The 1971 Sylmar Earthquake

Where I now live - Springfield, Virginia - we had an earthquake at 5 AM this morning. I slept right through it. Magnitude 3.6 on the Richter scale... that's nothing! I'm a native Californian and have felt some big earthquakes in my time there. The one on February 9th 1971 (the so-called "Sylmar Earthquake"), 6.6 on the Richter scale) woke me up, all right!

I recall being jolted into wakefulness at 6 AM to an enormous shaking in the house - the sound of coffee mugs placed atop the fridge cracking onto the floor - and seeing odd flashes of light outside. I later learned that this was due to sparks from power lines shorting out. The pendulum in our grandfathers clock was banging against the glass door, and the water in the pool was sloshing out - it was a fearful thing. It cracked some of the pool tiles. School was canceled, and the entire region was talking about nothing else that day, all the more so since we had aftershock temblors (we called them "tremblers" - a forgivable mistake, I think) the rest of the day into the evening. We learned on the news that the Olive View Medical Center in Sylmar was damaged beyond repair - it was later demolished.

Viki Gardemann, the girl across the street, and I were standing in the middle of Lincoln Street talking about the earthquake when a aftershock hit. It was weird - like a wave moving across the surface of the ground. It was like surfing concrete; very unsettling. She shrieked and ran back home. I can still see her face in my mind's eye. That evening I recall the first episode of "All in the Family" I had ever watched; it was the one about Archie Bunker learning that his masculine friend (played by Phil Carey) was actually gay. I assure you, the subject matter was quite shocking for 1971 - I can still recall laughing at Edith's comment, "That big football player is a flower!" Anyway, my viewing of it was interrupted by an occasional temblor, which awoke my Mom who was asleep on the couch. I recall it was a fearful evening for her.

I also later saw the Tonight Show segment that was taped that day. An aftershock hit while Johnny was talking to Bob Newhart. It was cool; you can see a glass of water move. Carson was calm but Newhart seemed nervous.

That weekend Mom and Dad and I drove around in the San Fernando Valley to examine the damage, viewing various cinder block walls down, cracks in parking lots, etc. I recall seeing one old apartment building where a wall had fallen away, exposing a room like a dollhouse. A rug was draped half on the floor, half-off, danging in the air. Ever since, when I visit the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland and ride through the burning building area and see a rug draped like this, I think of the Sylmar Quake.

A 28 minute short "Earthquake!" about this earthquake

Some KGIL broadcasting from the day

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