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Stories from the Epicenter

On October 17th, 1989, California's Central Coast was rocked by the 6.9 magnitude Loma Prieta Earthquake. While most of the nation's attention in the days after was focused on the Bay Area, the earthquake's epicenter was in The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park, much closer to Santa Cruz and Watsonville. While these communities were spared extensive loss of life, their physical infrastructure—notably the downtowns of Santa Cruz and Watsonville as well as housing around the county—was seriously damaged, setting up a multi-year recovery process.

Stories from the Epicenter is a ten-part documentary podcast that explores the experience and memory of the Loma Prieta Earthquake through oral history records and interviews with current residents of Santa Cruz and Watsonville. It was produced by the University Library at the University of California, Santa Cruz, in partnership with the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, and Santa Cruz Public Libraries. Check back soon for more information on episode sources and music and additional resources on the Loma Prieta Earthquake in Santa Cruz County.

View our visual companion to the podcast.

Read press coverage in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, the Good Times, and The Pajaronian.

Episodes (click episode titles to learn more)

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Series producer Daniel Story introduces the series, then we spend time with Ross Gibson and, via a 1989 achieved interview, Esther Abbott as they describe the creation of the Pacific Garden Mall—the incarnation of the Santa Cruz downtown that existed in the two decades prior to the earthquake.

Runtime: 36:02

Episode Producer: Daniel Story

Interviews/footage: Anonymous hikers, Gary Griggs, Ross Eric Gibson, Esther Abbott, KSBW News

Music: "Light at the End of the Tunnel" by Lobo Loco; "Raskt Landsby," "Cinema Pathetic," "Vdet," and "Order of Entrance" by Blue Dot Sessions; "Headwaters Instrumental" by Chad Crouch; and "El Sonido de la Vida" by Silva de Alegria

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Charlie Eadie, who headed the emergency response in Santa Cruz, and Nikki Silva, who spent the few weeks after the quake recording interviews with Santa Cruz locals, take us through the early days after the earthquake. We explore the damage the downtown suffered, then how a team of city employees and volunteers worked to move the downtown through the crisis to a temporary new normal.

Runtime: 54:09

Episode Producer: Daniel Story

Interviews/footage: KSBW News, Tom Brezsny, Charlie Eadie, Nikki Silva, Morgan Snow, Dick Wilson, Neal Coonerty, Irene Reti, Bob Bower, Harriet Deck, Larry Pearson, Sam Farr

Music: "earthwork" by Hinterheim; "Cinema Pathetic," "An Oddly Formal Dance," "Lakkalia," "Flor Vjell," "Li Fonte," "Curiously and Curiously," and "Undying" by Blue Dot Sessions; "Phase 2" by Xylo-Ziko; "Dark Alleys" by Kai Engel; "Headwaters" by Chad Crouch; and "Outer Reaches" by Bio Unit

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Rebuilding the downtown meant negotiating the diverging views of progressive and pro-development factions in Santa Cruz. A planning group called Vision Santa Cruz was formed to work through the design guidelines, and a newly created city redevelopment office worked to take those general guidelines and put them into practice.

Runtime: 54:40

Episode Producer: Daniel Story

Interviews/footage: "The Idea of Planning," Mardi Wormhoudt, Mike Rotkin, Charlie Eadie, Joe Hall, Cynthia Mathews, Larry Pearson, Jim Pepper, Dick Wilson, Katharine Beiers, Ceil Cirrilo, William H. Whyte Jr., Claire Cooper Marcus, Alan Jacobs

Music: "Cinema Pathetic," "Plasticity," "Flor Vjell," "Curiously and Curiously," "Rambling," and "Li Fonte" by Blue Dot Sessions; "Driving Through Tunnels" and "Glacier Bells" by Daniel Birch; "Homeroad" by Kai Engel; and "Phase 2" by Xylo-Ziko

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Watsonville’s downtown, like Santa Cruz's, was hit hard in the earthquake, but by far the most severely affected group was the large Latinx population who were already dealing with a critical housing shortage that the earthquake, combined with poorly executed emergency response, only made worse. Out of these challenges, however, came opportunities for Watsonville leaders and activists to make progress on affordable housing in the years after.

Runtime: 27:14

Episode Producer: Madeline Maria Carpou

Interviews/footage: KSBW News, Rebecca Garcia, Barbara Garcia

Music: "Closing My Eyes For A Moment" by Daniel Birch; "Cinema Pathetic," "Vdet," and "I Recall" by Blue Dot Sessions; "Lightstream" by Siddhartha; "Sierra Tracks" and "You Get the Blues" by Lobo Loco; "Three Ravens" by Axletree; and "Negentropy" by Chad Crouch

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Unlike the downtowns of Santa Cruz and Watsonville, the UCSC campus was spared significant damage—campus architect at the time Frank Zwart explains why. But the story of McHenry Library illustrates that the lack of severe damage did not spare the building a monumental mess—like books piled in the thousands amid collapsed bookshelves—to clean up before the campus could become fully functional once again.

