The 7.9M earthquake that shook SF for nearly 25 seconds on April 18, 1906 permanently changed the city. And 1989's Loma Prieta quake has taken on a mythic quality as well, having altered some of the city's streetscape permanently. Though not as major, a less-remembered 5.3M temblor caused a fair bit of chaos across San Francisco 65 years ago today, March 22, 1957.
When “San Francisco” and “earthquakes” are mentioned in the same sentence, minds tend to either think of the Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906, or Loma Prieta. The former — which ruptured along the northernmost part of the San Andreas fault and had an epicenter just two miles west of San Francisco — remains one of the most significant earthquakes of all time, claiming an estimated 3,000 lives and leaving half of the city's 400,000 residents homeless. The immediate days and weeks that followed saw the city reeling from widespread fires, cleaning up mountains of rubble, and suffering from a lack of resources; survivors, for example, slept in tents in City parks and the Presidio, and they were required to do all cooking in the street to minimize the threat of additional fires.
51 years after that earthquake, another significant quake would shake San Francisco — though this one would prove to be far less memorable.
The 1957 San Francisco Earthquake, which is also referred to as the “Daly City Earthquake of 1957,” struck just before noon on March 22, 1957, with the strongest of its six shocks registering a magnitude of 5.3 on the Richter scale. Per the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the quake’s epicenter was just off the San Francisco Bay Peninsula, near the San Andreas fault; smaller shakings from the quake were felt in other parts of Northern California, and even as far away as Central California. (According to USGS reports, a series of non-destructive aftershocks occurred occasionally for months after the initial major tectonic event.)
Comparatively, the 1957 earthquake paled in comparison to structural damages and life of loss caused by the 1906 event. Financial losses generated by the 5.3M quake were estimated to be around $1M at the time — an amount that would now be well over $10M in today’s money. Damage from the 1950’s earthquake was still considered substantial, and the worst of its effects were primarily seen in the western portion of Daly City and near Lake Merced.
A recent feature on the '57 quake in the Chronicle shows significant cracks were observed in some of the city’s residential structures. Parts of Highway One hugging the Peninsula sustained several large cracks in the pavement, and a smattering of landslides blocked off access to the majority of the affected stretch of the iconic coastal highway. USGS received more than 650 individual damage reports that day in relation to the earthquake.
Though far less lethal than SF’s 1906 earthquake, one death and forty injuries were recorded as a direct result of the 5.3M tremor.
Another major earthquake (an event registering a magnitude of 6.0 or greater) is predicted to strike the San Francisco Bay Area sometime by 2032. So while you scroll through these historic images of the 1957 San Francisco Earthquake featured below, all of which can be found on OpenSFHistory, it’s probably a good time to make sure your emergency earthquake kit is in order before the next Big One strikes.
Top Photo: San Franciscans watch building tops sway during one of a series of earthquakes that rocked the city March 22, 1957. Hundreds of office workers fled to streets in panic. No fatalities were reported however. No buildings collapsed. Minor damage was extensive. (Courtesy of Getty Images via Brettman)