The face of Santa Cruz's quake

17:00, May 06 2011
Santa Cruz
QUAKE CITY: On October 17, 1989, at 5.04pm, a 6.9 magnitude earthquake shook the Californian university city of Santa Cruz, devastating its historic downtown. Shops were crushed and bricks scattered across the main street Pacific Garden Mall. Though the impact on homes was much smaller than in Christchurch’s February 22 quake, the central city damage was similar
Santa Cruz
RESCUE AND RECOVERY: Ford’s Department Store shop assistant Edith Dominguez is extracted from the rubble by volunteers. The elderly woman she was serving was one of three people killed in the city centre. Six died in the county and 671 people were injured.
Santa Cruz
THE HANDS OF SAFETY: Edith Dominguez is carried to safety. Surgeons saved her mashed leg and she survived to see two grandchildren graduate and one get married.
Santa Cruz
FAMILY TOUCH: Edith’s son Michael Dominguez still lives in the Santa Cruz area, with his wife Margaret.
Santa Cruz
CIVIC SHELTER: Those who lost their houses in the quake, including long-term residents of three central city hotels, were put up in the city’s civic centre, before being rehoused in campervans and eventually replacement homes. Across Santa Cruz County 13,329 private homes were damaged and 774 destroyed.
Santa Cruz
PLAYING POLITICS: President George Bush Snr jets in to survey the damage and lend moral support.
Santa Cruz
MATCHSTICK CITY: Santa Cruz city centre became a tangle of debris as damaged buildings were felled to make way for new construction. 34 commercial buildings, comprising 375,000 square feet, were demolished, including 27 in the historic downtown. Over the following two decades, more than double that lost area was built.
Santa Cruz
TENT CITY: With just six weeks until the year’s biggest shopping day – the day after Thanksgiving - the city’s first priority was to get shops back up and running. Officials and volunteers erected nine tent pavilions in empty lots, to keep 25 downtown businesses alive during reconstruction. The tents remained for three years.
Santa Cruz
SAVING BOOKSHOP SANTA CRUZ: The brick building housing Neal Coonerty’s Bookshop Santa Cruz collapsed in the earthquake, falling onto the adjacent Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting store, killing two of its workers. 400 community volunteers helped salvaged the books from the unsafe building to ensure the bookshop’s survival.
Santa Cruz
BOOK TENT: The bookshop was reestablished in a tent pavilion. The first year sales were healthy but the novelty soon wore off and Mr Coonerty had to sell off his entire used book catalogue to survive the third year.
Santa Cruz
REVAMPED BOOKSHOP: In November 1992, with the help of a low-interest loan, Mr Coonerty moved his shop back into the redeveloped Pacific Garden Mall (renamed Pacific Avenue), where it remains today.
Santa Cruz
CHARLES EADIE: Once businesses were temporarily rehoused in the tent pavilions, the city set about replacing damaged utilities and redesigning the streetscape. A 36-member steering group, called Vision Santa Cruz, was set up to plan the revamped city.
Santa Cruz
BRACING HISTORY: Some building owners chose to save their historic buildings. The 1895 County Bank building was stripped to its facade and braced while a completely new structure was built behind.
Santa Cruz
ANCIENT AND MODERN: The County Bank building today. It retains its stunning facade but now houses a surf shop and offices.
Santa Cruz
COURTHOUSE CONTROVERSY: The fate of Santa Cruz’s century-old county courthouse, The Cooper House (back), provoked heated debate. The community wanted to save the symbolic and cultural centre of the town, but city officials and the building owner had it demolished just nine days after the quake.
Santa Cruz
MODERN VIEW: The same view today, showing the much larger Cooper House replacement.
Santa Cruz
SHOPPING CENTRE: The Cooper House replacement, on the corner of Cooper St and Pacific Avenue, remains a busy shopping and gathering place.
Santa Cruz
SAVED AND STRENGTHENED: Lulu Carpenter’s cafe is one of the few remaining two-storey brick buildings on Pacific Avenue. Building owner Burt Rees spent two years and US$600,000 restoring and earthquake-strengthening the charming 1866 building.
Santa Cruz
PRAGMATISM AND COMPROMISE: The damaged eight-storey reinforced concrete Palomar Hotel fell short of current reinforcing requirements, but to require an upgrade to 1986 building code levels would have made it uneconomical to save. Instead, the city decided it could be repaired to 1972 standards.
Santa Cruz
EMPTY PROMISES: Twenty-two years on, one empty lot remains on Pacific Avenue – where Bronson Baker’s Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting used to be. Mr Baker, pictured, has relocated elsewhere on the main street. Officials say the empty lot is evidence of the need to bring in practised property developers, rather than leaving rebuilding to property owners with no experience navigating the difficult process of redevelopment.
Santa Cruz
RISING LEADER: Larry Pearson lost his flagship Pacific Cookie Company store. He survived by borrowing a commercial kitchen at nights, before moving his dough-making out of town and eventually reopening in this Pacific Avenue store. He was also a member of Vision Santa Cruz, meeting twice weekly to help decide his city’s future.
Santa Cruz
TOWN TRANSFORMED: Today, Santa Cruz downtown is a bustling city centre stacked with boutiques and cafes spilling onto wide pavements.
Santa Cruz
LIVING WITH CONFIDENCE: Santa Cruzans have also moved on. Elene Johas Teener’s house was split in half in the quake. She spent 10 months camped in one room during repairs. She has stayed in the area, but at every move she has forked out US$5-10,000 to earthquake-strengthen her new home.
Santa Cruz
HEALED HEARTS: Two of John Talbot’s best mates were killed at Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting, where he worked. A huge baseball fan, Mr Talbot (pictured left) had just left to watch the World Series Final. Traumatised, he fled to Hawaii for time out, but returned to Santa Cruz 12 years ago. He manages a car repair shop and spends his afternoons coaching son Jordan’s (pictured right) baseball team.

