There are few remaining survivors of the infamous 1933 Long Beach Earthquake, but Poly High School remains a storied reminder of that tragedy: the timing of which – at 5:56 p.m. – saved the lives of hundreds if not thousands of children because classes were not in session.

This month marks the 90th anniversary of that March 10 event, a 6.4 magnitude right-lateral strike-slip of the Newport-Inglewood that killed 115 and caused $40 million in damage, or $851 million in today’s dollars. The number of deaths would likely have been in the thousands had the temblor struck a few hours earlier.

The quake spread destruction throughout the Southland, particularly in Long Beach, Huntington Park and Compton. Even Los Angeles’ La Grande Station train terminal was destroyed, the loss of which prompted construction of today’s Union Station.

Marking the 90th anniversary of the Long Beach Earthquake

Most of the Poly High School campus was destroyed in the earthquake, but the auditorium survived. (Source: Loyola Marymount University)

Poly High was among more than 230 schools destroyed or severely damaged, but the reinforced masonry auditorium survived with some reconstruction.

The auditorium was recently renovated to retain its historic character – and today, much of the campus is slated for improvements, including the construction of seven new academic buildings, three new sports facilities, two new parking structures, and dozens of other major renovations and upgrades to be funding in part from a $1.7 billion bond measure approved for campus improvements throughout Long Beach Unified School District.

What if the Long Beach Earthquake struck today?

Lurking just beneath the harbor in Long Beach is a newly awakened giant: the Wilmington Blind-Thrust fault, which was long dormant but has recently shown new activity that could spark a destructive 6.4-magnitude quake locally, or trigger the nearby San Andreas to produce an even larger temblor reaching in the 7 magnitudes.

Looming to the east, the USGS determined that 300,000 structures would be damaged in a 7.8 San Andreas earthquake in Los Angeles. That’s one in every 16 buildings in the region.

Either quake would cripple local communities. Lives and homes would be lost. Businesses would close, jobs would be lost, and an exodus of residents would flee, leaving the much of the Southland behind for others to rebuild.

Schools across California are now much safer as a result of the Long Beach Earthquake. The damage suffered from that disaster sparked a series of new laws requiring that campuses meet modern standards for earthquake safety – and that when those standards are raised due to new findings, the schools must be retrofitted to comply.  Subsequent earthquake tragedies prompted other earthquake laws throughout California to make public buildings and infrastructure safer.

But there are many other buildings still at risk of failure in a major earthquake – and with the significant increase in population density seen today compared to 1933, the risks of another major disaster could be much greater than might be expected.

If your apartment building is a soft-story structure built before 1978, unreinforced masonry, a concrete tilt-up structures built before 1994, a non-ductile concrete building built before 1977 or a steel moment frame structures built before 1996 – it may be at serious risk of being red-tagged after a major seismic event.

If you think your building may be at risk, contact Optimum Seismic to arrange a complimentary consultation regarding your building’s structural safety. This will help to identify what options, if any, you may want to plan for in the future.