Allen Goddard’s Letters About the Long Beach Earthquake

[Allen Goddard (1907-1989), a Garden Grove school teacher, met Francelia Chittenden (1907-2009) of Boston while on his way to England during the summer of 1931. Their relationship flourished, and they became engaged at the end of 1932, and were married on June 30, 1933. Francelia remained on the East Coast during their engagement, but they kept up a steady stream of letters, including these five letters from Allen, describing the devastating Long Beach Earthquake of March 10, 1933. He was clearly concerned that she might not want to join him in California after the news of the quake reached the East Coast. Adding to the tragedy, the quake hit during the “bank holiday” closure brought on by the Great Depression.]

Allen Goddard
County Courier, January-April 1999

March 10 – 33


You wouldn’t think I’d be this far away from Garden Grove on such short notice but the old town isn’t what it used to be and some others are considerably worse.

Hope it doesn’t seriously interfere with your equilibrium or future plans though I can’t try to make light of what really happened now.

A high school girl was killed when masonry and brick from the high school building in Garden Grove fell on her. Another was injured, the daughter of Mrs. Merchant, a grammar school teacher. The First National Bank and News building were completely demolished and several others partially. Plate glass windows are broken and the streets and sidewalks of the main street are covered with glass and brick.

Honey, it was the worst quake we ever experienced. Lights went out immediately, telephone service was broken but fixed inside of an hour and when we left few people were staying in their houses but preferred to remain outdoors around a bonfire for warmth.

The story as I can offer it is as follows. We planned an early supper and were finishing the main part of it when the rumbling started. I realized what it was in a moment but my first thought was to let it pass and nothing would happen if we stayed where we were in the breakfast room. But it grew worse and worse and we all jumped up and while passing through the kitchen felt the floor vibrate so hard as to nearly shake us off our feet. It was like the deck of a small ship in a storm I guess. By that time we made for the open and I looked up in time to see our neighbor’s chimney in the air and not on the roof where it should have been. Everyone was out in the street…. It was 5:55 exactly. The telegraph and electric light wires were shaking more than any windstorm could shake them.

After a few minutes talk with our neighbors I took the Chevy and Ray Hodgson to go down town since mother and sister refused to go and suddenly realized the extent of the damage when I saw the bank and other buildings.

Someone said a girl at the high school was killed. Mother and sister walked to town by that time. The Free Methodist preacher and his wife were walking down main street among the crowd of other people and suddenly another shock came. Of course everybody’s heart was in his mouth and then the dear brother added further to the drama by solemnly proclaiming: “There’s worse things than this goin’ to happen . . . God has spoken!”

…In our house the only damage was a mixing bowl broken, it had been shaken off the breakfast room table and a plaster of paris state of mother’s nicked after it had fallen off its pedestal. The spring water bottle had fallen from the container onto the floor, a picture had been shaken off its place on the wall. Funny—I thought my cap was lost. The quake shook down a lot of boxes off the shelf in my closet and there was the gray cap that had been lost for weeks. Outside a fern in a flower pot had been overturned with the stand. The outside chimney was cracked in two places and looked as it would topple over in our driveway any minute. I think when I get home I’ll pull it off if it hasn’t already fallen.

The house in Anaheim we visited and it seemed entirely all right. The teachers there were hardly scared. Lights and water were on in Anaheim. We got word that Pasadena was O.K. and considered staying overnight with the Andersons.

Arriving home three more scary shocks confirmed our decision and we loaded out suit cases in the car. By then it was 8:30—

Earlier in the evening I went to the high school and before I realized it saw the body of the Pollard girl. The vice principal Mitchell was with the body waiting for the family to come. She and the Merchant girl had stayed late at school to prepare for a party that evening.

rossmore hotel 1933
Rossmore Hotel, Santa Ana, 1933
Courtesy the Orange County Archives

Stopping at Lucille Allen’s on the way to Pasadena—she and her family and friends were outside around a bonfire. She said 500 were killed in Long Beach, two in Santa Ana….

There were two or three quakes after we arrived in Pasadena, one early this morning but they didn’t have the terrifying rumble of the ones in Garden Grove. Perhaps we’re getting used to them. The paper and radio announce 57 dead in Long Beach with possibly 100 more to be heard of an estimate around 200 for Southern California which is considerably less than 500 or 1500 as we heard on the road last night. Buena Park was pretty badly damaged but no one was killed.

Lucille Allen said her brother and sister were riding through Artesia when they heard a crash and looked behind to see a brick building topple over into the street just as the earthquake started.

