Looking Back: Riding Out the Loma Prieta Quake at the Old Main Library

Photo of the San Jose Public Library on San Carlos Street about 1970

I remember sitting with my mother in the kitchen of our little house in Willow Glen, watching the kitchen cart roll from one side of the room to the other.  We were both rather amazed, though we were having an earthquake at the time.  This was about 1964, and only the first of many earthquakes I can recall from my fifty some odd years here in San Jose.  Another time I was sitting on the front porch with a cat in my lap, when our carport shook so violently that the cat sunk all of its claws into my leg. Of course, these small quakes pale in comparison to the strength and devastation wrought by the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, which also caused significant damage in San Jose.   

I’ve never been very afraid of earthquakes, though I do recall being under my desk on the third floor of the old King Library and wondering if my time was at hand.  The date was October 17, 1989, and this year marks the 25th anniversary of the Loma Prieta Earthquake.  I was off work at 5 pm. that day, but had stayed a few minutes late to go over something with a co-worker.  The quake hit at 5:04 pm sending people, books, and microfilm cabinets to the floor.  Everyone evacuated the building quite calmly, and when we got outside we began to realize how serious the quake had been.  Cars were backed-up at signal lights that were out along with an eerie silence.  Once we were given the ‘okay’ to leave, I walked home to my Japantown apartment where my old clock now hung crookedly on the wall, frozen in time at 5:04. I would soon hear of the destruction and loss of life that occurred as a result of the quake.

San Jose Public Library on San Carlos Street exterior (top of page) and interior shots.

Photos: San Jose Public Library on San Carlos Street exterior (top of page) and interior shots. We later learned that the reason the old San Jose Public Library building swayed so much during the Loma Prieta Earthquake, was that it had been built on rollers to prevent earthquake damage.  Photos from the King Library’s California Room.

Further Reading in the California Room: