Bristol Rd to La Borinqueña

Ricardo Olguin

I was 10 years old. The weather was hot and dry, our Indian summer in the East Bay. The sky was orange, as it is with every earthquake weather.

I lived on Bristol Road in Dublin, and I was riding my most favorite skateboard at first westbound on tamarack drive and turned north onto Bristol Road. I was skating with my best friend Eli Gonzalez. I was two houses down from my house on the sidewalk when I heard the loudest cracking, like a sheet of tile being cracked, but not falling or crashing to the ground.

I turned, looking south when I seen the road lift up and ripple like a wave towards me. There was a car that slammed on the brakes, and the woman got out of her car screaming.

I seen my mom standing in the archway of these massive Spanish archways we had in front of our house and she started screaming for me and Eli to hurry up, we were having a major earthquake and to get in the house under a doorway.

She grabbed us as we approached the house, and pulled us inside under the main doorway of the house.

We stood there, listening to the glasses we had hanging in the kitchen area and the pot rack over the center island in the kitchen.

It seemed like forever, but it was only 15 minutes. All of our neighbors came out and I remember a PG&E truck driving down the street with a loudspeaker saying “This is PG&E, please don’t go back into your houses until we come and check your dryers and pilot lights. Do not turn on any gas appliances until we get to you.

Then the neighbors came over and said the Bay Bridge collapsed. So we turned on Channel 2, KTVU, which I think everyone in the Bay Area watched religiously. Dennis Richmond and Elaine Corral came on for a special report.

The next day we went to Oakland because my dad, an alcoholic, had just gotten off the Cypress Structure to stop for a beer at La Borinqueña. He watched the freeway crumble behind him. He helped rescue people.

I’ll never forget, there was a Chevron gas truck in one section of the freeway that didn’t collapse, but maybe one foot in front and one foot in back was gone. Seriously, pure luck saved that driver.

I will never forget the smell of the blood as we stood looking at the Cypress Structure. It will always stay with me.

From CCAC to the Cypress Structure

Jennifer Cobb

I was at CCAC on the south side of the campus on October 17th. We were working on a project outside on the edge of a building built up high on bedrock, so we saw the earthquake before we felt it. Someone remarked that the Safeway sign was moving back and forth, and as we looked up to see it, we began to feel the quake. It felt small at first, but what made an impact was how long it lasted. Usually earthquakes are over before you really have time to think about them, but there was enough time to process it, worry about it and begin to panic a little.

CCAC quake 1989

After it ended, the building we were in was OK and so we started to move on like nothing had happened. We initially had no idea of the extent of the situation until someone came running up to say that the Bay Bridge had collapsed and the school was closing. A few minutes later, the sirens started and they never seemed to stop that entire evening.

What I remember most about the earthquake is the sirens–every time I’m somewhere where there are multiple first responder responses it takes me back for a bit. We quickly realized that there weren’t many options in terms of leaving. BART was closed, the Caldecott tunnel was closed and the Bay Bridge was closed. Several of us ended up staying with another student whose brother lived close by. He was closer to the Cypress structure than CCAC was and I think that’s why it seemed like the sirens never ended. We huddled together and watched the images on TV most of the night then early the next morning drove the short distance to the structure because it seemed unreal on TV.

The devastation was unbelievable. There was also an odor that I’ll never forget from the fire (and what it was unfortunately consuming). The freeway was buckled and twisted and there were first responders everywhere. We drove through downtown Oakland and there were mannequins all over the street from the broken department store windows like corpses.

I don’t remember exactly when I was able to go home but I do remember San Francisco the first few days after the earthquake–the streets were eerily quiet–very few people around and there was an oppressive silence. I worked in a photo lab at the time and over the next few weeks thousands of images poured in from customers, the CHP and various governmental agencies. For weeks I couldn’t get away from it. Then life started up again and we all moved on.

The firestorm in the Oakland Hills two year later brought it all back again–it wasn’t the earthquake that was the scary part–it was the aftermath, the uncertainty, the shock–not knowing what was damaged and who was hurt, the sheer enormity of the collapse of the Cypress Structure and that the Bay Bridge had actually failed. That same shock and uncertainty was felt as we watched Oakland burn.

Another thing that is seared in my brain is how differently individual people respond to shocking incidents. Once we realized the enormity of the situation everyone’s tone changed–this was serious. I remember trying to get a hold of someone at the Maximum Rock and Roll house in Noe Valley to see how they were there. Harry answered the phone and all he could say repeatedly was that Double Rainbow on 24th St. had lost power and they were giving everyone free ice cream. He said this joyfully. I remember thinking–the bridge has collapsed and people are burning to death on the Cypress structure–this is not about ice cream! I think we all just dealt with it in our own way.

