The Great Santa Barbara Earthquake: Day 3

The Great Santa Barbara Earthquake: Day 3 title=
The Great Santa Barbara Earthquake: Day 3
Reads 13193

El Paseo back when it was a delightful collection of shops and stores.

By Neal Graffy XNGH (cut from the forthcoming publication “ The Great Santa Barbara Earthquake – The Disaster that Built a City”)

The front page of the Daily Press announced: “Spanish Architecture to Rise from Ruins.” Community leaders and organizations had met on Tuesday to devise a strategy for rebuilding the city and their decision was unanimous, the “Santa Barbara style” would prevail. For their inspiration, they pointed to the buildings of that design which had survived the earthquake with little or no damage – the Southern Pacific Depot (1906), Lobero Theater and Santa Barbara High School (both 1924); and surrounding De la Guerra Plaza, the Daily News Building (1922),  City Hall (1923) and El Paseo.

El Paseo was the brainchild of Bernhard and Irene Hoffmann. Mr. Hoffmann, a successful engineer had brought his family to Santa Barbara in 1919 for treatment of his daughter Margaret's diabetes.    The following year the Hoffmann’s bought the historic De la Guerra adobe.  As fate would have it, their next door neighbor was architect James Osborne Craig who had renovated the two Orena adobes to the east of Casa de la Guerra. Hoffmann's vision of what Santa Barbara could become, or rather should become, was expressed through the talents of architect Craig (and his wife Mary, also an architect) in El Paseo.  Created alongside and to the rear of the De la Guerra adobe, the quaint Spanish village of shops, offices and restaurants was his blueprint for future Santa Barbara.  Another of Hoffmann's innovative ideas was to rid the horizon of ugly wiring and poles by putting them underground.

Through the newly created Architectural Advisory Committee, suggested facades for State Street stores were available for free to property owners.  

On the day following the earthquake, a Board of Public Safety and Reconstruction was created and within two weeks, an Architectural Advisory Committee and an Architectural Board of Review would be established (with Bernhard Hoffmann a member of both). The earthquake had truly been a blessing in disguise. “Now when everyone is absorbed in the story of our misfortune, let us surprise the balance of California and the world by turning our misfortune into a source of rejoicing.”  

The first block of West Ortega. The Fithian Building (aka “The Lower Clock Building), built in 1895 still stands at the corner of State and Ortega but without its third story and famed clock tower and chimes which were removed after the quake. The other building, the Van Ness Hotel was rebuilt without it’s second floor and still rocks today with the Wildcat Lounge as one its tenants

Santa Barbarans were relieved to hear that more than 300 Marines were being sent from San Diego to take over the task of patrolling and securing the city. City police, the American Legion, the Naval Reserve and many volunteers had been at the job for over 48 hours. Though aided by the Los Angeles police and the sailors and marines that had come in on the 30th, they were tired and overworked. Plus, they had a much bigger job ahead of them – the clean-up and rebuilding of the city. 

Though there had only been two real acts of looting (one by a well-known local drunk) several shopkeepers reported various items had gone astray and for some reason the LA police were taking the heat. The Arlington Hotel barber was missing a few of his “better razors” and claimed they hadn’t been missing until the LA police arrived.

The Marines left San Diego around noon and pulled into the Santa Barbara station at 8:30 that night. A fleet of trucks carried the rations and tents to the new Peabody Stadium (above) at Santa Barbara High School where “Marines in charge of the commissary department set up the officer’s quarters and commissary tents in the dark and then sent word to the station.” To the delight of the public who had gathered to watch the proceedings, the marines “marched” and “double-timed” it up State Street to the stadium where the rest of the men had to set up their own pup tents. Within three hours of their arrival they were out patrolling the streets.

A truck load of Marines passes the Post Office (now the Art Museum) for deployment along State Street…

…where they guard Santa Barbara’s most valuable asset – the babes! Behind them is the wreckage of Our Lady of Sorrows church at the northeast corner of State and Figueroa.
The earthquake actually “restored” the church to its original 1867 adobe construction! In 1882, the adobe was covered over by a brick façade to create a more modern looking church and two massive bell towers were added in 1904. Rocked hard by the quake, the church shed its brick skin along all four sides, The east tower was left perilously resting on the internal wooden framing while the west tower simply gave up and collapsed. 

Carl Sylvestor (above) found himself a media star as this photo appeared in newspapers across the country. The Santa Barbara Meat Packing Co. employee had parked in front of the Bon Ton Market at 914 State Street to make a normal morning delivery. As he climbed back into the cab he noticed the latch was still open on the tailgate.  Deciding to be safe rather than sorry, he jumped out and went to the back of the truck to secure the latch. A second or two later…

Another indication of the fortunate timing of the earthquake can be seen in the remains of the Junior High School at De la Vina and Anapamu. It had opened in 1902 as the high school, but became the junior high when the new high school was completed in 1924. There was an unfortunate side of this photo though. A number of students who now thought they had the summer free found out that “Summer school is to resume this afternoon [July 1] at the three Jr. High bungalows.” 

 Much progress was being made in getting services restored. Street lights were back on by nightfall, gas and electricity had been restored to Montecito, phone lines were getting repaired and some subscribers had long distance service available. For those still without phones, thousands of messages were being sent and received by the Western Union Telegraph Co. Now, with more messages than messenger boys, the job description changed sex and the deliveries were made by the local Girl Scouts. The Girl Scouts had also abandoned their summer camp plans and cheerfully donated their hard collected dollars to the Earthquake Relief Fund. 

