History & Profiles

Hollister merchants recall 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake

The Calaveras fault run through town.
Bill Mifsud Jr. points out a glass pane relic recovered from the original location of Bill's Bullpen on the 400 block that was red-tagged after the earthquake. Photo by Patty Lopez Day.
Bill Mifsud Jr. points out a glass pane relic recovered from the original location of Bill's Bullpen on the 400 block that was red-tagged after the earthquake. Photo by Patty Lopez Day.

Correction: Both the San Andreas Fault and Calaveras Fault pass through San Benito County, but only the Calaveras Fault runs through Hollister. 

This week marks the 30th anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake, which shook more than just the nerves of San Benito County and the greater Bay Area: the quake occurred as people all around the world tuned in to game two of the 1989 World Series, the battle of the SF Giants vs. Oakland A’s.

For days after the quake, those in the region watched news reports about the devastation to buildings in San Francisco, Oakland and the toppling of a portion of the Bay Bridge. But what happened here in Hollister? How did the Loma Prieta earthquake affect local residents and businesses? 

“We were located on the 400 block on San Benito,” said Bill Mifsud Jr., owner of Bill’s Bullpen. “We were neighbors with the best restaurant in town, New China Café, which was a magnet for people to congregate, play the jukebox and eat all types of food. There was Al Balz’s photography store, Judy’s Crafts and fabrics and behind us where the Gavilan parking structure is now there was a bar called The Office. We were a vibrant and thriving block.”

Two years earlier, in 1987, Mifsud’s father, Bill Sr., decided he would buy the business named Earthquake Cards and Comics next door to New China Café. They changed the name to Bill’s Bullpen Baseball Cards and Comics after the purchase.

Mifsud recalled Oct. 17, 1989: “It was a very busy day and we were getting ready to close for the A’s vs. Giants World Series. Suddenly the shaking and all the windows broke. As funny as it sounds, we still were wondering if there was going to be a game or not.”

The earthquake’s epicenter was about 10 miles southeast of Santa Cruz on a section of the San Andreas Fault. The quake, named after the nearby Loma Prieta Peak, had a 6.9 magnitude and resulted in 63 deaths and thousands of injuries.

When Mifsud stepped outside after the quake, he realized it had devastated most of the buildings on the corner of Fourth and San Benito streets.  

“The damage was huge downtown; our roof had partially collapsed,” he said, noting that the facade of a Fourth Street hotel had fallen off completely. “We could actually see inside all the rooms.”

Bill and his family were able to take items out of their building before it was red-tagged for demolition. They had the presence of mind to save a glass panel from the store’s front door; it’s on display at the current Bill’s Bullpen at 407 Fourth St, which opened on Nov 4, 1989.

“Most of the buildings that were damaged in the quake of 1989 had unreinforced masonry and were built before earthquake standards,” said Bryan Swanson, development services director with the city of Hollister. “Any building built in today’s standard is going to withstand the ground moving.”

Ray Pierce, now the proprietor of Pierce Real Estate, was working as a photojournalist and publisher of the SB Sun when the earthquake hit.

“The national guard was called,” Pierce said. “Downtown was all boarded up and blocked off, telephone service was severed, people had to go to Dunne Park to get potable water, and drinkable water was so short on supply that Budweiser trucks came in with their contribution of beer cans full of water. Later we were told it would not store well and we had to use them quickly. We made do with what we had.”

Mifsud said that even though Hollister residents dealt with the devastation in their own ways, “there was a huge outpouring of support.”

“People wanted the businesses to stay and they wanted to know how they could help us reopen,” he said. “We wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for the Brown family—Paul, Betty and Rhonda, who selected us out of many bids for this location and the help, encouragement and support of the Hollister community.”

Although the Loma Prieta earthquake rattled San Benito County 30 years ago, locals got a recent reminder on Oct. 15 when a 4.7 earthquake shook the region—the epicenter was near Tres Pinos.

The Calaveras Fault, part of the San Andreas Fault system, runs through Hollister. The San Andreas Fault itself passes through the Hollister Hills State Vehicular Recreation Area, as well as through San Juan Bautista and Aromas. Jim Ostdick, a retired earth science teacher, wrote a series of BenitoLink articles on earthquake faults, the Great California Shakeout, and more related to this topic.

For information on earthquake safety and preparedness, visit the San Benito County Office of Emergency Services website, as well as https://www.ready.gov/earthquakes.

 

Patty Lopez Day

Patty Lopez Day,  graduated from UC Santa Barbara in 2005 with a B.A. in English and Chicana/o Studies, and holds an A.A. in English from Evergreen and San Jose City College.  A writer and journalist she's covered  local news, politics,  education, immigration, sports and travel for print media having articles published in several Bay Area newspapers and magazines.  Born and raised in Santa Clara County she has called Hollister home since 2018.