Valley Ford Victorian

Daryl W. Johnson

I used to work in the Bay Area, often running the Cypress structure top and bottom, but in 1989 had been working in the North Bay Area for 2 years. I was working on a Victorian home salvage project in Valley Ford, and that day, I had removed much of the cross bracing under the house to replace dry rotted timbers and had a carpenter under the house adding bracing back as I jacked the house up to level it in sections.

When the earthquake hit, it was just as my then-GF had stopped by to bring me lunch. She and I both were rocking back and forth walking toward each other, wondering what was going on. My carpenter under the house yelled to me to stop jacking up the house and I yelled back to him, “It’s not me, it’s the whole world, get out of there!”

I looked out the window to see him darting out from the access panel and looked along Hwy 1, and the power poles were stirring and the hills were rolling. I about threw up, as did my GF.

We all got clear of the house and turned on the radios in our vehicles. Needless to say, I braced the house from the outside and left to see what had happened back in my city of Petaluma.

No Touch Car Wash

Fred Schein

Late that afternoon, I set out for SFO to meet some friends arriving from New York. I decided my car needed to be washed so it looked good for them.

I stopped at the No Touch car wash at Divisadero and Oak Streets. My car was soon moving through the “wash tunnel”. At this place, you could go inside and watch your car through a glass window, which I did. Two SF policemen were standing next to me. Apparently, at that time, the SFPD had a contract to get cars washed there. Suddenly, one of the policemen swayed into me and I was momentarily offended. Then I realized we were in an earthquake.

A lot of car stuff fell off the shelves and the manager said to go outside. The power was off and my car was inside, covered with soap. The manager told the staff to drive the cars out and the cashier to refund everyone. He then told the staff to take a hose and rinse off the soap. The staff was so nervous that they weren’t hitting my car with the hose water. I took the hose and completed the rinse.

Not knowing what to do, I decided to go to SFO. I got into the pickup/drop off “horseshoe” road and the traffic all but stopped. It took me about 35 minutes to work my way around and get back out to the freeway. No cell phones then. I had no choice, but to try to return to my home in Mill Valley.

I got onto 19th Ave where the traffic was bumper-to-bumper and the stoplights not working. Students from SFSU attempted to direct traffic, which only made matters worse. My car was standard shift. It took me about an hour and a half to get back to Marin by which time my leg ached from endless clutching. That was the worst traffic jam I have ever been in. One lane of Park Presidio, just before the MacArthur tunnel had sunk and it was reduced to one lane. I remember seeing AC Transit buses, which seemed so odd to me. Of course, they couldn’t use the Bay Bridge and were heading north to try to get across the Richmond Bridge

There were many small collisions on 19th Ave and Park Presidio. I recall seeing and hearing unbelievable courtesy. As these tiny accidents happened, drivers would get out to look for possible damage and every one of them seemed ready to take responsibility – “I’m sorry, it was my fault”, “No, it was my fault”, “No it was mine.” It was almost surreal.

When I finally got across the Bridge, I pulled into the vista point to look back at the City which was completely dark except for two things – the fires in the Marina which were my first real recognition of how serious this was and little islands of light here and there. It took me a while to realize that they were the hospitals that had emergency power.

My friends called me the next morning and it turned out that they had come within a few hundred feet at SFO. Their flight landed almost at the moment of the earthquake and they were told to move through the terminal and outside as it was thought there was a danger of the terminal collapsing. Without their luggage, they made their way to a rental car area and somehow got a car. Thinking it would be dangerous to try to go to the City, they drove south on 101. They began stopping at the big hotels and couldn’t find a room. They finally got to the San Carlos Howard Johnson. They asked the desk clerk if there was a room and were told, “I only have one left”. My friends said, “We’ll take it.” The clerk, still nervous about all that had happened, automatically said, “Smoking or non-smoking?” My friends stared at each other.

I drove down to meet them. They returned their car and picked up their luggage.

I so wish I had had a camera that night. Today, I would take dozens of pictures with my phone.

Candlestick Banners

Tony Howard

My grandma has had Giants season tickets for as long as I can remember, and she always made sure that each person in the family got a chance to see a game…I was lucky enough to receive the World Series tickets with my father. I was 22 at the time.

We started our journey in Mendocino County that day, stopping in Sonoma County to pick up a couple deli sandwiches and some spirit-like refreshments.

