Earthquakes

After the 4.4 earthquake hit earlier this month at 4:04am, I thought two things:  1) We sure dodged a bullet at 10:00am when nothing happened.  2) I need to do a Then and Now about earthquakes.

On the left is earthquake pioneer, nudist, and Pasadena resident Charles Richter.  As a researcher at Cal Tech in the mid-1930’s, he and several others created what came to be known as the Richter scale .  The photo above was taken in his living room in 1963 as he observes his newly-installed seismograph.  The caption of the photo which originally appeared in the Herald-Examiner reads, “The Caltech professor of seismology had the instrument installed to facilitate his participation at night in two projects: the exchange of earthquake information with news people and the Seismic Sea Wave Warning Systerm of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey.”  Richter’s private life was quite tumultuous, and unconventional (given the times), and his high-profile public persona as a scientist was not without detractors, but his contribution to the first standardized measure of seismic activity had a profound effect in the region and worldwide almost immediately.  In 1979, the Richter Scale was replaced by the Moment Magnitude Scale, which is still in use today.  Charles Richter died in 1985 and is buried in Altadena.

On the right is Lucy Jones, the current media face of all things earthquake.  Though not a Pasadena resident, she is a Visiting Associate in Geophysics at the Cal Tech’s Seismology Laboratory, and Chief Scientist of the US Geological Survey’s Multi-Hazards Demonstration Project for Southern California.  I’ve seen her give a lecture and she’s very entertaining.

On March 10, 1933, the Newport-Inglewood fault ruptured with a magnitude of 6.4.  The Long Beach Earthquake caused great destruction around the Southern California area, as well as over 115 deaths.  Many schools and public buildings in the Long Beach area were constructed of unreinforced masonry and collapsed.  Had the trembler occurred during the school day and not at 5:54pm, countless children would have been killed.  The event ushered in the era of modern building codes with the passage of the Field Act by the California State Legislature, a mere month after the catastrophe.

The left photo is of the Huntington Hotel in Pasadena (built 1907), shortly after the earthquake.  The damage was repaired and the hotel continued to function as an opulent retreat for wealthy Easterners in search of warm winters.  By 1985, the facility, operated as a Sheraton, was deemed to be unsafe in the event of a major earthquake, and was closed.   After the Gemtel corporation purchased it, they decided to raze the building and construct a new hotel on the site.  Pasadena preservationists fought the proposal, but the project was approved by a voter referendum, and the old hotel was torn down in 1989.  Not many people realize that the Ritz-Carlton—now the Langham—is actually a relatively new building, opened in 1991 (pictured right).

The Whittier Narrows earthquake on October 1, 1987  killed eight people and caused widespread damage, especially in the San Gabriel Valley.  This building in Old Town Pasadena collapsed during the 5.9 quake.  Here’s the Herald-Examiner’s caption for the photo on the left (incorrectly stating the city):

Dave Adams (L) was working inside when this building collapsed at 101 South Fair Oaks, in South Pasadena. This was a two story auto repair shop. The roof pancaked and the north wall fell over onto parked cars which were flattened. Adams was one of the two men who escaped.

Flattened cars along the north wall.

This is what the building looked like before the earthquake (it’s the smaller of the two buildings that is now a parking lot).  The photo on the left was taken by Terry Griest in 1984 and is part of a great collection of images on Petrea Burchard’s Pasadena Daily Photo blog.  She also has a wonderful then and now about the adjacent Hotel Carver.

Also damaged in the 1987 quake was the Pasadena Elk’s lodge across the street from the Norton Simon on Colorado.  This fallen chimney was among the $358 million in total damage to property caused by the earthquake.

Two interesting bits regarding Charles Richter.  He reportedly kept detailed logs of Star Trek episodes.  And he offered this piece of earthquake safety advice in a 1971 interview:

Q: If the building you are in now started to shake and you knew an earthquake was occurring, what would you do?
A: I would walk – not run – to the nearest seismograph.