Game Three

Leanna M. Dawydiak

My memories of the Loma Prieta quake are so vivid that it could have happened yesterday.

The day of the quake, I had been looking forward to going to World Series Game 3 at Candlestick Park. I had great seats because my husband, Reno Rapagnani, was the Chief of Security for the Mayor of San Francisco, Art Agnos, so I was going to get to sit with his staff just left of home plate along the third base line. I had driven out there with my father Gene Dawydiak, stepson Reno Jr. and my sister-in-law Diane: Gene and Reno Jr. were sitting in the upper deck but Diane was below with me. We had planned to meet back at the car after the game we were sure we were going to win. Reno was busy handling things for the Mayor and I had no idea where he was.

In any case, just before the game was to start, I was looking out towards the Sony Jumbotron and suddenly I felt like there was movement under my feet and the stadium seemed to move in a circular direction; a shift, if you will, and I think it was towards the right. I could actually SEE the movement. I can only describe it like Candlestick Park was a cup on a saucer and someone was twisting the cup on top of the saucer. Being a native San Franciscan, I knew we had just had an earthquake, but I didn’t worry too much as I had been through many in my life. I think it was the “neophytes” who alerted me that this was no regular earthquake so I got moving, trying to make my way up to where my dad was sitting.

When I got to my dad’s seats, he and my stepson were sitting there like nothing had happened. I told my dad, “We need to go, this was a bad one.” He said, “You’re overreacting… the game will start any minute.” All this, in spite of the fact that both teams and their families were all down on the field holding onto each other and not at all looking like they were ready to play baseball. I tried telling my dad, “Look, the Jumbotron isn’t even working…There’s no game, Pa.”

World Series Game 3 1989

I finally got my dad to move by saying, “Let’s go down to the cop substation and see what’s up.” I was an officer in the SFPD and I knew my dad would come with me if I told him we were going to where the cops were. Sure enough, that did the trick and we found a quick route to the substation. On our way there, someone in front of us had a portable TV, which showed the Bay Bridge collapse and all the people that were trapped. After seeing that, we all knew that we had to get out of Candlestick Park in the event there were aftershocks that might bring the stadium down.

It seemed to take forever to get to our car, and then it was a very slow trek back to my parents’ house in the Richmond District. In fact, when it rains it pours, as they say, as my car started to overheat, which it never had done before. I had no idea where my husband was and worse, where my 2 year old daughter was: she was with her “surrogate” mother/babysitter, who lived on Webster Street near the Safeway in the Marina (where, as we found out later, took the worst of it).

When Reno finally got to our daughter, he couldn’t get “Mama Rosie” and Frank to leave because Frank was frantically looking all over the house for cash he had hidden all over the place (not unusual for old-fashioned Italians to do). I think my mother eventually got them out.

After dropping my father off at home, I knew I had to get to my house and make sure it was secure; this was on Museum way near the Randall Museum. Once I saw things were fine, I immediately suited up in my SFPD uniform and headed to the Hall of Justice as the call had gone out that any off-duty officer who could get into the City was to report ASAP.

I could write so much more about my duty on 6th and Stevenson…my “guarding” the Giants when they came to the Moscone Center to visit people who were homeless for the time being and getting to specifically “guard” my hero, Will Clark, who towered over me. I had to warn them that the people in the Moscone Center weren’t like the ones in the Marina, but that it was more like the inside of a prison with there being knife fights and the like.

Asian Art Museum

Laurie Wagner

I was at work at the Asian Art Museum in Golden Gate Park. As a 3rd generation Californian, my first reaction to earthquakes isn’t panic. But I realized instantly this was a big one. I remember thinking a) that the floor was actually rolling toward me like a wave and b) I could die then and there.

As abruptly as it had started, it stopped, and my instincts screamed to get out of the building. We tried to go down the back stairs; a guard came up shouting hysterically that we couldn’t go down because a light fixture had fallen. We were more worried about the heavy stone lintel hanging over the other exit, but couldn’t convince him that was a greater danger so dashed under it. On the ground floor there was only one exit we could use (security of the collection comes first) and it was under the tower that had been identified as the building’s Achilles heel, most likely to come down in a big earthquake. A guard stuck his head out looking up at it, then turned back to us and said “Run!

We did and suddenly being outside was anticlimactic, everything was still. Charles offered to drive me to the bus terminal. We drove slowly through a chastened city. Stoplights weren’t working but people were very politely taking turns. He dropped me off at the East Bay terminal where the bus driver was explaining, “The top level of the Bay Bridge collapsed.” People kept repeating over and over “Yes, but when will we go?

