50 years ago, February 9th 1971, the longest day in San Fernando.

During a conversation on Facebook, that I have pasted here on the left, my brother asked my sister Lynne and I about the day of the earthquake. Her story is the intro to what I am adding here.

I was 11 years old and my sister was 13. Lynne mentions in her story here, that after we got dressed we started running over to Gramma Daisy’s house, one block over. Lynne was already awake, getting ready for school, I was sound asleep.

I remember running barefoot, so I don’t think we messed around dressing very long! The concrete sidewalks were thrust up in the air so high we would run up one side and jump over.

Our Mother tells her story

Cousin Chuck Kelsey was sleeping in this building when the earthquake woke him up!

About 40 years after the earthquake, I asked to our mother what she remembered since I was so young.

Mom said that she hadn’t gotten very far on her way to work that morning. She was only down on Brand Blvd by Brand Park when she pulled over because she thought she had a flat, by the time she had gotten the car pulled over the earthquake stopped so she continued on her way.

The Alpha Beta grocery store she worked at in Northridge wasn’t open, Mom was the bakery girl so she went in before the store opened to “throw” the bread on the shelves. Every morning when she showed up she would pound on the doors with her keys to get the night crew to let her in. But this morning there were no lights in the store, and they were walking around with flashlights.

She had no idea anything big had happened, but everything in the store was on the floor and there was going to be a lot of work to get it cleaned up, Mom doesn’t leave when there is work to be done. It was about an hour before she could get a call thru to Gramma Daisy, she just happened to get a line, that is when she found out how bad it was, but Gramma told her she may as well stay. The “Polaroid” photo here is of the mess at the Northridge store, there was no damage to the structure.

Back at home

Everyone in our neighborhood was standing around the street in front yards all day, asking each other what they had heard. The only news we all had came from transistor radios, electricity and phones were out for weeks? People were being warned to boil water, the only water we had to drink we dipped out of the toilet tank. Mom told me people were pooping in tin cans and then putting it in a plastic bag and in trash cans.

In those days folks were taught that it was dangerous to answer the phone in a lighting storm, so they were afraid when the phones started working again to answer them because there were so many aftershocks. There were tons of aftershocks, a monitor at the top of the Pacoima Dam was activated by the main quake, it only had six minutes worth of paper to record the event, but it caught 30 aftershocks.

The National guard was out roving the streets against looters and stationed at Hubbard and 7th Street, there was no driving allowed at all on 7th Street. Only a few blocks over on Glenoaks a large gas main had exploded.

Earthquake weather

Ever since that day, our mother and grandmother would always say, “Feels like, earthquake weather!” When I asked her she said it was really hot! I think it was still, no breeze and oddly quiet. The Daily News reported that the temperature “tied the all-time February high from 1921”

About noon when we were really thirsty, Cousin Chuck Kelsey drove up, he had just moved to California recently and we were almost the only people he knew. He and Gramma Daisy decided to go out in his car looking for water or something to drink. They were gone for what seemed like forever on this long, hot, thirsty day and when they finally came back they said that they had to drive all the way to Pacoima to find a store open and all his stuff was on the floor broken, all he had to sell was a couple huge cans of “Kern’s” Apricot nectar, and he charged an arm and a leg! It was warm, thick, and super sweet, awful! But I guess it kept us alive, until Mom came home with water from her store.

Returning to a war zone

Fixing the gas main on Glenoaks in front of Belair Bowl

When Mom came home from work that afternoon the police stopped her at San Fernando road at either Maclay or Brand and told her that she wasn’t allowed into San Fernando, fortunately there was one friendly cop told her a secret way into the neighborhood.

All over town everyone was standing out on the streets as she drove by. Going up 7th near Harding she saw the two hundred year old stone houses that had become piles of rubble, everything looked like a war zone.

Our house had a huge crack running through the foundation from the middle of the front porch and out the back wall, with the porch roof pushed up. The first night we, along with most of neighbors slept in our front yards. There were aftershocks all night long, every shake I thought that the front porch roof would come crashing down on us.

Day Two

First morning all the neighbors standing around talking about “COFFEE”, Mom had brought bottled water home, but I guess us city folk had no way to heat it with no electricity or gas. She didn’t go to work that day.

Probably everybody has a story about the crazy mess inside the home, our mother’s was about the kitchen dishes that had been in the cabinets, somehow ended up out in the dining room on the floor!

Grandma and Frank went to the Red Cross, Mom thought that it was the Red Cross who told us about the Santa Rosa Church having hot sit down meals, we went there for dinner the second day and for a few evenings afterward.

Things get better

The third day mom did go back to work and before leaving she filled her car with bakery goods and stopped at Santa Rosa Church, and the priest was so happy as he helped her unload her car.

Since we had no bathroom, Mom went in to work dirty and would take a wash rag and soap and used the bathroom there to “wash up”.  One day, a lady at work, Rosie,  took her home for a shower and gave Mom her daughters dress.

Thirty years ago I might have remembered how long it was before “Andy Gump” out houses were put on each corner, talk about a happy neighborhood! Or when the Schlitz water trucks started coming down the main street, we would all line up with our containers to have them filled.

I and my fellow Sylmarian wife, Leilani were talking and we both remember standing in line for ever with our mothers outside Sylmar Pool to talk with the Red Cross, I think they may have given us temporary free shelter in a tiny duplex for a few weeks.

After the Earthquake

For decades any story told had to include, “after” or “before” the earth, if you didn’t people would ask, “was that before the earthquake?”

Mom’s best friend Faye, who lived in Reseda, would say I had two things break in the earthquake and Mom would come back with, I had two things that didn’t break! Mama, my brother Larry’s grandmother, was a volunteer and her church in Ventura and she came with an entire set of used china that someone had donated for a church bazaar, we used that for years.

Lynne is correct, the government deemed the house unlivable and gave Mom a low interest loan to have it jacked up and a new foundation poured. Before the earthquake the house had awesome wood floors but they buckled up in all the rooms, but “wall to wall” carpeting was trending so we thought we lucked out when we moved back in.

Gramma Daisy had been renting my Mom’s Chivers house for years, while we lived in rentals, after the earthquake, Gramma always said that it took an earthquake to shake me out of your house.

Earthquake pictures

Nobody I know took any pictures! My wife’s, Aunt’s, neighbor took three or four and created a big scrapbook with newspaper clippings of the quake and aftermath, to hold them, Leilani shared it and her story in 2008. Below are the only photos I could find, developed Oct 71, of life in the house on DeGarmo Ave just south of Polk. Lynne with neighbor, Uncle Frank and Mom.

Update: Leilani has added a new book of earthquake pics “Fifty Years Ago Today”

Alpha Beta Company Magazine March 1971
Earthquake Vanguard
QUAKE!