With a number of earthquakes hitting the Bay Area recently, special attention was paid to the October 17th 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake anniversary yesterday. I myself decided to be at the exact same spot at the exact same time as I was when the earthquake struck; the Ginsberg’s Pub on Mason and Bay Streets. A lot of people will remember where they were that night, many with sadness over loved ones and friends lost, and although for me it was one of the greatest adventures of my life, it pales in comparison to what happened to them. Here’s my Loma Prieta Earthquake story: A friend of mine named Mike Shanley and I decided to go to Candlestick Park to try to buy tickets for the fourth game of the 1989 World Series between the Oakland Athletics and the San Francisco Giants at Candlestick Park. We hooked our bicycles to the back of a little four-wheeler I had at the time and headed to San Francisco. We drove through the lower portion of the Cypress Freeway to the Bay Bridge. The Cypress Structure collapse was what caused most of the deaths that day. We crossed the eastern cantilever span of the Bay Bridge and parked at Pier 48 near where Giants Stadium is today. From there, we rode out bikes down 3rd Street to Candlestick Park, but the scalpers wanted more money for tickets than we had, which wasn’t much in those days. I remember seeing the Oakland A’s team arriving at the park in a bus followed by Jose Canseco in a Porsche. I told Mike that I knew of a place up by Fisherman’s Wharf where we could watch the game comfortably, so we rode our bikes back up 3rd Street to the car, drove to Francisco Street where we parked the four-wheeler, and walked a block to Ginsberg’s Pub. We had just gotten a pitcher of beer and a hot dog each when at 5:04 the earthquake hit. I remember saying “I think this is the “big one” to Mike, in reference to the inevitable earthquake everyone in the Bay Area had been foretold was coming. (It wasn’t, and that one is still on the way) I actually felt more relieved than frightened because we were finally getting that one over with and nothing had fallen down on us. We stayed in the building until the shaking stopped, but some customers ran out outside, like they say you’re not supposed to do but what I probably will do next time. When I walked outside the first thing I saw was a terrified dog running north on Mason toward the Bay, There was an eerie stillness, and when I looked toward Nob Hill I realized the power was out. We didn’t realize that the entire city of San Francisco and much of the Bay area was without power. All telephone lines were dead too. Mike and I had decided to get gas for the car after the game on the way home not before and that was a big mistake; we were near empty. We decided to risk crossing the Bay Bridge with what little gas we had. We got onto the Embarcadero Freeway, but when we approached the Ferry Building traffic came to a stop, and police were directing people away from the bridge. We headed south down Highway 101, but when we were near Candlestick Park I told Mike we were on empty and had to get some gas. We got off at the Paul Street exit and learned then that the power was off over the entire city and no gas was available. We got back on 101 heading south and decided to turn off at the San Francisco Airport before we ran out of gas. Although the airport was on backup electricity, all flights in and out of SFO were cancelled. Back then there was a grass embankment between in and out traffic to and from the airport terminals and I drove the four-wheeler up on the embankment. We made I sign that read, “Out of gas. Don’t tow” and walked into the airport terminal. It was there we learned that the Cypress Structure and part of the Bay Bridge had collapsed, and the Marina District was on fire. Also all bridges were shut down. We stayed at the airport and I kept trying to call my mom and dad who lived across the Bay in Castro Valley throughout the night, but telephone service where we were at was still down. Finally, at daylight, they announced that they were letting people across the Bay on the San Mateo Bridge, and Mike and I decided to once again drive as far as we could until we ran out of gas. There used to be a Chevron Station on the road leading out from the airport and they were on the same emergency power system as the airport apparently, because although all traffic had been diverted away from the airport, the gas pumps there were working and we were able to get gas. We crawled across the San Mateo Bridge along with other traffic, and when we reached the East Bay we found that telephone service was working there. I called my mom and dad to see if they were okay, and I can still hear my mom letting out her breath as if she had held it in all night saying, “Are you all right?” They hadn’t heard from me since the previous day and they knew I had gone to San Francisco. They feared the worst news that some other mothers did get that morning. Well, that’s my Loma Prieta Earthquake story. I kept that “Out of gas. Don’t tow” sign for years and years, but I couldn’t find it when I wanted to take a picture of it for this post. Like the Cypress Structure, the cantilever span of the Bay Bridge, Candlestick Park, the Embarcadero Freeway, Ginsberg’s Pub, and my mom and dad, that’s gone now too.
