Historian talks about 1989 quake's effect on The City

Local historian Chris Carlsson started a Web site where articles, photos, videos and audio files about earthquakes and other moments in The City’s history are posted.

What was the earthquake’s biggest long-term impact on San Francisco? It led to the consolidation of what was already in the pipeline in terms of altering the freeways.

Did the earthquake lead to meaningful legislative reforms? Had it done more damage, there would have been more substantive reform. It set in motion a lot of attempts to address infrastructural weaknesses in the Bay Area, which is probably better than not doing that. Freeways are very reinforced now, and that has involved a lot of spending, a lot of cement-pouring and a lot of blue-collar jobs.

How did the earthquake affect land-use and building patterns? The quake had the effect of jarring people into realizing, “You can do something different here.” In some ways, it unleashed the lawyer loft boom in South of Market, which hadn’t started at that point. These horrible lawyer lofts, which are not artist live-work spaces at all, sell for $500,000 to $900,000 or more for one large room.

Are we safer now than we were 20 years ago? Nature will have the last laugh no matter what. The fantasy is that they can build things in such a way to withstand the next quake. But they don’t know. When we have the next big one, things will fall down and they will say, ‘Oh, now we get it.’

jupton@sfexaminer.com

For The Examiner's complete Loma Prieta anniversary coverage, go to http://www.sfexaminer.com/loma-prieta/

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