Keystone shifts; Memorial Church closed

Chuck Painter An angel mosaic in Memorial Church sustained damage to a win

An angel mosaic in Memorial Church sustained damage to a wing in the quake.

"Oh, look at the mess. So much is destroyed. This is one of the most disturbing of the damages on campus."

Prof. Haresh Shah surveyed the concrete debris, the broken tiles and the splintered pews of Stanford's Memorial Church, which, for the second time in this century, experienced substantial damages from a devastating Bay Area earthquake.

Shah began his tour of damaged buildings shortly after the 7.0 quake jolted the campus Tuesday afternoon. He had been up most of the night, inspecting the critically hit buildings with his flashlight, and now, in the early morning light, he was back for a second and more intense examination, at the request of the provost.

Shah, chairman of the Civil Engineering Department, is one of the world's leading earthquake experts, and he specializes in the structural effects on buildings of this great natural force.

Memorial Church

The red carpet leading to Memorial Church's famed altar was littered with pieces of concrete that had fallen from the ceiling; fragments of the gold and blue Venetian tile dotted the floor, and nearer the altar were occasional chunks of masonry that had fallen from the ring beam of the dome. The entire wing of one tiled angel in the ceiling decoration lay in pieces on the floor. Many of the pews were covered with fine particles of concrete; the church seats looked as if they had not been dusted in years. Several of these wooden pews had been splintered, and a few were totally sheared off, as a result of the impact of falling objects.

Shah surveyed the damages. "See the ring beam of the dome – it is cracked all around. There are chunks of it missing, and that is not good," Shah said.

Up the stairs in the loft to the left of the altar, a large chunk from the ceiling balanced itself on the railing. "That must have fallen down here and broken this stair and then jumped up to the railing," Shah said. "Be careful, because this church is a very bad place to be should there be an aftershock. There are more pieces just waiting to fall."

Cracks appeared in some of the walls of Memorial Church, which had been rebuilt more than 75 years ago after it was severely destroyed in 1906 by San Francisco's greatest quake. The center of the structure, the hardest hit, had not been fortified since, and, indeed, there were traces of that earlier reconstruction.

Approximately 20 old, rusty nails were strewn on some of the upstairs pews. One was standing perfectly upright on its head. "Someone years ago must have left these nails in the roof when this section was being rebuilt, and this earthquake released them," Shah said.

In the choir loft at the rear of the church, several large, cyclindrical pipes were found on the top of the left stairs near the ceiling. Shah looked at them, a bit puzzled. "These don't belong to the organ. I don't know where they came from." He speculated that perhaps some construction workers had left them behind a wall and the earthquake jarred them loose.

The railing on the top of the balcony by the organ was tilted toward the altar at about a 30-degree angle. Three of the sandstone posts, which now were lying on the floor, had been pulled up from the base of the balustrade, the large nails that held them still protruding upward. "Obviously these nails were not large enough," Shah said.

The major damage to the church, however, appeared to be in the arch near the altar. The keystone – the central block in an archway – was more than a half-inch off center. "The keystone has been displaced downward, and that is not good," Shah said. Such a displacement could mean a major rebuilding of that portion.

Several of the hanging light fixtures had lost some of their glass facets; masonry had dropped from portions of the top of the church, and an inspection of the stairs in the front loft showed some separations.

Much of the church, however, survived intact, particularly when contrasted with the devastation it experienced in the '06 quake. The newly refurbished stained glass windows appeared in perfect shape, and the gold altar tile seemed intact.

Shah could not speculate how long the church would be closed, but implied that repairs may take significantly longer than other buildings.

(On Thursday the church was closed indefinitely and all services, including weddings, have been cancelled. The wedding coordinator will contact parties whose weddings have been cancelled.)

The Quad

Shah next entered the old engineering building, which now houses the foreign languages departments (Building 260-287) on the Quad. He climbed the stairs to the top, usually a building's focal floor for earthquake damage.

"Oh my God, the wall has moved! The whole thing has moved substantially, at least one inch," Shah cried as he looked around him on the third floor.

Tiles from the ceiling had dropped, and the wall's movement had caused many items to be strewn around the floor. Shah called the policeman accompanying him to help him pick up a refrigerator that had fallen on its face. Partitions were down in several areas, and were crumbled against each other. Plaster debris was seen everywhere.

This building and the Geology Corner at the other end of the Quad were among the oldest on campus and suffered the most damage.

As Shah walked by one of the offices, he saw a bookshelf that had toppled and fell onto a desk. "See that bookcase. It should have been tied down. This is what kills people – not the earthquake itself. People have to tie down their bookcases," he stressed. In the middle of one room, a clock lay on the floor, still keeping perfect time.

Shah went into a portion of the building's top to better examine the building's structure. "It seems quite intact here," he said. "I am really impressed with these trusses.

They are sturdy and each is about four feet apart. That's the way to build a building. They did it right when they built this," he said. That portion of the Quad was built in the early 1900s, Shah said.

