Headline History: Earthquakes Rockin’ Santa Barbara

California has become a hotspot for earthquakes, one of the most common natural disasters in the state, due to its fault lines that can set off even the deadliest of earthquakes. Notably, the San Andreas fault line stringed with conspiracy theories on when it will trigger California to sink into the ocean. For now, let’s travel back to 9 January 1857, when Santa Barbara experienced its’ own earthquake involvement reported in the SB Gazette.

Published in the SB Gazette on January 15th, 1857, earthquake tremors were felt within and outside the Santa Barbara area. Although little was known about the earthquake’s effects on other parts of California at the time of occurrence, what was recorded was citizens’ “on bended knees, and hearts throbbing with terror” from the wake of the powerful earthquake (SB Gazette). The severity of the shocks frightened Santa Barabara citizens, and they hoped for the quake to pass quickly. 

SB Gazette | 15 January 1857

Later in the issue, it was reported the following day, on January 10th, that the earthquake’s center was in Los Angeles, where devastation from the earthquake’s multiple shocks gravely harmed the area. The most notable damage accounted for at the time was the church of San Buenaventura, in Ventura, CA, described as “badly injured” with the roof collapsing within the building walls (SB Gazette). 

SB Gazette | 15 January 1857

In the following week’s issue of SB Gazette, 22 January 1857, another set of earthquakes that were connected to the January 9th Los Angeles earthquakes struck again! It began on January 16th with a reported “sufficient intensity” earthquake and caused Santa Barbara citizen’s to flee their homes (SB Gazette). Then again on January 18th, but decreased to a low intensity compared to the 16th earthquake. The series of earthquakes finally commenced on January 20th, where a “moderate shock” was last recorded (SB Gazette). Fortunately, there were no damages or injuries recorded from these earthquakes. 

From the January 22nd issue, we learned that the January 9th earthquakes were precisely pinpointed at Fort Tejon and were recorded to have “exceeded in intensity and severity” with the earthquake’s tremors (SB Gazette). Most houses near Fort Tejon were “rendered useless,” and the earthquake uprooted and destroyed plant life, such as trees (SB Gazette). Though minimal injuries were reported, not all were safe. Mr. Reed’s wife died instantly after she was struck on the head by a falling beam. The overall damage cost was an estimated $50,000 due to the Fort Tejon earthquake.

SB Gazette | 22 January 1857

Over a century later, Santa Barbara and UCSB faced an earthquake on 13 August 1978. As reported in the Daily Nexus, a 5.1 magnitude earthquake damaged major facilities here at UCSB, including the library and 400,000 books, laboratories and equipment, and the largest lecture hall on campus, Campbell Hall. The Daily Nexus reported that the university faced “$6-9 million worth of damage” from the earthquake. This earthquake was a focal point for the summer of 1978 as Gauchos prepared to return to campus to start the upcoming school year.

The Daily Nexus | 01 September 1978

The August earthquake made Santa Barbara a national headline for its considerable economic damage of $5.5 million. The most significant loss was equipment and supplies across departments, with estimations of $300,000 needed to refurnish the equipment. Additional infrastructure damage was reported in the Daily Nexus on 21 September 1978: dorms such as Santa Cruz and Anacapa suffered cracks. Almost half of the 40 elevators on campus were out of service, and bike paths and sidewalks were destroyed.

The Daily Nexus | 21 September 1978

Questions about earthquakes emerged in the aftermath of the August 13th quake. In a response, the UCSB Geological Sciences department hosted an earthquake community session on 26 September 1978 at Lott Lehmann Hall, answering questions about the possibilities of significant earthquakes, showcasing two earthquake-based movies, and updating information about the August 13th earthquake. It was briefly revealed in this section that a late aftershock did occur from the August 13th earthquake. 

The Daily Nexus | 26 September 1978

The Daily Nexus provided a follow-up report on the earthquake information session in their 28 September 1978 issue. Dr. Arthur Sylvester, the primary spokesperson of the event, lectured the community on the science of earthquakes by breaking down their causes and effects, the San Andreas fault and their two plates’ boundaries, and California’s history with earthquakes. Dr. Sylvester highlighted Santa Barbara as an earthquake-prone area due to more minor faults that align with the San Andreas Fault. However, Dr. Sylvester debunked theories on California collapsing into the ocean or the ocean “opening up and swallowing people” as speculated by others (The Daily Nexus). Speculators would have to go back to the drawing board while reassurance from Dr. Sylvester settled the community’s uneasiness. 

The Daily Nexus | 28 September 1978

The August 13th Santa Barbara earthquake is why the city was officially declared a “disaster site” on 30 August 1978 and produced a Small Business Administration (SBA) Disaster Branch where Santa Barbara residents could apply for a loan in the wake of the economic losses from the earthquake.

The Daily Nexus | 05 October 1978

California is no stranger to earthquakes, as indicated in the 1857 Fort Tejon and the 1978 Santa Barbara earthquakes. These events are real learning moments to prepare for a natural disaster. In the wake of an earthquake, it is encouraged to have supplies and resources ready, such as earthquake kits, lights, food, water, and bandages (for a detailed checklist, check out UCSB’s Emergency Checklist). As recommended by UCSB’s Emergency Response Procedures, hide in a safe space underneath a classroom desk or furniture, duck and cover, and protect yourself and your fellow Gauchos from the next earthquake!

Author name and details. 

Serena Dominguez is a 4th-year History major with a Minor in Education. Aside from being an editor for the journal, she currently volunteers at the Goleta Union School District as a Teacher’s Aide for her future career as a Teacher and works as a Student Lead at the University Center’s Post Office.