Art School

Lexa Walsh

It was during a 10-minute break from Camille Pineda’s Creative Writing class at CCAC. I had moved to California just the year before, having transferred to CCAC from Parsons, which was a new day dawning, so to speak. I loved how I could be free to be myself and ‘let my freak flag fly’ in Oakland, not to mention the weather and food were great.

So there we were, playing double dutch or small talking, when the shaking began. “Whoa! This is sooo coool!” I thought. The glass windows of a new, not so popular gallery space were shaking right next to us, and we all cheered for them to break, in a moment of anti-construction solidarity. The shaking eventually stopped, and the windows did not break. We went back to class, remarked a bit about it, but moved on.

Upon leaving the classroom, word got out about the damage. My free wheeling attitude quickly changed into shock. I rode my bike home to my shared house on Monte Vista Avenue and found only a few things shaken off the windowsill, but the phones were dead and I felt lost. I rode back to school, as did many others, and we stayed there on campus most of the night, ruminating about the state of the world, the reasons for the magnitude (the military industrial complex, of course!), and simply supporting each other by being together.

The next night someone drove me past the site of the downed Nimitz freeway. We couldn’t get too close. (Unbeknownst to me I would end up settling right in that neighborhood for the rest of my 25 years in Oakland.) I went into a fairly deep depression for a few months after, and made art about destruction: cracking buildings, giant rats. overflowing toilets… it was hard but a good creative tool.

I have feared being stopped under highway overpasses ever since.

When a quake shook me out of my sleep last month I thought to myself: no big deal- this isn’t as big as the Big One.

Bay Bridge

Jim Murray

I was driving just east of Yerba Buena Island when I felt like I had like had a flat tire and heard a loud clank like running over a large piece of steel. The traffic was stopping, and still I was not aware of anything special until I saw people getting out to their cars. Then Dave, riding shotgun in the car pool, said the bridge had fallen. I then remembered the “flat tire” bit from driving in a previous earthquake. We could see the piece of the upper deck, with the white lines, looking like a ramp to go to the upper deck about 50 yards in front of us. Some father with a baby wrapped in a blanket was running back to the island, which has always stuck in my head as the oddest thing I saw that day. It was a pink and white blanket. Anyway, our other engineer in the back seat suggested that we go up to see what happened. I prevailed, and we walked to the island.

bay bridge 1989

We arrived at the island just as an Alameda bound AC Transit bus was making the turn-off to head back towards San Francisco. The driver agreed to give us a ride back. I thought it would be back to the TransBay Terminal. As soon as the driver was westbound, he floored it, and he did not stop accelerating until his bus was off of all elevated highway. There was almost no traffic in either direction. He was going to get his Alameda passenger home, but he was not going to go over water at either the San Mateo or Dumbarton Bridges.

Traffic started building back, and by now, it was dark. Really dark, there was no electricity anywhere. Traffic crawled along the Alviso Milpitas Road, with no electricity there were no signals, ie everything was a four way stop. There was one unfortunate lady with us who looked more than eight months pregnant, but she was able to control her bladder with a lot of squirming. About 8 PM, we were roaring up the Nimitz. Another lady, at about Hayward, started screaming about God knows what to get off the bus, and she was left at a freeway ramp. There was a young man sitting in one of the cross seats in the bus with a transistor radio of the time plugged into his. He looked like he might have mildly developmently challenged, which is not the PC thing to say. He would blurt out the news updates. “The Marina is on fire.” “The freeway in Oakland has collapsed.” ETC. So we were hearing all the bad news as it hit the airways while on the bus.

The driver ran his route backwards, and got rid of his passengers in a completely darkened Alameda. He agreed to take us to the MacArthur BART Station because that was not far out his way and he was taking the bus home and would return it in the morning. Well, getting from Alameda to the BART station meant taking an underwater tunnel, which tonight, the driver did not like any better than bridges. The bus started accelerating a couple of blocks before the ramp down into the tunnel, through the tunnel and the up ramp into Oakland.

The Contra Costa County “bus bridge” was lined up when arrived, and we got on the lead bus just a bunch of folks, who got a ferry, arrive walking from Jack London Square. The bus left almost immediately thereafter. I got home about 10:30.

Holding Hands in Downtown Oakland

Ann E.

In 1989, I was living near Solano Ave in Berkeley and working at a corporate job on the 7th floor of an Oakland high rise, across from Lake Merritt. I typically drove to work and parked in a small lot on 19th near Harrison.

Earlier that day I’d had lunch with a sales rep and we joked about the “earthquake weather” we were having and the fact we hadn’t felt a quake in quite a while. Little did we know how prophetic that conversation would be.