Runtime: 37:26

Episode Producer: Thomas Sawano

Interviews/footage: David Kirk, Frank Zwart, Allan Dyson, Elizabeth Cowell

Music: "Popism," "Plasticity," "Li Fonte," "Pencil Marks," and "Lerennis" by Blue Dot Sessions; "Dog Soldier Stand Down" by Aglow Hollow; "Wave Action-Oct 2018-LIVE" by Wave Action

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An event like the Loma Prieta Earthquake can look pretty different through the eyes of those who were very young at the time, like a fifteen-year-old exploring the rubble on his bike, or a one-year-old too young to appreciate (at the time) her narrow escape from a falling bookshelf, or the boy whose dad was the sole park ranger in The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park—the epicenter of the earthquake.

Runtime: 26:49

Episode Producer: Madeline Maria Carpou

Interviews/footage: Aaron Zachmeier, Michaela Clark-Nagaoka, Kevin Waggoner

Music: "Undying" and "Order of Entrance" by Blue Dot Sessions; "Wave Action-Oct 2018-LIVE" by Wave Action; "Multiverse" and "Drenched" by Ketsa; "Lemon Lime" by Brevyn; "Memories" by Pictures of the Floating World

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Local news reports on crises like the Loma Prieta Earthquake, but they also experience those crises themselves, often in very personal ways. For some, like photojournalist Shmuel Thaler, the earthquake opened up new possibilities with his employer the Sentinel. For others, like writer/editor/translator Stephen Kessler, it closed the chapter on his alternative paper venture The Sun, only to open up new adventures in the near and distant future.

Runtime: 42:05

Episode Producer: Daniel Story

Interviews/footage: Shmuel Thaler and Stephen Kessler

Music: "Order of Entrance," "Rambling," "Popism," "Flor Vjell," and "Lady Lupine" by Blue Dot Sessions; "I Almost Died Bog Slop" by Keshco; "Amber Haze" by Daniel Birch; "We Are Heading to the East" by springtide; "Glider" by East; and "Gray Drops" by Sergey Cheremisinov

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Memory is a tricky thing. How does the earthquake look to someone who experienced in the moment versus thirty years later? In this episode we tracked down two UCSC alums who in the months after the quake were involved in a oral history project—the one interviewed the other. We played them snippets of their 1990 conversation and let them respond.

Runtime: 54:43

Episode Producer: Thomas Sawano

Interviews/footage: Irene Reti, Quinton Skinner, and Jonathan Shapiro

Music: "Moonrise" by Chad Crouch and "Li Fonte," "In The Back Room," "Flor Vjell," and "Cinema Pathetic" by Blue Dot Sessions

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The thirtieth anniversary of the Loma Prieta Earthquake saw an unusually high interest in commemorating this seismic event, and a variety of cultural institutions in both Santa Cruz and Watsonville took on the challenge of staging a number of interesting and innovative exhibitions and events to help the community mark this occasion. One of the more fascinating of these was an exhibition called Art and Healing put on by the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History that explored the response of local artists to the earthquake.

Runtime: 33:19

Episode Producers: Daniel Story, Marla Novo, and Gabriel Kittle-Cervine

Interviews/footage: Lou Arbanas, Katharine Beiers, Cynthia Mathews, Tom Brezsny, Ross Gibson, Robin Kandel, and Alison Woolpert

Music: "An Oddly Formal Dance," "Raskt Landsby," "Curiously and Curiously," "Halpver," and "Flor Vjell" by Blue Dot Sessions

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Another of the commemorative projects that marked the thirtieth anniversary is still ongoing—an oral history project called Epicenter: An Oral History Project of the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake. Project leads Jennifer Hooker (Santa Cruz Public Libraries) and Kathleen Aston (Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History and Santa Cruz Public Libraries) discuss their experience collecting the stories of Santa Cruz locals who experience the quake. Then, Daniel provides a conclusion to the series.

Runtime: 34:49

Episode Producers: Daniel Story, Jennifer Hooker, and Kathleen Aston

Interviews/footage: Lisa Leuschner Andersen, Donna Barber, Clio Bavalee, Kate Bowland, Thomas Brezny, Larry Pearson, Tony Russomanno, and Ross Gibson

Music: "Desert Ghost Town" by Lobo Loco; "Outer Reaches" by Bio Unit; "Lemon Lime" by Brevyn; "Break Through" by "Pictures of the Floating World"; and "Order of Entrance," "Curiously and Curiously," and "Vdet" by Blue Dot Sessions

Credits and Acknowledgements

Daniel Story | Series Producer
Thomas Sawano | Producer and Contributor
Madeline Maria Carpou | Producer and Contributor
Naman Sudan | Contributor
Marla Novo | Contributor
Gabriel Kittle-Cervine | Contributor
Jennifer Hooker | Contributor
Kathleen Aston | Contributor

Special thanks to Irene Reti, Nikki Silva, Sylvanna Falcón, Scott Campbell, Kristy Golubiewski-Davis, Joshua Tuthill, and ​Laura McClanathan Meriwether.