Friday, October 17, 2014

#291 / After The Earthquake

The picture above was taken on September 15, 2011. It pretty much depicts the Santa Cruz downtown as it currently appears. 

Twenty five years ago, things were different. I am programming this blog entry for publication at exactly 5:04 p.m. today, October 17th. At that exact time on October 17, 1989, the Loma Prieta earthquake hit Santa Cruz. The pictures below give some feel for what Pacific Avenue looked like, after the earthquake. Among other things, the earthquake stopped the Town Clock.

On Sunday, November 19, 1989, a little over a month after the earthquake, and at 5:04 p.m., the Town Clock was started up again. As the Chairperson of the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors at that time, I was privileged to be able to speak at that ceremony. Here is what I said: 

It is hard, my friends, to say all the things that have happened to us. The events we have experienced confound us greatly. They raise questions in our minds. What is it, this city that we love so much?

Is a city the brick and the mortar - the wood, and glass; the concrete and the steel? Is a city the materials we make it of? Is a city the odd corners and the passages - the secrets; the alleys and the backdoors; the plazas; the curbsides; all the strange spaces that make it up? Is it the fragrances we breathe in the city streets - the coffee and the smoke; and flowers, sometimes; fir trees at Christmas; soap; cookies baking; the autos going by? Is our city the noises we hear - the disturbances down the block (we turn and look); the Salvation Army Band; the bells from the fire tower; the Town Clock's gong? Is the city the spoken conversations we hear, as we pass in fleeting moments - is the city all that?

Or light? The light dying down, at five o'clock, reflecting from the windows; hard at noontimes, sometimes, picking out the colors in the textures of the walls? Or the textures? Is the city all the different textures that we know - sandstone, grainy to the touch on the Cooper House wall (run your fingers over it); old wooden storefronts, with cracking paint; tiles and stucco; all that we touch, that touches us?

If that is what the city is, we've lost those things. We've lost those things that belong to us - that were our city: the particular light, in particular and specific spaces, that composed themselves "just so," for us; the smells, and the noises, and the textures of the street that was our street.

It was ours - and theirs! The other ones - the ones who made it; the ones who came before us: each space; each stone; each store - a legacy.

We've lost those pieces of history that composed our present. Some of us have lost our lives, as our city came apart. It confounds us greatly. It raises questions. It raises questions what history we shall make.

For a city is bricks, and mortar, and space, and light - the touch and the textures, and the noises in the street, and all that pertains to the lives we lead.

And while we live, we are the city. The realities we leave behind us, when we go, are the ones we make. With good will, and great visions, the city we build will be an opportunity realized; the spirit, speaking; our dreams come true.

Our dreams, and our spirit, we have not lost. 

Image Credits: 
(1) - Personal Photo
(2) -


  1. laurie shelley hammondOctober 19, 2014 at 12:32 AM

    Gary, I didn't hear this uplifting address 25 years ago, and I'm so glad you posted it! I'm sure I was back at work and college, just trying to keep it all together as a re-entry student at UCSC in Environmental Studies and Education, after a harrowing month. I know your talk was just the beginning of a monumental effort that took hundreds of hours of planning, and probably took you away from a fairly young family. Thanks to you and your family, and all who committed themselves to rewriting the story of downtown once more! About Steven and I: we lived in 10 different rentals in Santa Cruz Co, for 30 years, finally got ''priced-out'' and moved to Chico, another little town with 3 downtown parallel streets, like Santa Cruz. I miss it dearly, and dream of moving back. Never mind Mission, High, Soquel, 41st, Hwys 1 and 880 being crowded messes of vehicles...when on foot downtown there is a flavor that, for me, extends down Front and onto West Cliff Drive. The smell is a mixture of the things you mentioned, plus the fishy fog playing in and out. When it's in, my eyes move from the grey sky to examining shapes in silhouette against other forms. The green plants seem greener. The fog changes sounds with its dampening effect. People look chilly, but seem to rush less. The cool wetness touches our cheeks and heightens our senses. There is suddenly time for more eye contact. Let's call it an invisibility cloak that locals understand how to use. Yes! The mix of scents: coffee roasting, fresh bread, smoothies, cookies, chai, (candied apples and frozen bananas)...Has anyone restored the incredible smell of roasting pepitas (of Cooper House days)? Moving down Front St, across the trestle and on out to the Getchall area...when I visit I find that the West Cliffs bring the best of what I love about Santa Cruz together in one place. Sitting on the ground, near an undercut 'blow-hole' in the cliff below at ~high tide, leaning my head back on the fence post, trying not to squish too much ice plant (spicy fragrance) ... waves crashing, wind blowing the back-spray, solid rocks, shifting sand...the ancient pelicans I call ''the guys'' glide by in formation, dipping and soaring; otters in the kelp and sea lions heard but not seen...Some of the seawater smashing into the blow-hole with a giant BOOM and, with nowhere else to go, the rest spraying 20 feet into the air. The horizon, and the promise of an ever-unique sunset.. Above and behind me are walking, wheeling, passionate people; friends in discussion, think-tanks with bodies, souls with bodies, in tune with the waves and their needs for rejuvenation in this setting. They are not talkin' sh-- about others - they're problem-solving! Hopes, dreams, inventions and art they're working on or wish to do, aging families, stories and laughter. This is community-building and recognition of beauty. Their lungs filling with precious clean air, their sequences and cadences sound soothing and exciting at the same time. I lean against the post, feel safe and cozy, keep watch for a rogue wave, take it all in and remember that this is what I miss most - the grateful people who know how fortunate they are to be here; who look inward and forward and try with whatever means they can, to preserve and care for this edge of the continent. And you are one of those people, Gary, what I call an ''edge-thinker.'' The mild Mediterranean climate means no snow shoveling or even that many leaves to rake; wood-splitting and canning for the winter? Not really necessary, which leaves more time to come together as a community and take care of each other and the bless-ed natural world at our feet. As Geoff's book said, "Santa Cruz is in the Heart." That deep marine trench and diversity of life, the way the Bay holds and protects, the high number of active artists - there is magic afoot... Be well - your FB friend, Laurie Hammond

    1. What a lovely note, Laurie!! Did you ever see that refrigerator magnet message: If you aren't living on the edge you are taking up too much space? I like that "edge thinker" designation. Thank you for that!

    2. You're welcome,Gary! I like that's another (on our fridge)that fits the activist in us:"If you think you're too small to be effective you have never been in bed with a mosquito."

  2. Was it just a month later? Wow. It seemed longer, but time was expanding and contracting in very strange ways during that period.
    Somewhere, there's a picture of Yoshimi and I, with the Town Clock behind us, taken at that restarting ceremony. We both still have that "thousand yard stare" in our eyes; I doubt I had slept through the night yet at that point.
    Thanks for posting this, Gary. Though we were there at the time, the words just kinda washed over me without being absorbed then.
    This is good stuff.
    Politics is an exercise of the mind; leadership a function of the heart.
    This was leadership. I will be forever grateful that so many of you in those trusted positions were able to find your hearts in the hours, days, and months after the earthquake.

  3. AC, it's great to be keeping on keeping on with such great folks, in such a great place!!! I really appreciated this nice message!


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