The ’71 Earthquake’s Affect on Montrose
On Tuesday, Feb. 9, 1971 at 6 in the morning, an earthquake roared through the Crescenta Valley. Registering 6.6 on the Richter scale, it lasted about 60 seconds. The quake had been centered along the front face of the San Gabriel Mountains and focused much of its intensity on Sylmar and San Fernando. Ultimately, two freeway interchanges, a dam, and two hospitals were destroyed, and 65 lives were lost.
The biggest damage in the Crescenta Valley along Honolulu Avenue was the Roger’s Pharmacy building – damaged beyond repair. This brick building had been built in 1925 on the northwest corner of Honolulu and La Crescenta as the anchor for Verdugo City. It had been gorgeous – a two story structure, with retail on the bottom floor, and offices and an auditorium upstairs. The quake shook loose the brick front of the building and the upper half of the top story broke off and fell to the sidewalk. Broken water pipes in the building filled Roger’s Pharmacy and Reed Hardware with water inches deep, ruining their strewn-on-the-floor inventory.
Reed Hardware hauled its remaining stock into the parking lot and held a quick sale to recoup some loss. The building was completely torn down, and a gas station occupies that corner now.
In the just finished Montrose Shopping Park, the major hit was to Meldon’s Shoe Store, the building where Andersen’s Pets is today. This two-story structure had been built in the early ’20s as the Montrose Hotel, with retail on the bottom and several hotel rooms on top in an atrium style arraignment. The rooms were built around an open-to-the-sky center atrium, ensuring wonderful ventilation, and a huge skylight provided a roof, and natural light, over the bottom floor retail area. By the time Meldon’s Shoes occupied the building in 1971, the upstairs rooms were being used to store 25,000 pairs of shoes. The quake destabilized the upper story and it was removed immediately by workmen, leaving the bottom floor intact but open to the rains that followed the quake two weeks later. The interior of the store was drenched and thousands of shoes were ruined. Interestingly, today you can walk into the now one story and reroofed Andersen’s Pet Store and clearly see the outline of the atrium skylight in the ceiling.
Among the rest of the stores along Honolulu the damage was mainly cosmetic – and weirdly random. In Bob’s Valley Book Store, nearly every book was tossed off the shelves, and the books on the floor were three feet deep. In their display window, several heavy hard-cover books had slammed against the plate glass, but it hadn’t broken, whereas the plate glass windows on either side of the bookstore were completely shattered. About half the display windows in the park were broken out or cracked, and duct tape and plywood lined the boulevard. In Al’s Deli, hundreds of bottles of wine were smashed on the floor, whereas in The Pickle Barrel just a few stores down, not one of the hundred of jars of pickles budged from their shelves. In Montrose Hardware Store, paint cans opened when they hit the ground making a kaleidoscope of color on the floor. Carter-Nielson Gallery, which featured an extensive collection of fragile glass and ceramic sculpture, didn’t lose a single item. At Dorsey’s Toy Store nearly every toy came off the shelves.
Within two days, every business in Montrose, save for the shoe store, had reopened. The long-lasting effect to the look of the Montrose Shopping Park was in the form of seismic retrofit. I’m told that it was due to the quake that the many neon blade signs attached to the sides of buildings and hanging over the sidewalks were removed, for fear of them falling off onto pedestrians. I’m also told that some of the beautiful brick facades were covered in a stucco cladding to better hold the unreinforced masonry in place. We lost two landmark buildings along Honolulu, one completely and the other partially, and there were cosmetic changes to Montrose, but overall no significant impact.