Tuesday, March 8, 2011

'Old Ironsides' and the 1933 Long Beach Earthquake

The USS Constitution, docked at the Port of Los Angeles a few days before the March 10, 1933 quake.

A few minutes before 6 p.m. 78 years ago this week, a 6.3 earthquake struck Long Beach and surrounding cities. The March 10, 1933 quake claimed more than 90 lives, injured thousands and caused millions of dollars in property damage.

The Long Beach Harbor area wasn't affected too badly by the temblor -- "practically undamaged" is how then-Port Manager James Collins characterized the situation a couple of days later.

The Navy, whose presence at the Port was growing throughout the 1930s, played a crucial role after the quake; 4,000 sailors were deployed to help survivors as well as to maintain order and prevent looting in the stricken city.

The quake overshadowed what was front page news just the day before: Earlier in the day, just hours before the quake struck, a famous visitor arrived at the Port. The frigate USS Constitution, also known as "Old Ironsides," newly restored and making a three-year tour of United States ports, was towed in (by the USS Grebe) to Berth 48 on Pier 1 for a ten-day stay, accompanied by about 130 other Navy vessels, including the USS California, the USS Tennessee and the USS Lexington.

Aboard the Constitution at Berth 48, Pier 1 in Long Beach, March 13, 1933.

Hundreds of thousands of visitors were expected to tour the historic vessel, which was launched in 1797, fought in the War of 1812 and is still in active service today. Although Old Ironsides stayed in Long Beach until March 19 (when it left for Santa Barbara and points north), its visit naturally wasn't a huge success. (The Constitution wasn't damaged in the quake apart from some broken electrical connections; and a headline in the Press-Telegram on March 13 described the ship as the safest place in the city during the shaking.)

The ship returned to Long Beach in October 1933 on its trip back south towards the Panama Canal to a much warmer welcome, and hundreds of thousands of people each year still visit the frigate at its home port in Charlestown, MA.

Sources for this entry included Press-Telegram stories by Tim Grobaty and Bill Hillburg as well as Navy websites and Wikipedia.


Old Ironsides after celebrating its 213th anniversary in October 2010.

1 comment:

Gloria said...

I find it interesting -- maybe because I'm 76 years old?bwoon