We want to go back to Garden Grove now and do what we can to help out. School will probably be closed Monday. The American Legion was on duty in the business section all last night.

The radio station in Long Beach continued to broadcast all night during the succession of quakes. You may have heard them on the national broadcast. Gov. Rolph is flying to Long Beach from the state capital. Will write more later. Must get this off. I sent my night leter from Anaheim after the phone service was cut off in Garden Grove for awhile. Hope it didn’t scare you. Mother said I should have said “Well” instead of “unhurt.” Goodbye darling—The worst is certainly over with. In twenty years we will hardly remember there was such a thing as the Long Beach earthquake or that the banks closed all over the country. A lot of people have been happy and grown wealthy in San Francisco since 1906 and maybe we can be too now. I don’t know about money or salary—our district is credited with plenty of money on the books of the County but it’s in the banks and the banks aren’t open yet except the First National in Garden Grove which cracked wide open at five minutes to six last night. We have our bank “open” but it took an earthquake to do it. I don’t know how President Roosevelt will take it—a defiance of his proclamation—anyway don’t collect any gray hairs. We’re alive, healthy happy and I’ve gained three pounds this week on olive and cod liver oil.

With a ‘tidal wave’ of affection I am Still Yours,


8:30 p.m. Sat.
Mar. 11 – 33


In between jumps I’ll try and write you another letter today. By jumps I mean two—when the house jumps and 1/10 of a second afterward when I jump. Already since I considered writing this letter 3 wobbles have occurred—not bad ones just wobbles. The table trembles just a little bit now and then and soon it’s over. There’s nothing to do but stick around and wait for more stable times to come.

Wow! another one about five seconds long—then another. The tables still trembles a little. Mother suggests I turn out the hot water automatic heater and I do. We have a gas heater and one burner going where the meat is cooking. Really honey, I don’t care much about earthquakes any more. I’m sure the worst is over or we wouldn’t be staying here. Many are still camping out. A tent in the open spaces is quite common.

We visited Mrs. Thomason this evening and she didn’t come out so fortunately. The plaster and some of the bricks from the chimney crashed down through—Gosh another one. Don’t worry—If you get this letter at all I’ll be very much alive. As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted by the last shock, the chimney part of it (this time I jumped—the telephone, only the telephone—Midge gets a telegram from Stan to wire him. She telephones a night letter in Pasadena last night. Wonder if it took so long for mine to get to you.) the bricks crashed down through a bedroom ceiling onto the bed. Luckily it was at 5:55 and not 11 p.m. or there might have been a couple of fatalities instead of only one in Garden Grove.

It’s rather exciting. We all got a dandy sleep last evening in Pasadena—not a chimney loose or a brick loose there while brick chimneys here are something to be photographed here—on the ground if they were not so common.

A house on Walnut Street here has the side caved in—the roof is okay and this afternoon I got the prettiest shot of the cross-section of the house. If it turns out all right I may let you see it but don’t get frightened. Remember how we thought our car may have been stolen in L.A. during the Olympics. It wasn’t and we came out of that experience all right. The orange packing house looks like the song of Shantytown—

The roof is so slanty
It touches the ground

Martial law (woof) so-called exists over Long Beach, Compton and most of Orange County. In Santa Ana the National Guard patrols the entire business district with rifles and fixed bayonets. Try and get through to take a peek at the hotel that crashed. Garden Grove has boy scouts and American Legionnaires doing duty. You get through for just one thing—groceries.

Funny weather. Pasadena it was sunny, warm, lazy. From Buena Park on it was muggy, dark, chilly. If it rains it will be the last straw ust about.

The report on the radio says the Governor is resting after spending 30 hours work on finances and the three flights to Long Beach to aid in relief.

The last report was 132 killed. Announcement is made by citizens in Long Beach—“California can take care of its own – as they did in Santa Barbara” thanks are being offered for help that was tended from President Roosevelt to the Mayor of Tokoyo.

No tremors for half an hour. We ought to sleep tonight if this keeps up.

Sister and I went down to take some pictures this afternoon. Imagine our surprise to be told that we couldn’t get through. “Groceries” was the pass word apparently, so we walked up to the next corner and spoke our needs for the weekend groceries. “All right, you have to wait outside.” So with my camera stuffed in my hip pocket and armed with $2.50 and a blank check I walked to Fulson’s grocery meanwhile viewing the damage and salvage work. The broken store windows were boarded up almost entirely and the bank that had suffered the greatest of any building was neatly patched with redwood planks over its entire front and lateral surface. The post office took temporary headquarters in the Pacific Electric Railway Station. Fulson’s was a wreck inside. The entire lot of can and bottle goods was on the floor. I picked out what I could and what I thought would hold us awhile (taking a dozen eggs only to find out that we had three dozen already when I got home). The bill was paid by check. I next walked across to the meat market and having some cash bought an oven roast. While shopping three slight shocks kept the clerks nervous and customers not ready to be waited on—in the streets—another slight one— These shaky shakes give you an occasional creepy feeling. Night makes them seem worse. No tidal waves have come yet so I guess there won’t be any. It would be tough on Balboa and the other coast towns.

