William H. “Bill” Morgan’s Packard dealership, located in the heart of Long Beach, California, was severely damaged by a magnitude 6.4 earthquake which struck the area on Friday, March 10, 1933, at 5:54 pm PST.
While the epicenter of the quake was about 3 miles offshore and 8 miles below the earth’s surface, the damage in the area was widespread and severe due to poor building construction and the geology in this part of California. Much of Long Beach is built on land fill and soft soils which liquefy during an earthquake. Residential areas were hit hard as was the industrial area in the south part of city.
Approximately 120 people died and over 500 were injured, mostly from being hit by falling debris while fleeing buildings during the quake. Property damage was estimated to be $40 – $50 million (in 1933 dollars).
Several hundred school buildings were severely damaged or destroyed. The walls of these buildings had been built of non-reinforced brick and mortar that collapsed during the 10 seconds of shaking and the many aftershocks. Knowing that the loss of life could have been in the thousands if the earthquake had hit during school hours, the California State Legislature quickly passed the Field Act in April 1933. The act required school buildings to be earthquake-resistant and it provided for government oversight in rebuilding schools to the new standards.
Bill Morgan’s wrecked Packard dealership was featured in the March 14, 1933 issue of the Packard “Inner Circle” magazine. The article also shows other photos of the damaged building. It noted that while much of Mr. Morgan’s dealership, and the city around him, was in ruins, “this undaunted Packard dealer carries on as usual, his selling ardor undiminished as he shows supremacy over adversity…” He is lauded in the article for keeping up with sales and service in the quake’s aftermath and showing his “true Packard spirit.”
Unfortunately it appears that Mr. Morgan was unable to keep his dealership going in the months after the quake. The 1932 Polk city directory for Long Beach lists his business address as 1600 American Avenue. But the 1933 city directory, which was published after the earthquake struck, lists this address as vacant. The directories for the following two years show no listing for a William Morgan Packard business anywhere in the city. And by 1936, a grocery store called “Cash is King” is listed as occupying 1600 American Avenue.
To get a sense of what this earthquake did to Long Beach and the surrounding area, check out this 15-minute video from 1933 (click here).
The comedian W. C. Fields was in the midst of filming a movie when the earthquake struck. Here is a short clip of his reaction (click here).