Quake City

SilverHawks! Remember that show? I do. It was like ThunderCats in space. Who didn’t like ThunderCats? Didn’t you want to see it in space? Well it was one of my favorite shows growing up, and the best place to watch it was on Mike Green’s couch before school.

We were watching it exactly 30 years ago, with my little sister, after my mom dropped us off. Kaity, who was maybe three months old, was squirming around somewhere.


SilverHawks! A team of human heroes in the 29th century who were given metal bodies and hawk wings to stop organized crime in the Galaxy of Limbo.

My dad was out-of-town, playing a gig in Lake Tahoe. And at this time of day was surely asleep.

About halfway into SilverHawks, at exactly 7:42am, the television went black. Come on! Stargazer and The Copper Kidd are about to kick some ass! We were upset.

Then, things started coming off the walls. The couch was suddenly in the middle of the room, and Debby Green was screaming at us to run out of the house. Why was the place shaking?  Is the sliding glass door supposed to be bubbling towards us?  I was a very confused six-year-old.

The Whittier Earthquake hit my little town like a ton a bricks, literally. It was a 6.1 shaker, that was relentless for over 30 seconds. Buildings collapsed, houses were destroyed, and gas lines ignited, setting multiple structures on fire, some of which still lay empty to this day.

Photo courtesy: Whitter Museum
Even more shocking than the earthquake…we had a comic book store!  Photo courtesey: Whittier Museum.

So there we were, confused and standing outside the driveway on Elden Ave, halfway between terrified and thrilled. Our neighbor Phil had a big yard without trees, so that’s where we all met up. The entire street came out and all were accounted for.  Everyone except my mom.  And my dog.


At 7:42, my mom was on her way to work. Her husband was out-of-town, again, and she had superheroishly gotten the kids ready and out of the house before 7:30. Then off to one of her three jobs. She thought she got a flat tire. Nope. Earthquake. She came home to us, and we peeked into our own house.

That expensive stemware they got for their wedding were now shards of glass laying on the countertops and floors, a vision only myself and John McLean from Die Hard would recognize.

It got worse. The rug was soaking wet, because in the 1980s waterbeds were all the rage. Turns out they don’t agree with earthquakes.

Oh, and the dog ran away, remember? Has anyone seen a golden retriever named Tomo?

Dad wasn’t much help, being 700 miles away. He talked about the beautiful weather in Tahoe as we swept up his garage. Mom was less than pleased with him.

School resumed the next day, and the shades were drawn to catch glass in case we got hit again. We did some duck and cover drills, and there was a pretty big aftershock a few days later (a 5.3 shaker) where we actually put them into play.

The really bad news: Eight lives ended that day. There was over $100 million in damage to Whittier.  Close to 9,000 people were displaced and over 10,000 structures had permanent damage.

Whittier Daily Newspaper. Photo courtesy: Whittier Museum.

But we wore it like champs.  A very fine man named Vic Lopez (my grandfather) sat on the city council and he made sure we pushed forward. A city founded by Quakers, Whittier was nicknamed Quaker City.  It’s funny that the “r” fell off during the 30 seconds of hell on October 1, 1987.

A family sits next to an altered sign of Quaker City Savings and Loan on Comstock Avenue in Whittier. (Photo by Greg Andersen/Whittier Daily News)


Oh, and we found Tomo was up the street. He was fine.

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