I left work promptly at 5 and as I was heading to my car, I was admiring a very stylishly dressed woman who was walking a few paces ahead of me. Suddenly she staggered and grabbed onto a parking meter. How strange, I thought… and then a split second later the shock wave hit me too. Next I noticed the huge ground floor windows of the building next to me were crazily bowing in and out, in and out. The next thing I knew, I found myself in a group of about 10 total strangers huddled in the middle of the busy street holding hands. Apparently we had all instinctively decided that running into moving traffic was the safer option compared to exploding plate glass.

Once the ground movement subsided, our little group realized with embarrassment that we were IN THE MIDDLE OF THE STREET HOLDING HANDS WITH TOTAL STRANGERS!! It was like none of us were aware of how we got there.

In a shaky adrenalin daze I made it to my car. The arm at the parking lot exit was stuck and the car in front of me decided to dramatically break right through it. On the way home I took surface streets rather than my usual route on the freeway. Along San Pablo Ave, entire brick facades of buildings were littering the street and good Samaritans were directing traffic in all the intersections.

I later realized, had I left work 5 minutes earlier, I likely would have been pancaked on the lower deck of the freeway collapse.

As it turned out, the only “damage” I found when I got home was a couple of shampoo bottles had fallen into the bathtub.

Still to this day, I have a mini panic attack if I have to be stopped in traffic under an overpass.

Lake Merritt

Monisha Bajaj

On October 17, 1989 I was in the 8th grade and at a soccer game we were playing in one of the grassy areas around Lake Merritt. In the running and jumping of the game, I didn’t realize it was an earthquake until I saw this huge art deco apartment building across the street from where we were—the Bellevue-Staten building—swaying and then feeling the ground moving under my feet.

We moved to the center of the park area and watched as loose bricks from the apartment building started crashing down into the windshields of parked cars on the street below. We could hear the glass breaking loudly since this was before car alarms that would drown such sounds out. My friends and I just huddled close and waited it out.

Lake Merritt

The coaches had no way of communicating with our parents (no cell phones back then!) and it was after 10pm that night by the time we got back to our school given all the traffic. Many parents were waiting in the parking lot, nervously chatting and so relieved when we finally showed up.

As news broke the next day, one of my classmate’s cousins was one of the people crushed when the Bay Bridge broke and we heard of many other harsh stories from the quake. I was thankful that the inconvenience of being stranded by the Lake was the only hardship I faced that day.

Pussycat Theater

Rhonda Winter

In October of 1989 I lived behind a razor wire chain link fence in a minuscule and squalid studio apartment right next to the 24 freeway that was also just a block from the old, pink Pussycat movie house at 51st and Telegraph in Oakland. Random seedy men frequently stood around the back alley of the porno theater near my house, furiously masturbating. I had just broken up with alcoholic #1, and was horribly disillusioned with the overpriced art school experience at CCAC; was about to start studying photography at SFSU in January (where I would soon meet my most excellent friend Eliza).


Had just finished my dreary shift working in a one-hour photo shop cubicle on Telegraph Avenue; had just gotten home, was exhausted, lying on my lumpy futon mattress staring at the peeling stucco paint on the dirty ceiling, and feeling utterly depressed.

When the ground started shaking I nonchalantly thought to myself, “Oh, it’s just another earthquake.” Having grown up in California my entire life, these natural events were somewhat common, and not such a big deal. But the shaking continued, and became much more intense; when I tried to get up to go outside, the ground felt like trying to walk on an unstable sea of buckling Jello.

Once outside in the night air, I looked across the rush hour congested tangle of freeways and saw in the distance a massive section of the Bay Bridge just limply hanging down toward the sea, like some kind of horribly flaccid and broken erector set.

Jam Aisle

Ann Marie Lawson

That day was really warm, still. The light was the perfect golden haze that happens in SF in fall. I lived in Oakland and worked in SF but I had that day off. I had driven into the city to buy myself a birthday present, a pair of cowboy boots from this place over on Valencia. After I went out to the Sunset to meet a friend who lived out there. We walked out to Ocean Beach to lay in the sun and read books.

I had a big debate with myself on whether to stay in the city and enjoy the weather or head back to the east bay and beat the traffic from the ballgame. I decided to be sensible and headed home. I lived about 5 minutes off of the Bay Bridge in Oakland and I got home at 4:50 PM.

I had had just enough time to get in the door and turn on MTV when the quake hit. I got in a door way and watched the room sway. I keep saying “That’s enough, that’s enough.” It kept going. The electricity went out and a few things fell over, but not much because of the cheap paint that the shelves were painted with acted like museum wax.

When it was over I panicked: got a battery operated radio, turned it on and stepped outside. I thought there would be people running round, panicked and freaking out, but nothing. everything looked normal. I thought I was have some sort of freak out, that I had imagined the quake.

