Watsonville left in shambles by 1989 quake



In 1989, Watsonville's population was 32,000. It was five miles from the epicenter and homes and buildings toppled.

Ford's Department Store, a downtown landmark, was heavily damaged, as was the Oddfellows Building. A woman was killed by its falling bricks. Parts of St. Patrick's church crumbled. Half of the units in the Green Valley Mobile Home Park slid off their foundations.

Glenn Burnett was the manager.

"The high part of the rolls, the houses fell down and on the low part of the rolls, the houses stood up, so you'd have a couple of homes down, a home standing," said Burnett.

"It shook and I mean it shook. It was no short thing," said a mobile park resident.

Tent cities sprouted up. Callahan Park became home to thousands and long lines greeted the arrival of relief supplies.

The quake knocked out the Police Communications Center. The city's 45 officers responded the best they could.

"There were just a lot of people in shock, including ourselves," said Deputy Chief Manny Solano. "A lot of us had to resort to bicycles. A lot of us including myself grabbed our own personal motorcycles. It was pitch dark. It was blacked out in the city."

More than 800 homes -- 10 percent of the housing -- and about 50 commercial buildings were damaged or destroyed.

Police built a new backup communications center.

Homes were raised back to their piers at the mobile home park and the damage to St. Patrick's Church was repaired.

It took about seven years to bring back what Loma Prieta brought down. But Assistant City Manager Marcela Tavantzis says the downtown has never been quite the same.

"Something's that were lost were never recaptured," said Tavantzis.

Ford's Department Store was bought out by Gottschalks, which recently folded.

"When they moved back into their facility, that flavor was gone, the store just didn't do as well and it eventually closed," said Tavantzis.

The Oddfellows Building was rebuilt, but the popular Bake-Rite Bakery never came back nor did venerable Horsnyder Pharmacy.

Today, a brick memorial in front of City Hall is the only reminder of the Loma Prieta earthquake. Its tiled panels depict the suffering, the recovery and the resilience of the people of Watsonville as they rebuilt their city.

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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