 It would be another two weeks before the electric street cars would be running but in the meantime, the company borrowed a number of busses from Los Angeles and limited but dependable transportation would begin the next day.

From the ruins of the Arlington Hotel came the report that a very honest worker had uncovered the late Mrs. Perkins diamonds “worth $350,000. 

  State Street was now closed off except to those who held passes signed by the Chief of Police Lester Desgrandchamp and City Manager Herbert Nunn. The fire department was put in charge of removing loose and dangerous walls and roof-edge decorative stonework. Above, “a bulging wall” at the Morning Press Building (813 State Street) is pulled down. All businesses on State were closed so the engineering teams could inspect and report on each building. 


Although civilization was quickly returning to the stricken city, most residents continued to “camp out” in their backyards, city parks and vacant lots. As aftershocks were still rolling through, cooking indoors was a great hazard. Above, at 616 West Carrillo, Mrs. Ida Rohrback prepares a meal for her family (sons Victor and Edward).


I hope you have all enjoyed the summarized accounts of the first three days of the 1925 earthquake. The forthcoming book covers SB quakes and building history up to 1925, then the June 29th earthquake and the next seven days in detail and follows up with the rebuilding and a look at the earthquakes since 1925.

I think what has impressed me the most about this epic event was how the community pulled together so quickly and mostly without any outside help. 
City employees repaired broken pipes and had the water running within three hours. Volunteers patrolled the streets and business owners and employees immediately headed to work to access damage and clear debris. Grocery stores and other food establishments quickly brought their goods to De la Guerra Plaza to be distributed as needed for the volunteers and community. Makeshift ovens were created in the Plaza from bricks salvaged from nearby collapsed walls. No one instructed anyone to do these things. People just showed up and did them.

There was no panic at grocery stores or hoarding. Food was readily available as Goleta, Carpinteria and the city outskirts were still ranches and farms providing fresh meat and produce. Also, many homes in the city had chickens and small vegetable plots.

How do you think our community of 2020 would handle an earthquake of this size?

About the earthquake victims

In researching the victims of the 1925 earthquake, I found most had no obituaries, just a one line note of their death and funeral. Starting with a list of over 40 reported names I was able to narrow it down to eleven actual victims and decided to create the obituaries they never had. I was able to connect with a number of families, and thankfully there were some who were old enough to remember the victims and provide personal memories of them. I found that four of the deceased, William Proctor, Merced Leon, Gerardo Chavez and Cicile Gomez were buried in unmarked graves. A few phone calls resulted in transforming the empty mounds of grass to an identified place of final rest.  With thanks to Jed Hendrickson at Santa Barbara Monumental, Randy Thwing at Santa Barbara Cemetery and Gwen Houston at Calvary Cemetery all four received proper engraved headstones which were placed at their graves just in time for the 80th anniversary of their passing.

Neal Graffy is a Santa Barbara historian, lecturer and author. His books “Street Names of Santa Barbara”, “Santa Barbara Then and Now” and “Historic Santa Barbara “are  available at Chaucers, the Book Den, the Santa Barbara Historical Museum, Santa Barbara Arts, Maritime Museum and Tecolote Books as well as online at

Photos courtesy Neal Graffy collection. Aerial photo by Observation Squadron 1, U.S. Marine Corp, Naval Air Station San Diego. Ground photos by Edwin Rick, Dwight Faulding and the Rohrback family.

For a look at the history of Santa Barbara earthquakes, including 1925, and why the earthquake is the great foundation of Southern California architecture, here is a link to a PowerPoint talk I did a few years back for the Santa Barbara Historical Museum.



 June 29, 2020: The 1925 Santa Barbara Earthquake: Day 1, Part 1

 June 30, 2020:  June 29, 1925 Earthquake Part Two

 July 1, 2020: The Great Santa Barbara Earthquake: Day 2

Login to add Comments


Show Comments
taz Jul 02, 2020 03:32 PM
The Great Santa Barbara Earthquake: Day 3

This was Wonderful to read :) Thank you so much Mr. Graffy for such a colorful description of the fate and spirit of the people of SB, and illustrative photos that bring to life this historic event. The resilient, creative, forward-thinking action of the citizens is remarkable. Thank you to sandi4pawz for adding personal family story of the loss of your grandmother - and your mom's and sibs experience of the rolling beds!

sandi4pawz Jul 02, 2020 02:17 PM
The Great Santa Barbara Earthquake: Day 3

This is a Great article. The woman they had found in the rubble was my Grandmother, Macadia Villamore. She had passed away by the time I was born in 1955, but my mother had told me the story of my Grandmother and her experience during the quake. My mom Frances Villamore Lane had told me her story about the quake, at the time my mom, aunt,and 2 uncles had beds with rollers and when the quake hit they were all rolling around in their bedroom and couldn’t get out of bed. Needless to say they were all very scared. My aunt’s name was Elisa Villamore Traspuesto and my uncle’s names were Sam Villamore and Phil Villamore. Our family had some history in Santa Barbara. I love Santa Barbara !!!

Simpleton Jul 02, 2020 10:33 AM
The Great Santa Barbara Earthquake: Day 3

Great articles, Mr. Graffy. I am awestruck that within three days the community was able to determine a path forward for rebuilding. But what struck me most was the immediate need for security from locals until the Marines arrived days later. If an earthquake were to strike our city today will we locals be as ready and able to secure our homes and town?

Please Login or Register to comment on this.