than messenger boys, the job description changed sex and the deliveries were made by the local Girl Scouts. The Girl Scouts had also abandoned their summer camp plans and cheerfully donated their hard collected dollars to the Earthquake Relief Fund.

It would be another two weeks before the electric street cars would be running but in the meantime, the company borrowed a number of busses from Los Angeles and limited but dependable transportation would begin the next day.

From the ruins of the Arlington Hotel came the report that a very honest worker had uncovered the late Mrs. Perkins diamonds "worth $350,000."

State Street was now closed off except to those who held passes signed by the Chief of Police and City Manager. The fire department was put in charge of removing loose and dangerous walls and roof-edge decorative stonework. Above, "a bulging wall" at the Morning Press Building (813 State Street) is pulled down. All businesses on State were closed so the engineering teams could inspect and report on each building.

Although civilization was quickly returning to the stricken city, most residents continued to "camp out" in their backyards, city parks and vacant lots. As aftershocks were still rolling through, cooking indoors was a great hazard. Above, at 616 West Carrillo, Mrs. Ida Rohrback prepares a meal for her family (sons Victor and Edward).

Tomorrow - Landmarks lost, humor found and we call it a week.

Neal Graffy is a Santa Barbara historian, his book "Street Names of Santa Barbara" is available at Chaucers, Vices and Spices, Santa Barbara Arts and Tecolote Books as well as online at


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