I haven’t written anybody but you since the quakes started so you have all the accounts of any I’ve written….

We have the radio going. I don’t know whether we will have school Monday or not. Mrs. Thomason didn’t know and couldn’t get Mr. Fitz on the telephone. Phone service was off last night for awhile. I noticed an operator outside the automatic phone office this afternoon working with a temporary switchboard.

Don [Zaiser] has laryngitis brought on by a scare. He looked pale and tired—had little to say in the few minutes I saw him but had been working long and hard [at the county hospital] during the night and day. The patients were frightened very badly. A long drawn out tremor just now but very slight—the floor feels like a bowl of jelly looks just after it is poured out of the glass. Hardly any noise which is a real improvement on some we’ve had….

Mother’s retired in the room here. I’ll have to go to bed. Remember I love you more than every honey. Don’t be afraid of this silly country. It’s so beautiful and I love it for all its quivery quakes.

Always your Allen

Came the dawn, or anyway it came. Finally went to bed at 12 o’clock and just as I would be getting to sleep a quiver would make me jump awake. Gradually the quivers quit and I slept till 7 a.m. when one with a rumble attached to I caused me to awake with a jump. (An earthquake makes a swell alarm clock. It doesn’t leave you with sleepy aftereffects.) I’m writing this from in front of church. Sunday School is over. Church is commencing. About three quakes took place during the last hour and a half. Another now while I’m in the car but in the daylight and when you can see everything and they are so slight they aren’t worse than thunder for your nerves and not nearly so loud. In fact under this pretty blue sky and spring weather in the open they are nothing at all. Most flowers are out … [and] I feel very content with nature for the present.

Mrs. Thomason phoned just before we left for church—said this week would be Easter vacation. Many of the Mexicans pulled out and came to Anaheim and other places. There will be a bit of work for the school boys and if the banks open Monday or Tuesday it will help.

Uncle Bertram wanted $30 at the bank [in Pasadena] yesterday to get money that was necessary for himself and [his] office girl’s wages. Aunt Carrie went to the bank and they downright refused. She finally told of the Garden Grove refugees and they instantly cashed a check for $10 for necessities.

During the first quake the chickens and dogs set up a powerful vocal protest. Mr. Allen [?] was feeding some ducks and turned around just as the quake started when all had run for the orchard. Quacks and quakes don’t mix.

Third edition will follow soon.

Meanwhile write me you still love me and won’t be afraid to say nice things about California when you can. Tell the people not to give us any charity or relief but to buy Sunkist oranges and it will help as much as anything. (People haven’t been able to do spraying and the necessary fumigating … because of the low price but one year won’t make any difference to the trees in good condition.) But I don’t care what you tell them. I know you will tell them California is O.K. Besides you’re coming out to see what the earthquake really did. Am I right?


Mar. 13 – 33

Dear Francelia,

Hurray for Easter vacation a month sooner than anticipated! One week to do what you will or have to do. There’s a lot of disguising the seriousness of the quake locally and especially around L.A. in the papers. On the radio last night a tour of the earthquake broadcast was suddenly and unceremoniously halted by a terse telegram from somebody, probably the “dictator” of rehabilitation at Long Beach. Already it was announced that 60,000 people were camping out in Long Beach parks and golf courses.

You can’t get through except for emergency purposes to Long Beach or Compton. Santa Ana and Garden Grove still have their patrols on duty.

Latest observations:

1. The earthquake shook in a north-south direction with I would say an estimated tip from the horizontal level of 30 in either direction if that means anything to you. All disturbances since then haven’t been so bad.

2. Reinforced concrete structures show practically no structural damage. Anything of brick around here “went.”

3. At 5:17 this morning a “rumbly” one occurred again enough to wake us all but not to scare us at this time. Since this nothing has happened and it’s 11:30 a.m. we’re inclined to think it was a farewell shock but just this second a tiny weeny one came again. All these follow up ones are in accordance with the up-to-date 20th century of quakes with one major shock followed by tremors for hours and days to come at different intervals.

