Remembering When

by Jerry Person
Huntington Beach City Historian

Dedicated to the people of Huntington Beach and its rich past

The Day the Earth Moved


I'll bet when you read the title of this week's Remember When that I'll be writing about the 1933 Earthquake, well you're half right. I am going to be remembering an historic earthquake, but not the 1933 quake, but one that hit our fair city in 1923.

Many of us who were born in Southern California have at some time or another experienced one of nature’s sudden undulations of the earth’s crust for surviving an earthquake is an experience that no one would ever forget.

It all began as just a normal Sunday; people going to church, had their evening supper and went to bed on that faithful day of July 22, 1923.

Bedroom alarm clocks ticked away and maybe a grandfather's clock in the living room chimed the hours, but when the clocks chimed 11:30 p.m. there were few people still awake to hear it as one minute, 25 seconds later nearly everyone in town was wide awake as the earth tremored beneath them. A loud noise unlike that of distant thunder was heard as many clocks stopped, showing the exact minute of the quake.

A few of our residents were thrown from their beds onto the floor and some even fell on the floor while trying to get out of their beds in a hurry.

Resident Charles Patton had been staying upstairs that night at the old Huntington Inn at Eighth Street and PCH where he had just retired to bed and then 10 minutes latter as he was about asleep he felt a slight tremor. In no time the doors in his room began to rattle as if someone were trying to get in. Patton’s bed began to rock and the walls, doors and windows in his room shook perceptibly. For Patton that quake seems to go on forever even if it only lasted a few seconds.

Meanwhile, over at the home of C.N. Whittam, the assistant manager of the Security Trust & Savings Bank, was alone in his bed when it began to shake violently and he heard what sounded to him like a distant clap of thunder. Whittam quickly got out of bed and after several seconds of tremors, the tremors stopped and there was now an eerie quiet throughout the town.

William Therium who had just quit work in our oil fields and was driving along Main Street to his tent camp on the beach when all of a sudden his car began to tremble and run unsteadily and it now began to rock so bad that Therium had to pull over and stop.

His car continued to rock like a baby’s cradle although he was stopped on a paved street. Therium also heard the sound of thunder that to him sounded like a distant cannon. When he arrived in camp, Therium stood at the shore looking to see if a tidal wave was coming but lucky none came.

A fellow oil worker in the same camp, William Turner, was sleeping on a cot when the quake struck and the cot overturned and he watched as his tent shook violently.

Over at the Black residence Mrs. Black, who lived in a house at Acacia and Seventh, felt her bed shake and thought a burglar had entered her room and was shaking her bed, but as her bed continued to shake, she jumped out of bed and screamed when she saw that her whole house was shaking and soon realized she was living through an earthquake.

Resident William Dunn was upstairs asleep in the Huntington Hotel when he felt his bed fairly dance across the floor. At first he thought the navy was practicing firing their big guns off shore but soon realized he was living through a Southern California earthquake.

The families living at tent city at Eleventh and Orange had their sleeping cots overturn while others sleeping nearby only felt a slight tremor.

Mrs. Bledsoe who worked as a clerk at the post office, at first thought her bed was going to turn upside down as she heard her dishes rattling in her china cabinet and on her shelves. She could feel her house shake from top to bottom.

A water main along the beach-front ruptured and the cascading water flooded several concession stands by the pier.

The clocks stopped at Security Trust & Savings, at Canady’s Jewelry Store and at McElfresh Department Store, each registering the same time of 11th hour, 31 minutes, 25 seconds while other clocks in the area continued to tick away.

Many people were frightened that night by this quake and it would be another ten years before our residents would again experience another frightening earthquake, this one in 1933 would damage much of our downtown’s brick buildings and would keep a lot of our residents wide-awake for days.