A large photo that looked vaguely familiar took up a lot of the front page above the fold. It was an aerial photograph of downtown San Francisco – my old stomping grounds.
I lived in San Francisco from 1978 until 2002 and I saw a great deal of transformation in The City during that time. Looking at that photo in The Times I could scarcely recognize it as the city where I had lived. Their transformation continues.
A large portion of San Francisco, including the downtown area, home to many large, international companies and their skyscraper HQs, are built on landfill. There are huge buildings that have the bones of sunken ships as a part of their foundations. The iconic Transamerica Pyramid rests on a base of Teflon to allow the entire structure to move during earthquakes…and there are plenty of earthquakes.
When you mix buildings erected on filled in parts of San Francisco Bay with earthquakes you find yourself facing a phenomenon called “Liquefaction.” When you shake the fill land with a large quake (See the 1989 Loma Prieta Quake) water from The Bay rushes back in and turns the land into soup – buildings fall and people die.
If you were to take a stroll down Market Street heading east toward the Ferry Building at the water’s edge you will pass some very large buildings. I worked in a number of them. When your walk gets you about a quarter of a mile from The Bay you will see a bronze plaque embedded in the sidewalk. The plaque tells you that the spot where you are standing is the original shoreline of San Francisco Bay. Everything you see from that point on is built on landfill.
I was living there in 1989 for the 7.1 Richter Scale quake that collapsed freeways, knocked out power, and had the cats living under the bed for three days. The building where I was working was moved about six inches to the north. It was an old building erected in the 1920s – on landfill.
You’ve all seen the pictures of these apartment buildings burning and leaning. Where they were built is landfill that was subjected to Liquefaction. The building sank into the mud of The Bay.
So, when I see an article like the one on the front page of The New York Times it makes me shake my head. They are speculating, in yet another “What if…” scenario that if another “Big One” earthquake hits The City there could be a disaster.
I’m sorry, but it is not a case of “IF”, but “WHEN.”
There are a number of reasons I would not ever want to move back to San Francisco. I survived the 1989 quake. Going back would be me thumbing my nose at Fate. I’m too old to do that and I know too much.
The odds are not in San Francisco’s favor.