1933 Earthquake in Seal Beach

William Taylor – Oral History – interviewed by Libby Appelgate

 William Taylor was born in Dayton, Ohio in 1918.  In 1924 his father brought the family to Seal Beach so he could work in the oil fields on Signal Hill. When earthquake hit Seal Beach on March 10, 1933 at a magnitude of 6.4 at 5:55 PM, anyone who was there will never forget it.  William Taylor is one of those residents that can tell his story as if it happened yesterday.

I had just walked into Beno’s Drugstore, on the corner of Central and Main St., when the earthquake started shaking the foundations and bricks started falling. The guy who was hurt the worst was this old man who was working for Mr. Beno. While I was going into the drug store, I heard him yell, ’Earthquake!’ He was hurt pretty bad and later everyone thought he had died but he didn’t. I looked down and saw my leg was bleeding.  I was hit by a brick but it didn‘t bother me, I had it bandaged.  I was only fifteen.

We all went out into the street. There were two or three buildings that collapsed all together.

 He and a friend went out on the pier to wait for the tsunami. Bill continued, “If there was a tidal wave, we thought we would be safe because there were tall cliffs all along Ocean Ave. and we didn’t think it would get past the cliffs.” The Red Cross came to feed people and lots of the residents went up on the hill to camp out because if there was an aftershock, they did not want to be in their homes. “People sat up on the hill at Hellman’s Ranch all night, singing songs, killing time,” explained William.  “The National Guard came in to set up tents on Main St.  The youngest were put in one great big tent with mattresses on the floor and there they stayed all night with the Red Cross feeding everyone the next day.

J. H. McGaugh was Superintendent of the Seal Beach Elementary School, first grade through eighth.  “There was a special program going to be held in the auditorium at 7 PM for students and parents. Had they been in there, they would have been killed.  They missed it by one hour,” said William.

The Power Plant was on First St. and because the ships could see it for miles out at sea, it became a landmark because the smoke stack was so high.  It was removed after a crack was discovered caused by the earthquake and replaced with a smaller smokestack in the late ‘30‘s.


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