The defining image of Santa Cruz's earthquake was the blood-spattered face of Ford's department store assistant Edith Dominguez, being dragged from the rubble, trailing a barely attached foot. The elderly woman she was serving was crushed to death.

Son Michael Dominguez was kitting up for tennis when the quake struck. It wasn't till three hours later that he tracked down his mother in hospital.

She couldn't talk, but there was no mistaking the meaning of her hand squeeze when he told her the doctors wanted to amputate her damaged leg.

They saved her leg, but she spent three months in hospital and always had to walk with a cane.

She had recently left her husband after 43 years but the earthquake brought them closer together. He would visit daily and paid for an extra room to be built on to Michael's brother's house.

With the money from her injury settlement, Mrs Dominguez bought a comfortable condominium to replace her poky apartment.

She was never quite the same, but there were small comforts, Michael Dominguez says.

"We had a nice little Christmas in the hospital, my mum enjoyed that. Her joy was her grandkids.

"We put her on a plane to San Diego in a wheelchair to see my daughter [Michele, 45] graduate. She got to go to Stanford [University] to see my son [John, 39] graduate. She got to see Michele get married."

Edith Dominguez died of cancer in 1995.


Others had a more complete recovery. When psychotherapist Elene Johas Teener's evening group arrived just after the earthquake, they were expecting to process the experience. But Ms Johas Teener, 57, was in no position to be disseminating calm.

She was at her Aptos home with a client when the tremor  centred about 2km away  popped the skylights, cleaved the house in two and jammed a fence against the front door.

"I can still hear the house creak and the beams moaning and twisting. My client was first of all silent and then couldn't stop screaming. I was in acute shock."

She spent the first night in the car, freaking out with every aftershock. The next night she gathered her cats and parked her small RV in the Safeway carpark  where she slept along with 300 other frightened self-evacuees. It was a week before she could face the destruction at home.

"The building was like somebody put stuff in a blender and flung it out all over the room: beds, dressers, sidetables, lamps, rocking chairs. Everything just helter-skelter everywhere.

"You're almost catatonic. There's so much to do you can't do anything."

Her neighbour helped her clear up. Then left town for good.

By some miracle, Ms Johas Teener had ordered earthquake insurance just nine days earlier. She hadn't even paid for the policy, but the company honoured the agreement.

She received $90,000 to strip the house to its skeleton, put in shear walls and continuous beams and bolt the structure to the foundation.

She made the kitchen useable and camped in one bedroom for 10 months. She had only just remodelled the house to add an office, but had to move her practice to a one-storey office building while the repairs continued.

With every aftershock, the fear returned. She learned to measure magnitude by the groan of the beams, the noise of air rushing under the door.

"It took me years to not be scared when the bus drives by and the door rattles. I think the community healed by talking about it a lot."

Ms Johas Teener has since moved several times. Every time she's paid out US$5000 to $10,000 to strengthen the house. The latest is a gorgeous wooden bungalow in leafy suburban Santa Cruz, where she lives with her husband and sons Noah, 15 and Ben, 11, dog Cody and countless cats.

It was a rough track back to normality  it was five years before she went to San Francisco, because she was afraid to cross bridges or drive under freeways. But her message to the people of Canterbury is that the fear does fade.

"I was a nervous wreck for a long time. But it did get incrementally better all the time. You started to feel safe even when there were aftershocks. You started to feel some sort of control. It was the out-of-control feeling that was outrageous."


October 17, 1989: Loma Prieta earthquake hits at 5.04pm. It was initially measured at 7.1 on the Richter scale, but later downgraded to 6.9. The quake was centred near Loma Prieta peak in the Santa Cruz mountains, 14km northeast of Santa Cruz city.

November 24, 1989: Santa Cruz puts up nine tent pavilions to keep 25 central city businesses going during Thanksgiving holiday season. The tents remained for three years. The district lost 206 businesses because of the quake.

December 1989: City establishes Vision Santa Cruz (VSC), a committee of residents, civic and business leaders, to develop a new vision for the central city area.

May 1990: VSC's First Principles planning vision adopted by city council.

November 1990: Santa Cruz County voters approve Measure E, introducing a half-cent sales tax increase. It raises more than $20 million over six years for earthquake recovery.

September 1991: City council adopts VSC's detailed Downtown Recovery Plan and streetscape concept.

By September 1992: 34 pre-quake businesses had reopened downtown, 49 new businesses had set up downtown and 13 businesses remained in the pavilions. Six buildings had been repaired, three completely rebuilt, and seven were under construction or renovation.

November 1992: Last of the merchants leave the tent pavilions. The new St George Hotel and Locust St parking garage open.

1993: Pacific Ave reopens. By 1994, 147 new post-quake businesses have opened downtown.

1995: Nine-screen movie theatre opens on site of the former Gottschalks department store in Pacific Ave, returning life to the downtown area at night.


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