The ground shook and buildings fell

Few remnants remain of 1989 quake that shattered Hollister

The wall of the Odd Fellow’s Hall in downtown Hollister collapsed as seen in this photo from the 1989 earthquake.

Nearly 30 years ago, on Oct. 17, 1989, the Masonic Temple clock tower in Hollister was frozen at 5:04 pm, the exact time the 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake shook the Bay Area and Central Coast, causing massive destruction and claiming 67 lives.

No Hollister residents were killed in the quake, but the city was forever changed. The aftermath of the earthquake can still be seen in Hollister’s downtown core, where the vacant lot known as the 400 Block sits untouched, a last reminder that something is missing, irretrievable. 

The lot was home to several businesses before the earthquake, but is now the highly contested location of a mixed-use development in the city center. 

Like many California cities, Hollister’s unreinforced masonry buildings fared the worst. The city is situated at the end of the Calaveras fault and perilously close to the San Andreas Fault, which sent shock waves north and south from Loma Prieta in the Santa Cruz Mountains when it shifted in 1989.

The face of the Odd Fellow’s Hall on Fourth Street, which housed Rovella’s Gym and Caputo Printing, crumbled into the street. The building on the corner of Fifth and San Benito was damaged in the quake, but was saved from demolition.

The 1989 earthquake did an estimated $100 million worth of damage in San Benito County. In downtown Hollister, nine buildings were damaged in the quake and 15 businesses suffered losses. All were repaired or demolished.

The aftermath of the quake left broken water lines that flooded downtown streets, and homes knocked off foundations. Residents in San Benito were without power for two days.

Now, the county has established a disaster response unit to limit the effects of a similar natural disaster. 

Interim Emergency Services Manager Kris Mangano told the Free Lance the county would react the same way to most emergencies depending on how widespread the disaster. She said that in a disaster like the Loma Prieta earthquake, the county would have emergency services roaming the streets looking for high priority situations. 

“If it was like Loma Prieta we’d be relying on our own county resources,” said Mangano. “All county employees are sworn in as disaster workers.”

She said it would be all hands on deck when it came to county workers aiding in disaster relief. Each employee would be given a responsibility like distributing water or setting up cots. 

“Overall, we train and hope we’re prepared,” said Mangano.  

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