Ginsberg’s Pub closed a number of years after the Loma Prieta Earthquake, and remained empty for many years before it was demolished about two years ago. This socketsite.com picture at the top looks like it was taken from Google Maps.
The Mason Street side of the pub where I stepped out and first noticed the extent of the disaster: (sfcurbed.com)
This picture from blogspot.com is how I remember what Ginsberg’s Pub looked like inside. It’s also of interest to me because where the two people talking to the bartender on the left were was the exact spot Mike and I were sitting when the earthquake struck!
I took this picture from my truck in 2013 on the last time that I crossed through the cantilever section of the Bay Bridge. The bridge was deemed unsafe because of the Loma Prieta Earthquake, but wasn’t replaced for over twenty four years. The picture isn’t the clearest, but if you look at the faded section of the roadway just before the cantilever starts, that’s the portion of the bridge that collapsed on October 17th 1989 killing two people.
In August of 1991 I took this slide picture of the Embarcadero Freeway being demolished. It closed days after the earthquake and never reopened.
Gone too is Candlestick Park, seen here just after it was demolished in 2015.
4 thoughts on “5:04”
Wow- what an adventure that day turned out to be for you! I was at work at the old Capwell’s building in Hayward, which was then Mervyn’s Headquarters and was on the phone with a friend in San Mateo. He felt it before I did and we stayed on the phone with each other saying “oh my god” before the phones went dead. That old building was built to last and barely moved during the quake. When I got home that night, I left my car in the driveway facing out and was going to head out somewhere else if we got anymore bad aftershocks! Where I was headed- I’m not sure! Just somewhere else than here, but here I am still living on the edge!
Wow! Good story, Lynn! I know that building well, especially when it was Capwell’s and had that little restaurant as part of it. Was it the Mervyns headquarters when you were there? I knew a girl who worked there if it was named Sue Carnesecca. They demolish that building two years ago. Thanks for sharing your story.
Spent a lot of childhood time shopping there when it was Capwell’s and having snacks at Compton’s with my mother. Then went to work there when it converted to Mervyn’s headquarters. My office cube was right in the middle of the old Junior’s department! I didn’t know Sue. I was at Mervyn’s from 1982 to 1994. Was sad to see it go and still expect to see it standing on the corner when I drive down Foothill! Trivia- the old Compton’s restaurant was our cafeteria when it was Mervyn’s!
I missed the whole thing. After getting the alignment done on the car in San Jose, I drove home to San Luis Obispo, where I was still in school. Before I got to Paso Robles, the car wiggled, and the radio went blank. I was furious because I thought there was a problem with the alignment. I slowed down as the wiggling continued. However, before I got to the next off ramp, the wiggling stopped; so I continued on my way. As I tried to find another radio station, I found that those I was familiar with in the Bay Area Were missing. Before I found another in San Luis Obispo, I came across a radio station in Fresno that was talking about an earthquake, which seemed odd for Fresno. The signal was not good, so I turned the radio off. Before I went home, I stopped by my the dormitory where my former roommate lived, to find everyone gathered around the television in the parlor, watching the news intently and mostly silently. It was so horrible to not know what was going on where I had just left, and not be able to go back!
Similarly, I left Beverly Hills the day before the Northridge Earthquake in 1994, so missed the whole thing. I have always lived in California, but have never experienced even a moderate earthquake. The Morgan Hill Earthquake in 1984, might have been considered to be moderate, but it was not much where I was in Saratoga at the time.