Mother said they asked for men to relieve the Long Beach fellows on duty at church yesterday. I intended to report, since this was to be vacation, after dinner but after I took the Andersons sightseeing of the local ruins and after we had treated them to a couple or three more tremors, it was 4 o’clock. A bus passed by loaded with men preceded by a motor cop, siren blowing, on the way toward Long Beach and I guess that’s all that will be wanted for awhile. 6000 are working in Long Beach and the radio report is for no more men to come.

I saw one of my former pupils this morning who had moved to Long Beach a few days ago. Their house was of wood he said and didn’t get damaged but the school he went to was wrecked, the streets were covered with bricks and he came away to Anaheim to his uncle’s house that night.

A woman physician, Dr. Hargrove, left Anaheim to look up her parents in Long Beach. The officers wouldn’t let her through until 12 o’clock Friday night. She went and found her folks sitting in the center of their lawn wrapped up in blankets with their home and everything in it a mass of ruins.

The Bank of America in Anaheim was open this morning for minimum withdrawals—mother was able to take out $10.

Sister is having school [in Whittier]. Anaheim has school tomorrow.

My building is O.K. but the buildings will all have to be approved before school opens.

Don came over with his mother last evening. I took them around town and showed them the damage as much as we were able to get around and see. Don said the nurses at the hospital were sleeping out on the lawn at night. Part of the building is cracked and the elevator is damaged but no one was hurt. A mother that just had a baby the same day got up when the quake occurred grabbed some clothes went out to where her husband was and said she was going home. They got to the car and she remembered she forgot the baby so she sent him back after it.

Called to see the Virgins last evening. Mrs. V. told me about the Kansas City flood they were in and were married in— Not in a boat either although they had to use boats to go to their tailors and dressmakers respectively to get their wedding garments. She was sorry they had bought property in Garden Grove but I asked her how long it was before the flood water went down—it was several months. Houses filled with water up to the window sills etc. The advantage of having an earthquake is that it doesn’t leave everything so disagreeable afterward. The climate is swell here, honey. Are you coming?

The elementary school at Huntington Beach is a wreck. Faire Virgin and I looked it over. Big holes in walls and roof where the bricks fell out. The buildings were the finest of the counties grade schools—500,000 cost new. Ranney’s gymnasium was apparently undamaged. School will probably meet there and in the churches. Ranney seemed so good natured at the coaches meeting. I wonder how he’s taking the loss of the school buildings.

He had the right idea in getting that gym built out of reinforced concrete. It stood while the pretty glazed brick structure went to pieces.

Must get this into the mail. Got your Thursday night airmail this morning at the P.E. railroad station temporary post office. The regular p.o. building and buildings adjacent will have to be rebuilt.

A mason came and tore our tottering fireplace chimney to the place where it was cracked crossways and is going to leave it down for a few days until all the tremors are over and until they get done with other emergency repair jobs.

More in the next edition….

Lots of love and we’re in a state of equilibrium by now so don’t worry.



Mar. 13 1933


Earthquakes are history now. Not a jump all evening and since the Times news announcer says they’re over they must be….

We hope to get a lift from the R.F.C. to start on building and repairs again. The First National Bank here expects to open in the Citizens Bank bldg. which was only slightly damaged, hasn’t been used since the two banks merged a year ago.

Today I did some cleanup work that’s been necessary for a long time to come. Tomorrow I’ll wash both cars and perhaps try to get over to Long Beach. I want to see the [U.S.S.] Constitution before it’s too late. Funny, the day it moved from San Pedro to Long Beach the quake came….

I’m standing up to write—on a high bureau—I’d go to sleep if I sat down and can think clearer on my feet….

Your telegram was delivered yesterday—Sunday afternoon about one o’clock. It was thoughtful of you to reply immediately. Telegraph lines have been sizzling with messages since Friday night. When did you get my night letter? I sent it Friday about 8 p.m. and hoped it was delivered about the time you read about the quake in the papers. I knew there wasn’t any use to have you awakened in the middle of the night with a telegram. (Darn it I jumped at the first quake since morning—not a bad one, just sudden.) Now I can be awake while I finish the rest of this letter. It’s quarter to 12.

Sunday at 7 a.m., this morning at 5:17, and now at 11:45 we’ve had rumbly ones and then just a few quivers fewer and farther between. Maybe this really is to be the parting farewell.

Goodnight darling—this will have to do till morning


Enclosed find orange blossom. Just now while doing it up another nice rumbly quake came that sent mother and sister outdoors. How does it feel—well not much different than riding a trolley car over some jarring bumps with a little of floor wobble added. That’s all—10 of the 127 deaths so far in So. Calif. Came from shock, one from an automobile accident when a woman lost control of her car. The Garden Grove girl would have been safe if she had stayed inside the building or gone out another entrance, etc.