While it was too early to assess the building's damage, Shah said he thought the walls were bad, but not life threatening. He would make a final assessment within a few days.

The Geology Corner

From the distance one could hear the constant intense beeping of the fire alarm in the Geology Building, which had been buzzing incessantly since the earthquake.

The damage on the first floor of the old building was apparent. Plaster debris was everywhere, but more alarming was an apparent space between the walls.

"This is a separation of a load-carrying wall, which is not good," Shah said. And as he looked up at the ceiling to see a myriad of cracks, he remarked, "That ceiling worries me even more."

A frosted skylight covers the staircase well of the Geology building, and a rather macabre sight greeted Shah as he climbed to the top. Someone, evidently a while ago, had blackened in the shape of a body lying prone and near him was the shape of a dead dog. If the profile were not so

stylized, one would have thought the earthquake had taken its toll.

The upper floors of the building had debris and litter covering the floors of many of the offices. And yet in one large room in the corner, practically nothing was disturbed. A sheaf of paper lay unmoved on a ledge. Rock samples were neatly in order.

Shah could not explain why certain portions of a building experience heavy quake damage, and other sections of the same building show no effects. If scientists knew more, they could build structures even more impervious to earthquakes, he said.

The Geology Building, Shah decided, was probably the most severely hit of the campus buildings he had seen. "There is a problem in assessing the total damage — we have more than 400 buildings. We have to do a thorough study of each building, but this one does not look good. The floor has moved quite a bit, the wall board is broken, and I am worried about that ceiling."

McCullough and Durand

Nearly all campus buildings had been cordoned off after the quake, and only the inspection teams were allowed to enter. It is a strange feeling to walk through deserted building after deserted building, encountering signs of a previous day's activities. Several computers had their screen savers blinking, coffee pots were still on and filled with hot coffee, lights were glowing, and in a few buildings, the Fax machine kept on delivering messages from the outside.

The McCullough building experienced no chemical spills, Shah was told by a member of an inspection team. The building had hairline cracks, and along one corridor the ceiling had buckled in places so that the lights were tilted different directions.

"This building is doing quite well, though," Shah declared, after touring it from top to bottom.

At Durand, Shah closely examined the main beam, which he said needed a closer scrutiny in the future. The building was relatively intact.

Many of the offices had papers strewn about and most of the bookcases were toppled. "I can't tell you how important it is to tie down those bookcases," Shah said. "Look, we have seen more than 100 of these toppled bookcases. If people had been sitting in those chairs by their desks, and the bookcases had toppled. ..."

Most of the damage in Durand appeared to occur in the fourth floor offices of the Stanford Instructional Television Network. There broken pictures were lying on the floor, plates and glasses had tumbled, and inside the studios, hundreds of sets of video tapes had been strewn about.

"Such damage here — there is such a mess," Shah said. It was difficult to walk across the room, because debris was everywhere.

The damage was, however, cosmetic, Shah said, and the building soon was given a "green" entry light.

Chuck Painter The Graduate School of Business Library after the Loma Prieta Earthquake of 1989.

The Graduate School of Business Library after the Loma Prieta Earthquake of 1989.

The Graduate School of Business

When Shah reached the third floor of the old Graduate School of Business building, he saw the windows facing the courtyard bowed out in a wide angle.

The neighboring walls also had been affected, and Shah examined them for shear cracks. Ceiling tiles were all about. It was unclear whether there was a potential asbestos problem. The second floor GSB library had books strewn all about. Nearly half of the bookshelves had toppled, and it was difficult to find a way to walk across the room.

Shah next examined the stairways, where he found several cracks in the plaster. Taking out a pocket knife, he began to clear out the plaster, allowing him to look at the concrete blocks. "I am trying to find out whether the cracks are superficial or whether they are deep inside the building. I fear the latter," he said.

Shah asked that the third floor of the GSB be sealed off for further study, in order to assess whether there had been severe structural damage.

Shah scanned a crack in the ceiling of the GSB cafeteria for a while and then declared, "That's an old crack – nothing from this earthquake. See there is pink paint inside the crack, which shows it is an old crack."

Throughout all the buildings he examined, Shah kept on looking for cracks in the walls, spaces between stairs, damage under the stairs, and traces of debris. "If there is debris around, we know it must have come from this earthquake, and so we need to establish what caused the debris."

A quake assessment

Structural engineering consultants had been called in to assist in the process, and were reporting to Shah and others.

Shah estimated the damage to the buildings as "millions and millions of dollars."

"In general, Stanford has done a good job of risk management," he said. "The structural seismic work that we have been doing the past five years has really paid off."

"If the earthquake is far away, then an area experiences a rolling quake. If the area is close to the epicenter, then one experiences a jolting quake. The epicenter was 10 miles northeast of Santa Cruz, and it looks like we experienced a bit of both here," Shah said.

His assessment of this quake: "It sure was a lot of shaking!"

Shah predicted that this area could feel the aftershocks for the next two years.