The Great Santa Barbara Earthquake: Day 2
Tuesday, June 30, 1925 – Day 2
by Neal Graffy XNGH (cut from my forthcoming publication “ The Great Santa Barbara Earthquake – The Disaster that Built a City”)
Santa Barbara had long been called “that sleepy little town,” but in the early morning hours of Tuesday, June 30th, it was anything but sleepy. Nearly 150 men were at work digging through the wreckage of the San Marcos Building and Arlington Hotel. Men patrolled the downtown streets in three hour shifts, the Red Cross Canteens throughout the city were in constant motion preparing sandwiches, rolls and coffee. If the noise from the heavy machinery at work at the San Marcos hadn’t kept the rest of the city up, strong aftershocks at 1:20 a.m. (lasting nearly 20 seconds), 4:45 a.m. and 5:55 a.m. got hearts pumping and the populace on their toes.
Then there were the late night “visitors.”
Though Santa Barbara mayor, Charles M. Andrea had stated in his radio broadcast on Monday afternoon “No call is sent out for help…” it apparently fell on deaf ears. Everyone it seemed was headed to Santa Barbara to help.
They came by land…around 9:30 Monday evening 123 Los Angeles uniformed policemen plus a few plainclothesmen arrived. At 2:30 a.m. Tuesday morning, fire trucks from Los Angeles pulled in.
They came by train…and were sent back. “Chief Surgeon E. G. Goodrich of the Los Angeles Receiving Hospital and chief of the medical staff of the Southern Pacific arrived on the first relief train with intentions of establishing medical quarters. However, Santa Barbarans had already taken care of their emergency.” (The Illustrated Daily News).
And they came by sea…President Calvin Coolidge was in Vermont at the bedside of his dying father when word of the Santa Barbara disaster reached him from the news wires. He sent an immediate telegram to acting Secretary of War Dwight Davis: "You and Secretary of the Navy [Curtis D. Wilbur] give all possible aid to Santa Barbara." And they did.
The battleship U.S.S. Arkansas (above) was the first to arrive at 1:27 a.m. Tuesday. It would soon be joined by the destroyer McCawley, Eagle Boat 33 (sort of like a WWII PT boat), the fleet tugs Koka, Pinola, Algorma, and Sonoma and the Coast Guard cutters Vaughn and Tamaroa.
In reality, help was desperately needed. Santa Barbara had been running on pure adrenalin for nearly 24 hours. A number of sailors were landed for patrol duty relieving the “home guard” and freeing them to go home and sleep. Medical teams were taken to Cottage Hospital to assist there and to relieve the doctors and nurses that had been on duty since the quake struck.
Most importantly, the Arkansas landed a radio and receiving set. The radio was taken “under guard from the local naval reserve unit” to De la Guerra Plaza and reservist Archie E. Banks (Bank’s Stationary) was put in command of the new communications station. (I do love the “under guard” bit, who the heck would be stealing a radio at 4 o’clock in the morning as it is being carried up the street?)
Above, a scene from Tuesday morning as a sailor from the Arkansas stands guard with two local loafers in front of the First National Bank at 901 State (State and Canon Perdido). The tower above the sailor’s head is the Upper Clock Building at State and Carrillo. Built in 1875 by Mortimer Cook (coincidentally he started the first bank in SB which became the First National), the landmark building was torn down due to quake damage. Just to its right is the E. F. Rogers building which was renovated and stands today as the Apple Store (formerly Pier One).
Noting that Santa Barbara was now well-patrolled and anticipating the arrival of other naval vessels, the Arkansas recalled most of its sailors and left at 10:31 a. m.
At the Arlington Hotel all of the guests and staff had been accounted for except for two guests who had been in the collapsed tower suites. Though it hardly seemed likely anyone could have survived, hopes were bolstered by the news of Mrs. Vilamore’s safe recovery at the San Marcos Building. However, there would be no rejoicing at the Arlington. Bertram Hancock’s body was found at 2:20 that morning and Mrs. Edith Perkins was found equally deceased two hours later. The death toll now stood at 10.
