Downtown Santa Cruz in ruins after quake



In Santa Cruz, the earthquake pierced what many called the soul of the city -- the downtown. In less than 15 seconds, the historic and eclectic Pacific Garden Mall was reduced to rubble.

Twenty years later, Rev. Jeanne Bell remembers a community in shock.

"It was like night of the living dead. There were all these people standing around and cars and just kind of caddywampus and no lights and people just walking around in a daze," said Rev. Bell.

Countywide, there was an estimated $1 billion in losses and 206 businesses were damaged or destroyed along Pacific Avenue.

Three people were crushed under the weight of the mall's masonry buildings. The mayor made an announcement when the last victim was recovered 48 hours after the quake hit.

"It is the body of 22-year-old Robin Ortiz," said then Mayor Mardi Wormhoudt on October 19, 1989.

Wormhoudt says she will never forget that painful moment.

"It was the singular most difficult thing I think I have ever had to do. It was heartbreaking," said Wormhoudt.

Throughout the county, there was a different kind of heartache and loss. The quake left its mark in more than 800 homes in the rural mountain areas. Many were turned upside down and inside out.

"You could actually see Scott's Valley Drive look like a ribbon," said Linda Lovelace.

Another almost unbelievable sight was a 70-foot long crevice on Summit Road which got international attention. For all of the quakes images, it was more simply a time of raw emotion.

"Murphy's alive he is, he is," said a homeowner after she saw her dog, Murphy.

Murphy moved on his own, but in downtown Santa Cruz it was a race to salvage valuable merchandise surrounded by unstable buildings.

Neal Coonerty owns Bookshop Santa Cruz. In 1989, before anyone could retrieve his inventory, they had to sign a waiver.

"We asked for volunteers that morning. When we came down and 400 people lined up," said Coonerty.

Customers and neighbors became heroes ready to help one another and stand side by side for the major milestones that followed.

In the case of the Landmark Cooper House, heavy equipment was needed to finish what the temblor started. Once again, there was no hiding the tears.

The rebuilding of downtown Santa Cruz was a painfully slow process. For three years, merchants operated out of six community tents, a vinyl mall of sorts.

There was a constant battle for federal funds. It was one shared by many homeowners whose property was also red tagged.

"It was just a nightmare day after day, fighting to get this thing rebuilt," said quake victim Jill Sanders.

The struggle to move forward in downtown didn't only involve money but a clash of ideas -- at odds over how to preserve Pacific Avenue's unique character.

"We used to be like what I would say is a nice Haight-Asbury. And after we came back, we were a modern town," said Glenette Matlin from Mr. Goodies Antiques.

There is one vacant lot remaining in downtown; the place where 22-year-old Robin Ortiz and a second victim were killed. The crack on Summit Road has long since been filled in by 45 tons of crushed rock.

But downtown Santa Cruz not only survived, it is thriving once again.

"It's busy. Lots of people going out at night, a lot more going on than there was before and that's a good healthy downtown," said Wormhoudt.

Web exclusive content commemorating the 20th anniversary of the 1989 Loma Prieta quake. Includes extended interviews with reporters who covered the quake, as well as city officials and first responders who lived through it all.

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