Realizing that with a broken bridge there wouldn’t be any ‘going’ anytime soon, I went to find Charles, stopping at a small convenience store for water in case I didn’t find him. It was dark and the cash register wasn’t working. As I left the store Charles was coming down the street and suggested we go to where we could listen to the radio. He had a friend who owned the last Blacksmith shop in San Francisco where they had a generator. When we entered the shop his friend handed me a rum and coke and introduced me to the guys. They had a Friday tradition of partying and supplies.

We spent the evening in chairs on the street listening to a radio hooked up to a truck battery, somberly watching the billowing black smoke from the Marina. Seeing the fireboats on the Bay coming to the rescue was reassuring; they weren’t dependent on shaky ground. There were very few incidents of crime that night, but the radio reported groups roaming with baseball bats. Later in the evening one of those groups walked past our quietly drinking group. One of our guys started to get nervous and vocal, Charles said quietly, “Remember the women and children.” The guy calmed down; the group passed uneventfully, looking as lost as we all felt.

Around eleven Charles and I went back to his place where his East Coast family and friends started calling to be sure he was ok. That was the first of many nights I felt anxious about being inside during aftershocks; there were a lot of them in the weeks to come.

SOMA to Wyoming

Lisa Heller

I was living in Noe Valley and working South of Market for a bathrobe manufacturer. I had flown back from NYC that morning and the cab driver told me to cancel my flight because there was going to be an earthquake.

I had just arrived from the airport at the office and checked in with my colleagues. I asked my friend Lois if we could leave early because I was exhausted from my trip. As I walked back into my office the earth began to shake. I had never been in an earthquake before. And before the words “earthquake” could even come out of my mouth I was under my desk. The wall of windows surrounding my office had imploded. After it was over I was running through the sewing shop telling everyone to get out of the brick building we were in. As we approached the steps some of them had shifted and it was scary walking down them.

SOMA desk 1989

Once we were out of the building I remember seeing the blacktop of the street ripple like a wave. I had never seen anything like it before in my life. We drove back to Noe Valley and all of the traffic lights were out. It was unwritten that each intersection became a four way stop. We could see the flames in the Marina and I was in tears.

I was worried about my brother that was working on the other side and would have had to cross the Bay Bridge when I heard it collapsed. I arrived home to find all of my dishes and glassware on the floor. All of my neighbors began gathering outside of my neighbor Tom’s apartment building. One of the neighbors pulled his car onto the sidewalk and had his radio on. Fortunately my landline was working (we had no cell phones in those days) and I called my family in the east to let them know I was ok. They let me know that they had also heard from my brother who lived six blocks north of me. I was relieved.

Tom and I gathered water and flashlights and walked down the street turning off all of the gas valves and checking on the elderly on our block – giving them the flashlights and water and turning on radios if they had them. The rest of us gathered in the middle of the block and stayed close together. We brought out wine and the contents of our refrigerators to have a block party and listen to the news.

As the sun set, the fire in the Marina lit up the sky. We were all pretty quiet, scared, relieved and dealing with all of the aftershocks. At about midnight the power was restored in our neighborhood and the gas company came by to say that they would be around in the morning to turn on our gas.

Within a month of the earthquake, I quit my job and moved back to Wyoming. It is a day I will never forget and one of the reasons why I will never return to California to live.

SOMArts Lot

Johanna Poethig

It was a hot day on the scaffolding at SOMArts on Brannan Street under the freeway. I was peacefully working on my own, adding final touches to my mural, Artifact, on one side of the building overlooking a big empty lot. This was before Toys R Us, Nordstrom Rack and Bed Bath and Beyond built their monstrous shopping palaces on what should have been a new sculpture park in my opinion.

I climbed down and got into my old yellow Volvo. All of a sudden the car began to rock and roll. I thought someone was pushing on it and turned my head quickly to see no one there!

somarts lot 1989

I shot out of the car and ran into the center of the abandoned lot. Jim, the current director, Conrad, and 2 other artists from SOMArts joined me as the ground rolled underneath us. Worried about Chris working in the basement of our apartment building on Oak Street in the Upper Haight, I drove home gingerly avoiding all the bricks and shards of glass that had fallen onto the streets.

That night the aftershocks freaked us out and we wondered if we should camp out on the Panhandle.