California Flower Market

Nancy Hom

Over 60,000 people were watching the World Series at Candlestick Park. I was a graphic artist working in my studio on 5th Street, between Bryant and Brannan in San Francisco. My client, Lynn Landor, was discussing with me the layout of her book. She’s the daughter of Walter Landor, the brand design legend and founder of Landor Associates. Her boyfriend accompanied her that day.

The California Flower Market had several rooms upstairs. The walls were not sturdy and always damp with moisture from the Flower Market below. I shared a silkscreen/graphic design studio with artists Hideo Yoshida and William Roarty. Other tenants included graphic designer Tony Yuen, writer Chiori Santiago, filmmaker Steven Okazaki, and graphic designer Zand Gee, plus Kearny Street Workshop.

Tony, Presco (KSW poet), and Steven were still there when the earthquake started. I was with my clients in the common area, which had a big table. We all dashed underneath it. After a seemingly long time, the shaking stopped and we surveyed the damage. My studio looked like someone ransacked it. All three tall bookcases had fallen, one missing my new Xerox machine by inches. Tony went downstairs; then returned to tell us that the concrete in front of our door had risen over two feet and the storefront window was broken. We felt unsafe and got out of the building.

Outside, people wandered aimlessly in shock. Around the corner, the brick façade of Bob’s studio building on Bluxome Street had completely fallen. Luckily, he wasn’t there. He was picking up Nicole, who had after-school activities. My studio mates went their separate ways. I was anxious to get home but I had not driven that day. Lynn and her boyfriend offered to walk me to Mission Street to catch the bus. We walked along 5th Street, sidestepping the broken glass and raised, uneven pavement. Some people were clustered around cars tuned to the radio. We learned that a section of the Bay Bridge had fallen, and that the 880 had collapsed and there were cars trapped underneath.

On Mission Street, the MUNI buses were so full they were no longer stopping. It was rush hour. Suddenly, Lynn’s boyfriend jumped in front of an oncoming bus and spread his arms out. The bus screeched to a halt. He told the driver he wouldn’t move unless I was allowed on the bus. I hesitated, not wanting to be squished and ride the long way from downtown to the Excelsior District alone. After a few tense moments, Lynn said I could go with them to her father’s house in Pacific Heights.

We somehow made it there. I think Lynn had a car. Her parents’ house was on a hill. No one was home, but she had a key. The place was unscathed. From the deck we could see the Marina and the Bay. It would have been a beautiful sunset view, but we witnessed the damage that the Marina suffered, as it too was on landfill. I saw several fires. Some people were cooking on grills on their decks. There was no gas or electricity.

It was hard to get through on the phone; everyone was calling loved ones and some phone lines were out. I finally managed to reach Bob. He was buying stamps near Live Oak School when the quake happened. He was able to get to Nicole and drive back home safely. I asked him to come for me. By then it was dark.

Lynn found flashlights and candles. She brought some bottles of fine red wine from the basement. We drank and chatted in the candlelight until Bob arrived. I was pretty relaxed by that time. It took him a couple of hours to drive from the Excelsior to Pacific Heights, inching through unlit streets with Nicole in the back seat. We then had to make our way back home.

Thankfully, our old house sustained very little damage. A porcelain shelf over our sink broke. And there were cracks on our concrete stairs. But the trauma of those tremors and aftershocks stayed with us for a long time.