Your letter of Sat. morning just came. Glad you got the wire so soon. Never thought your folks would be listening in time to hear it on the radio or I’d have sent a fast telegram.



Wed. Mar. 15 – 33

Dear Francelia—

Fourth [sic – fifth] and probably last earthquake edition! This will include special earthquake anecdotes and a descriptive tour of the earthquake area.

Following story is vouched for by Walt [Lehnhardt].

Just following the earthquake a Japanese farmer came tearing over to the Lehnhardt home excited. “Water come up in strawberry field! No well, no irrigation. How come?”

Walt investigated and sure enough water was bubbling through a crack in the strawberry patch where no well or irrigation pipe had been. The quake had produced an artesian well to irrigate the strawberries.

Following is quoted but not vouched for by Walt. Walt got a fishing impulse after the quake and went down to the Newport Pier to try his luck. His neighbor fisherman told him of the day before’s experiences . . . He had been at the far end of the pier when the quake started. The tremblor jerked the pier out from under him and left him up in the air holding on to his fishing pole. Just as he was about to drop into the water the pier came back under him and he lighted safely on the boards in time to reel in a 12 lb. halibut.

Less humorous, bordering on the miraculous is Don’s truthful account of a patient that was at the County Hospital confined with an attack of paralysis. When the quake came the patient automatically regained control of his muscles and jumped out of the bed to get away from the shaking building.

Walt and I broke through the cordon of police warding off traffic to Long Beach by asking them “how to get to Wilmington.” The cops at both places where we stopped didn’t know where Wilmington was and let us through the last one bravely asking if we had business that and we assured him most straightforwardly that we did.

We wanted to see the Constitution but weren’t going to stop with that. We got into Long Beach and viewed wreckage of all kinds along the way—the most spectacular being Polytechnic High School, once enrolling 4000 students, largest in the state before Hoover High School and several junior high schools were built. Bricks were scattered over the lawn, probably had been as far as the street and the large dome and front wall had crashed evidently with terrific force to the ground in front of the building. Guards prevented me from even getting to the sidewalk on the near side of the street and I had to be content with a snapshot from the opposite side of the highway.

The police still seemed to be working under a nervous strain but the sailors on duty seemed very nonchalant. There was still a slight bit of danger – a heavy shock came at 3:15 this morning but nowhere near as serious as the first quake. Big pieces of stone and tile lay on sidewalks surrounding buildings. Worst hit seemed to be churches, schools, and one- to two-story buildings of stone and brick. A large seven-story bank of brick evidently steel-enforced didn’t have a piece of brick or masonry loose anywhere even in the overhanging cornices. The Breakers Hotel of 12 stories was apparently in perfect condition.

Stores were beginning to display Open for Business, Passed Inspection signs. Open air canvas awninged markets had sprung up.

Relief activity seemed to be directed from one particular corner where a Missing Persons Bureau, loud speaker, ambulance and fire equipment, and residence pass bureaus were noticed. Calls were sent out broadcast for various officers, relief calls received and aid dispatched and everybody kept moving along the streets. The fire station #1, where a fireman was killed when the whole front of the building fell away had a couple of tents parked on its lawn where fireman and police rested.

I took several snapshots and moved on with Walt.

The Constitution was a center of interest earthquake or not. Walt and I paced the three decks, snapped each other on a deck cannon and sauntered away glad that our pennies spent years ago hadn’t been wasted and that the harpies of the shore hadn’t plucked her as they had said they were going to do.

Coming away from the ship we saw a big caved-in brick building and next to it a sign Long Beach Junk and Wrecking Business. It couldn’t have had a more ideal location but I did hope they would get the old Constitution away from there as soon as possible.

Returning to Garden Grove on East 7th St. we passed the Municipal Park where hundreds of army tents were pitched sheltering those without homes including what looked to be some hoboes here and there. Lunch was being served, free oranges of a poorer grade were heaped on the ground free for the taking, people sitting at picnic tables finishing their meal with sorry-looking faces. It was the least rosy of all the scenes we beheld. Some were out in cars, sitting in them as if they expected to lose even those next.

Passing we came back in time to learn that the First National Bank was open this morning and ready to pay all obligations but our school warrants won’t come back until tomorrow so I drew $4.00 out of my savings since my old balance on my checking account was minus. Bills will have to wait until tomorrow….

Always yours,


Just got your Sunday letter—you are a darling to offer to wait or come out but I think we can go ahead as planned….