On October 17th, 1989 tragedy struck Oakland in the form of a massive 6.9 earthquake. The quake, now known as the Loma Prieta, lasted a mere 15 seconds but killed a total of 63 people in the Bay Area and injured many others. A staggering 42 of the total 63 deaths took place when the upper level of the Double Decker Cypress Street Viaduct of the I-880 or Nimitz freeway collapsed onto the lower level. The Viaduct was a raised two-tier freeway approximately 1.6 miles long with four lanes per deck that cut through the heart West Oakland. In the earthquake, the entire upper tier fell onto the lower tier, trapping the people and cars directly beneath.
The epicenter of the earthquake was in the Santa Cruz Mountains, but the quake was felt for different lengths of time and at different levels of intensity. The type of the soil in parts of Oakland and San Francisco made the ground move more intensely than at the initial location of the quake. The Cypress Street Viaduct was built on filled land atop ‘Bay Clay’ which made the structure all even more prone to larger ground motion in the event of an earthquake. Some parts of the Viaduct were only supported by one pillar while other more secure parts had two pillars. In its post-mortem diagnosis, highway engineers deemed the viaduct to be structurally unsound and judged that its original construction did not properly anticipate the event of a large earthquake like the Loma Prieta.
Immediately after the shaking ceased, neighborhood members and volunteers rushed to the sides of the freeways to rescue anyone they could from beneath the rubble and concrete tomb created by the collapse. The first responders were quick to band together and they gathered ladders to reach those inside. Surrounding businesses provided any possible resources or support for those taken out of the wreckage. The park on 14th Street and Mandela was carefully designed by Bay Area artists Steve Gillman and Katherine Keefer in collaboration with landscaper April Philips and other team members from the community. The team wanted it to be both an educational experience and a peaceful location of reflection. The location of the park is relevant to the tragedy, since it is on a strip of land where the concrete pillars of the viaduct used to stand. The space is made with mixed media of concrete, granite and stone with redwoods, roses and other plants throughout the park. The park’s rolling grass tufts covering the site convey the concept of waves that are spread during an earthquake. In my opinion, the most poignant detail of the public art are the short excerpts of stories collected from community workshops that are etched into the cement of the park, phrases like “When the quake stopped, a rain of concrete dust obscured everything.” seem to capture the reality of incident vividly. Both artists have cited public art as a way to incite thoughtful reflection on their individual websites. The tragic quake in Oakland's history is remembered at this carefully designed public space, it is a place of remembrance and reflection.