There was nothing on the radio for several minutes. I tried the phone. No dial tone. It was an old rotary phone and I pushed the “hang up” button until I got a dial tone. I called my family on the peninsula. Everyone was shaken but ok. I worked the phone again and got my brother at his auto repair . Thank God none of the cars came off the lifts. I worked the phone again and got my other brother who basically lived at the epicenter all OK. That made me feel a bit better.

Finally the reports started to come in. About the bridge, the fires, the freeway collapse. I walked over to the grocery store where my boyfriend worked and it finally looked like something had happened. All the merchandise was on the ground. I helped them clean up the jam aisle which was a sticky mess.

Babysitting for KPIX

Patricia Wakida

Its 1989 and I’ve landed a job with an Asian American newscaster, Wendy Tokuda, and a Jewish American television producer, Richard Hall, who is Wendy’s husband. As their babysitter. They have two splendid hapa daughters— Maggie, a gleeful five year old, and Mikka, an eight year old bookworm who splits her after-school extracurricular time between piano lessons and Hebrew school, and tonight she is dedicated to her studies of the Aleph-Bet. It is also a night that has been dubbed the “Battle of the Bay,” an epic World Series showdown between the Oakland A’s and the San Francisco Giants, and reports off the streets of the obscene levels of public swaggering and chest puffing in anticipation of Game 3 are off the charts.

I arrive at the family’s home in the late afternoon to take Mikka to Hebrew school and then begin preparing dinner with Maggie within my sights, at the kitchen table. I have been warned that their Mom won’t be home until late tonight due to the game since, yes readers, she’s one of the live reporters broadcasting from Candlestick, and boy it’s gonna be a doozy.

Despite the fact that both parents work in television, the two girls are curiously uninterested in TV, so it’s a rare night that I switch on the portable kitchen set that night, its tiny screen no larger than a slice of bread, and tune into KPIX to catch glimpses of the game. There she is, wearing giant earphones over her coiffed hairdo, clutching a microphone and greeting audiences when…

All of a sudden, the kitchen begins to sway ominously. On screen, Wendy’s entire body language turns to steel and with a grimace, she says what we are all thinking… “That was an earthquake.

I turn to look at Maggie, who is seated at the kitchen table clutching a crayon. She cocks her head sideways as if she is listening to the sounds of the earth grinding, then turns and looks askance at me. The brass chandelier above the table rocks from side to side as I sweep her into my arms and carry her into the doorway, mindfully turning off the gas burners as I pass. Its just my luck that there is another adult was in the house— the girls’ dad is just downstairs in his home office, and now he is bounding up the stairway to assure his bewildered kid and I that we were all ok. I am grateful that he volunteers to venture out onto the streets to pick up his daughter Mikka, who assured us later that aside from suffering the effects of a room full of frightened children, she was perfectly fine. Even from across the room, I can register Wendy’s terror on the TV screen in the last seconds before Candlestick lost power and the station went black—a terror that was almost audible in my mind, so clearly did it cry out: “Where are my children?

I don’t know why exactly but later that night, I decide that I must spend the night in my dorm room at Mills College, roughly nine miles away. After calling my mom minutes after the quake struck (and am lucky to get through since ten minutes later all lines are completely jammed with panicked calls), I borrow a car from the family and drive towards school. The streets are both eerily quiet and electric with danger. I turn off Grand Avenue onto the 580 freeway, climbing nervously up the onramp towards a stream of cars that in my imagination are fleeing the ruins of the city. In slow increments, rolling up above the dashboard is the fullest October moon I had ever seen, rising into the darkness, pale as ice, ruling the night.

For more 1989 tv amazement, check this out!


Barbara Golden

I was playing at a dance class for kids at a rec center in East Oakland. It was somewhere on Avenue A near a bakery. Suddenly, it sounded like rocks on the roof: the piano slid away. The kids started running out the door. Seven-point-something earthquake.


piano earthquake 1989

Driving home to Berkeley on the 880, the radio saying “Cypress Freeway is down, get off the freeway, the Bay Bridge is down.”  Around High Street, I go to drink with my mechanic Marvin, a tumblerful of Bushmills straight. My house, on Walnut Street in North Berkeley, is unscathed. From my roof I see San Francisco burning. Write music now, ’cause you’re gonna die! Before the quake I swam a mile, I kept singing M’s song, “Young Man Transmogrified.” It is gypsyish, romantic. I always think: “Would W. like it?”

“Outward over matter, he moves guileless, like a deer.”

Did not sleep at home. Too afraid. Went to Toyoji’s in Oakland– on his street, in the headlights, I saw a huge rat. All T’s bookshelves were down and there was glass everywhere. We had a lot of red wine and slept with our toes touching.