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Scenes From The Loma Prieta Earthquake, As Told By CRE Professionals

Oct. 17, 1989, is a date many Bay Area commercial real estate professionals remember well. Buildings collapsed, freeways fell and destruction was seen throughout the region. Bisnow spoke with several CRE professionals to hear their accounts of that dreadful day. Check out their stories below:

George R. Eckard 

Cushman & Wakefield Executive Director, Capital Markets, Investment Sales & Acquisitions George Eckard

Job Title: Executive Director, Capital Markets, Investment Sales & Acquisitions

Company: Cushman & Wakefield

“I was at Candlestick Park, World Series tickets in hand. I was waiting for a friend and sitting at the base of the Beniamino Bufano Statue of St. Francis of Assisi, which was outside the park right behind home plate.

“All of a sudden it hit. I had been through many earthquakes before, so there was no doubt this was a big one. There was a police car parked nearby and its wheels were, literally, bouncing two to three inches off the roadway. Everyone sort of froze for a minute and then just stood still wondering what to do. I looked up and realized that I was sitting below a 25-foot wall of concrete and said a brief 'thank you' for rebar, or I could have been road kill.

“Rumors started flying and folks talked about the Bay Bridge collapsing into the bay (fortunately not true) and the Cypress Structure in Oakland pancaking (unfortunately true), so I decided to head home to Orinda. Choosing to avoid all bridges, I headed to Interstate 280 to loop around San Jose, up Interstate 680 to Highway 24 and home. Traffic was moving about five miles per hour, and somewhere around Los Altos, the highway had separated about a foot so no cars could get by. I took the surface roads to get around it then headed toward home. All-in-all, it took about four hours to get home. In those days, cellphones were in their infancy, but I got hold of my wife and told her all was fine.

“I still have the Series ticket somewhere and never went to the game. I remember that trip to the World Series better than the ones I actually saw!”

Jesse Nickel

Swenson Senior Vice President Jesse Nickel

Job Title: Senior Vice President

Company: Swenson

“I was at a Subaru dealer in Los Gatos at Town and Campbell. I had driven my motorcycle, and the earthquake happened and I saw my bike fall over. ... The Subaru sign had shattered.

“I proceeded to go on and drive my motorcycle. Everything was shut down. I was on Highway 17 weaving around back roads, and a guy flagged me down to help him turn off gas tanks. ... I got to this adobe house, but a dog started chasing after me and I left. ... My house was really close to the source and everything was on the ground. ... The house was totally trashed.

Santa Cruz got hit hard and brick buildings were in bad shape. ... They were not reinforced brick buildings. There is no lateral movement and they are like dominos and break apart.

“I was a superintendent at the time with Swenson. During rebuilding, the first building we did was St. George. We did a replica building because we knew it was going to be needed. Once you lose big buildings, everyone is psychologically torn. 

“Since then, we have bought and built $180M in downtown Santa Cruz and have been a key buyer to properties … It has been an interesting journey for me and my crew since the earthquake.”

Michael Federle

Transwestern Capital Markets - San Francisco Senior Vice President Michael Federle

Job Title: Senior Vice President

Company: Transwestern Capital Markets - San Francisco

“The Loma Prieta earthquake was like the hand of God coming down and shaking the earth. I happened to be at home. We live in the city above the Haight. Our dog started running around and got on his belly and was going insane. I called my wife to tell her something was wrong with Jake.

“All of a sudden, the wave hit, and it was like a whip cracking. Our house happens to be built on bedrock and was newly built. It swayed back and forth, but we had no damage. The surge of the shock wave went up our street exactly perpendicular. Almost every house on our block had some damage. We ran around the neighborhood helping people with kids and animals. The power went off and it was very frightening to the children.

“At the time, I was director of capital markets at Marcus & Millichap working on the 10th floor at 101 California St. The streets were bad, covered with rubble, and you couldn’t drive around downtown. By the time we got into our building the next day, everything in the 4K SF office that wasn’t screwed to the wall was in the center of the floor. The 44-story building twisted during the earthquake, which is what it was supposed to do, and shook everything in that building like crazy.

“It really brought business to a halt. Everyone was in shock, and there were fires and water spouts where fire plugs were leaking. Infrastructure was pretty much blocked by the mayhem. Buildings were red tagged. People were displaced and staying at friends or with family. It was a time of coming together. We continually see this phenomenon in disasters such as the Wine Country fires.”

Michael Kirner

Cushman & Wakefield Senior Communications Specialist Michael Kirner with his dog Claudius Tiberius Drusus Nero Germanicus

Job Title: Senior Communications Specialist

Company: Cushman & Wakefield

“To this day, I still occasionally have nightmares about natural disasters. I am 100% certain it’s because of this infamous day. I experienced the earthquake when I was an assistant director of marketing for Valley Fair Shopping Center in Santa Clara. At the time, the popular shopping center was owned by the Hahn Co. and is today owned by Westfield.

“I was on the second floor in the mall management office of the 1.3M SF center talking to a work buddy at a few minutes past 5 p.m. I had just been issued a transfer to the Village at Corte Madera in Marin, and this was one of my last days at Valley Fair.

“The earth began to shake. The entire building started to rattle. File cabinets tumbled. People were shouting. It sounded like a freight train was driving through this moment in time. My workmate and I dove under my desk. I was sure the ground was about to open and we would perish. I prayed and covered my head with my hands.

“On a metaphysical level, to me it felt like a giant hand picked up the mall and was shaking it like it was a toy. The shaking went back and forth and back and forth. I believe it’s because large buildings like this are built on lead rubber bearings. Lead rubber bearings are part of a base isolation system installed on a shopping mall’s foundation to essentially decouple the structure from the ground itself. They're constructed from rubber grommets with a lead core and allow the building to sway more easily — as a unit — with the force of the seismic wave.

“The ordeal seemed to last one or two minutes, I cannot accurately remember how much time passed. However, even today, the event is indelible and frightening. Nobody in Valley Fair was seriously hurt.”

Edward Del Beccaro

Transwestern Senior Managing Director Edward Del Beccaro

Job Title: Senior Managing Director

Company: Transwestern

“I was looking out the window of my development office at 1910 Olympic Blvd. in Walnut Creek when the earthquake hit. I saw lamp posts sway back and forth at least 10 feet.

“I found out my father's plane to the Bay Area was diverted to Sacramento. We had plans to watch the World Series that night.”