We arrived at Candlestick, parked the truck and had a nice tailgate. As I drank my tall can of Sapporo and looked around at the festivities, one thing caught my interest: some of the banners and flags that were tangled in the light towers above the stadium. And there was a person climbing up one of the towers to untangle those banners.

After our tailgate picnic and drinks, we filed into the stadium and found our seats. Once we were in our seats we were getting ready for the game: the stadium was packed and the crowd was ready for baseball.

It was then that I heard the covers around the stadium lights start to bang loudly into each other, making a clanging sound. Seconds later we were riding our stadium seats while a very intense earthquake moved through. I felt a sharp pain in my shoulders and neck, and when I turned and looked, the lady behind me was digging her fingernails into my shoulders, screaming and crying: I felt bad for her and I wasn’t sure how to ask her to stop.

I then remembered the guy that had been climbing the light tower earlier; I looked over at that light tower to see him clinging to it for dear life as it was swinging.

It seemed like it lasted forever, but I am sure it was a very short time. It was surreal: time seemed to slow down and almost stand still.

Of course, I saw the players moving around the field with their families. I was jealous– I wanted to be on the ground, not in the upper deck!

Post-earthquake, my dad and some others started to chant, “Let’s play ball, let’s play ball!” We really didn’t know how serious the quake was until we started hearing reports from a transistor radio of a neighboring fan. It was then we realized that not only would we not be watching baseball but that we also didn’t know how we would get home.

We had heard the Bay Bridge and the Cypress Structure had collapsed and that there were large fires in the city. Our first thought was that we would go to some of our extended family that lived in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Once we got out to the truck and continued to listen to the radio, we heard that the Golden Gate Bridge was still open so we decided we would try and go home to Mendocino County before it was potentially closed.

While we were stuck in traffic in SF, working our way through the Hunters Point and the Bay View District, we watched groups of young people breaking windows and beginning to loot some of the stores. One of the looters spotted us in my truck, and yelled to his friends that he had found a pickup truck for them to use. I pulled my truck out of traffic, up on to the sidewalk, and drove out of there as fast as I could. I don’t remember stopping until Marin County.

You Can’t Do That On Television

Mitch Kocen

I was seven years old and living in Rohnert Park (about 90 minutes north of San Francisco). I was watching You Can’t Do That On Television in the living room while my dad was watching the World Series in the kitchen. The cable cut out a moment before the shaking started.


Once I felt the tremors I quickly ducked under the table, just as I was taught in countless earthquake drills at school. My dad sprinted through the living room and ordered me to get out from under
the table (it was glass, a factor that hadn’t been considered in my haste to follow instructions). I stood in the doorway until the earthquake stopped, and then we both went outside.

I remember a few aftershocks, and being very frightened that more would happen. It took some time for my father to coax me out of my panic, and we listened on his battery-operated radio to hear the news of what happened around the bay. Nothing in our home was damaged, and my parents shielded me from many of the images of the destruction. It wasn’t until years later that I saw any of the photos of the collapsed bridge or the smashed freeway.

Marin Hot Tub

Katherine Pitta

I was just starting my freshman year of high school in the fall of 1989. I was at home, alone, doing about the most stereotypical thing that someone from Marin County could be doing.

I was lounging in my parents’ hot tub.

I am no stranger to quakes at all, since Stinson Beach is right in the San Andreas Fault zone. That day was strange and surreal though.

So, anyway, I was there, lounging in the hot tub. I remember distinctly my rabbits in their hutches making warning “thump” sounds, and then the neighborhood dogs howling.

And then it hit. I always have joked as an adult that I felt like I was an olive being sloshed around in a martini glass, and that’s not far from the truth. I was jostled about, not too hard, but enough to scare me. I remember looking up at the house, and seeing the houses move up and down.

marin martini olives 1989

I remember jumping out after the rolling was over, and running inside. I was at home alone, my mom having driven over the Hill to Mill Valley to get groceries, my brother was at work, and my dad was also at work in SF.

I turned on the TV (the power didn’t get knocked out where we were) and just sitting down and watching all the TV coverage… seeing the World Series interrupted, the anchorwoman crying (I can’t remember who that was now) and all the other stuff. Of course I picked up the phone and started frantically trying to call people, anyone, to find out if my family was OK. All the lines were jammed.

It was a really weird and scary feeling for me, being all alone, only a fast busy signal for company, wondering what had happened to them.