A few hours later, a policeman walking past the Brown Mug Café (430 State) saw a boot sticking out of the rubble and pulled on it, thinking it was some of the clothing scattered from one of the rooms of the (formerly) Grand Hotel above the café. The removal of the boot disclosed a foot which was found to be connected to a leg which in turn led to the body of Ralph Litchfield, victim number 11.
Meanwhile it was almost beginning to be a normal business day. The Daily News building was declared safe and it was back in operation printing a full edition. The competing Morning Press at 813 State had been hit pretty hard, but they rushed their copy to Ventura where the Tuesday paper was printed by the Ventura Free Press.
Banks were open, but not where you’d expect. Within 24 hours the banking community had pretty much abandoned State Street and a new financial district had been created in De la Guerra Plaza operating out of canvas tents rather than marble temples.
Above, a group of sailors march past the Pacific-Southwest Bank which defying the compass direction of their name was located at the southeast corner of State and Canon Perdido streets. It doesn’t look like there is any damage, but the bank had moved out. Barely visible is a sign at the corner advising customers they are open for “Business as usual at the Plaza.”
Location, location, location. The plaza!? Why would you want to go to the noisy, chaotic and crowed plaza? We’ve now moved to the upscale front lawn of the Lobero Theater. This unidentified gentleman is in most of the Pacific-Southwest Bank photos found in an unmarked photo album. I’m certain he’s an employee and possibly an executive as he’s featured in so many shots.
Their new bank at the Anacapa street side of the Lobero. The sign on the table at directs patrons to the “Savings Department.” The sign at right, framed by the policeman’s arm, reads “Paying Teller.”
“Doing Business as usual” at the Lobero with a move down to the corner. Even in a disaster, there’s a need to remodel. You have to admire the fact that they’ve built a wood-framed, canvas-lined bank and then put an iron grating across the teller’s window. Presentation is everything.
The County Jail was located behind the courthouse (this view is looking at the jail from Anacapa Street). There were twenty prisoners inside when the rear wall collapsed and the second-story floor dropped at an angle to the ground floor supposedly dropping out the prisoners as if they were on a slide. Various reports have claimed that the inmates took advantage of nature's jailbreak and fled. However, all inmates were accounted for and dealt with. Four were taken to the jail at City Hall. Two federal prisoners along with one man charged with a felony were transferred to the Ventura county jail. The remaining thirteen were released and told to put themselves to good use and return later. They did.
Wheels were turning fast at City Hall. City Manager Herbert Nunn had assembled an Emergency Engineering Committee to be composed of two groups. One had ten members from Santa Barbara County and the second had seven members which were sent by the mayor of Los Angeles. They would begin the inspection of every building in the business district and also review homes as needed.
To keep out the curious, roadblocks had been set up outside of Ventura and below San Luis Obispo. Only residents, officials and the press were let through. When business leader Charley Pressley found out there were several hundred cars with some 1,000 people at the Ventura line trying to get up to view the town he appealed to the authorities to “open State St to traffic and allow visitors in to stimulate the economy.” Among those who had not been held back were California Governor Friend W. Richardson and his wife who arrived around noon and took in the sights first hand.
It had been one hell of a day, but Santa Barbarans were pulling together and the attitude was positive. As the mayor had said, “We will rebuild bigger and better than before.”
Tomorrow – The events of Day 3, July 1st, 1925. The Marines land, diamonds are discovered, and a new look is found for Santa Barbara.
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 www.elbarbareno.com.
Photos courtesy Neal Graffy collection. Photos by Edwin Rick, Dwight Faulding, and Roy Klaffki (with thanks to Marian Klaffki) and several unknown photographers.
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:
June 30, 2020: June 29, 1925 Earthquake Part Two