On the warm summer morning of June 29, 1925, an earthquake with an moment magnitude of 6.8 shook the city of Santa Barbara to its core. Resulting in the deaths of 13 individuals, countless lives were however saved as a result of keen forethought to shut off the gas lines following the initial quake. To emphasize the importance of such a crucial decision, one can compare the destruction incurred as a result of the 1925 Santa Barbara earthquake to the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. In San Francisco, a great deal of damage can be attributed to the subsequent widespread fires that ravaged the city for numerous days due to the rupturing of gas mains. (Refer to [link to 1906 San Francisco earthquake blog post] for more information)
While most homes survived the earthquake, downtown Santa Barbara was destroyed with the heaviest damage along State Street. The Californian Hotel, located close to the waterfront on the corner of State and Mason Streets, was amongst the casualties of the earthquake.
Having been open for a mere 11 days, the Californian Hotel received its “grand opening” on June 29, 1925 as seismic waves caused bricks and mortar to be shed from the facade of the building. Yet, the interior, although “swaying back and forth like an accordion,” remained mostly intact. Consequently, hotel guests escaped the confines of the building by lowering themselves onto the street with draped bedsheets. The remnants of these efforts are visible in Fig. 1 as bedsheets can be seen hanging from the hotel rooms. The damage afflicted to the Californian Hotel became an iconic image associated with the 1925 Santa Barbara earthquake.
Following this natural disaster, Santa Barbara including the Californian Hotel was rebuilt in the Spanish Moorish style of architecture as a result of stricter building codes.
Fig. 1: The Californian Hotel after the 1925 earthquake. Notice the bed sheets hanging from the rooms by which hotel guests lowered themselves to the street below
By Daniella Fodera