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1925 earthquake helped shape the Santa Barbara style

Video still from British Pathé

When a major earthquake struck Santa Barbara at dawn 90 years ago, on June 29, 1925, the shaking lasted less than 20 seconds. But, the disaster would go on to forever change the look and feel of the California city that’s come to be known as “The American Riviera.”

The quake, believed to be a magnitude 6.3, unleashed millions of gallons of water from one of two nearby dams, flooding the city’s lower east side.

Eleven people were killed, but historian Neal Graffy says the death toll would likely have climbed much higher had the quake not struck so early in the morning.

Much of downtown Santa Barbara was devastated by the quake. Photos of the disaster show a city in ruin. In some cases exterior walls had been completely torn off the sides of buildings.

The Granada Theater fared much better. The eight story building on State Street, which was completed the year before the quake, suffered only minor damage. Today, because of guidelines put into place just after the earthquake limiting building heights downtown, the eight story tall Granada Theater is the tallest building on State Street.

Within hours of the quake, airplanes from Los Angeles were circling Santa Barbara, gathering film footage.

Graffy says it’s his understanding that this was the first time that photos of a disaster were sent by wire service.

“So, within hours newspapers across America had disaster photos of Santa Barbara,” said Graffy. In fact, the quake made news around the world.

The anniversary of this earthquake is another opportunity for each of us to get prepared ahead of the next ‘big one’ or other disaster. Santa Barbara County Fire Captain Dave Zaniboni says he and his colleagues are preparing all the time.

“All of our members have Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) training to prepare for an earthquake or building collapse,” said Zaniboni. But, he warns, in the wake of disaster it could be days before help arrives.