The 1925 Santa Barbara Earthquake: In Brief

On June 28, 1925, the residents of the city of Santa Barbara climbed into bed on an uncomfortably warm, humid, and still night. Used to a cooling breeze from the ocean, many people tossed and turned in their sleep. At 3:27 AM, the pressure gauge at the Santa Barbara Water Department recorded slight tremors from a small earthquake. At about the same time, the city manager, Herbert Nunn, awoke from his sleep to the strong odor of crude oil seeping onto the beach 85 feet below his bluff-top house.

The pressure gauge at the Water Department continued to record small tremors, off and on, for over three hours. Then, at 6:44 AM, a magnitude 6.3 earthquake woke up those Santa Barbara residents who weren't already awake from the heat. Most homes survived the earthquake in relatively good shape, although nearly every chimney in the city crumbled.

Commercial buildings did not ride out the earthquake as well as the residences. In the downtown area, along State Street, the rubble was so thick in the middle of the street that travel by car was impossible. Several hotels partially collapsed, some other buildings completely collapsed, and the Sheffield Dam, within city limits, cracked apart, sending a wall of water to the ocean. Thirteen people were killed, many fewer than would have been had the earthquake occurred several hours later.

In an odd twist of fate, by leveling much of Santa Barbara's commercial district, the earthquake proved a boon to Santa Barbara's businesses. City officials seized the opportunity that the earthquake gave them to enforce a stricter building code, requiring commercial buildings along State Street to conform to a Spanish-Moorish style of architecture. Thus the 1925 earthquake is responsible for the distinctive architecture in the city that has made Santa Barbara a popular tourist destination for over 70 years.

Providentially, among the many photographs of the earthquake damage, is a set of about 480 images taken within two weeks of the earthquake of almost every damaged building in the city.


Isoseismal Map

Miscellaneous Photographs

Hotel rooms with a view (41 kb)
No smoking dammit! (36 kb)
The Hotel Barbara (44 kb)
The Unitarian Church (35 kb)
State Street after the earthquake (32 kb)
State Street after repair, showing Spanish-Moorish architecture (20 kb)

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