Richard Schwartz came to see me the other day and reminded me of an upcoming anniversary. It wasn't the kind of anniversary you celebrate. It was more of a warning.
A building contractor who specializes in engineered seismic retrofitting, Schwartz also loves writing, researching and talking about local history.
Recently he has been focusing on earthquakes, and one that happened 144 years ago has nailed his attention.
"One hundred and forty-four years ago on Oct. 21, 1868, at 7:54 a.m. one of the most destructive earthquakes in California history hit the Bay Area. A nine-mile fissure from Oakland to Fremont opened up. The earth on the west side of the Hayward Fault moved north some on the average of 6 feet. Creeks that had dried up during the summer started gushing water. Boulders rolled down from the hills. People got knocked down, kept trying to get up and couldn't."
Schwartz said that because of the ever-present danger of fire, people erected brick firewalls, which extended above the roofs. These firewalls prevented sparks from jumping from a burning building to its neighbor. But while they worked against fire, they came tumbling down during earthquakes.
"It started like a north-south shaking, then a rotary motion. Houses were torn apart and twisted. It lasted 45 seconds. Compare that to the Loma Prieta. It lasted 17 seconds. The reason I want to talk about it is that it is beyond our imagination of what will happen when it occurs again," he said.
And occur it will, he says.
"I want to get the word out. Twenty-four thousand people lived in proximity to the fault in 1868. Thirty died. Today there are well over 2 million. I believe it is the most heavily populated fault in the country."
He noted that the Hayward Fault runs right under Cal's Memorial Stadium.
"I don't get it. It is so irresponsible. I hope the next one doesn't happen when there are 50,000 people in the stadium."
He said that most of the buildings in Hayward, a town of 500 people, were destroyed in 1868, including the city hall and the San Leandro courthouse.
"Frame buildings survived better than brick or stone ones. The old adobes did not fare well at all. Mission San Jose was destroyed."
In the past 1,900 years, there have been 12 devastating earthquakes on the Hayward Fault.
"Sometimes 95 years went by and sometimes 165 years. It averaged out to 138 years between events. Call it 140 years."
He says that people should get prepared. There are simple precautions like having your stored water in more than one location. And putting your slippers under your bed because when windows shatter there are glass splinters around and you don't want to be walking around with bare feet.
Schwartz will be talking about the 1868 earthquake at Spenger's Fresh Fish Grotto in Berkeley at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 27. For details and reservations, call Builders Booksource at 510-845-6874.
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