Published: April 2006


Vintage Earthquake Calif

The Next Big One

We understand earthquakes better than we did a century ago, when San Francisco was flattened. Now we would like to predict them.

By Joel Achenbach
Photograph by Bettmann/Corbis

The Hayward Fault, a long and lethal crack in the Earth, slices along the base of the Berkeley Hills and directly through the University of California. It passes under a theater and a couple of dormitories—no problem, they're just freshman dorms—and kinks the concrete steps outside California Memorial Stadium. You can straddle the fault, one leg up the steps, one leg down.

Then the fault runs underneath the stadium. One map shows it splitting the goal posts in the north end zone. It races downfield, barrels through the south end zone, and keeps going, careening down the street toward Oakland.

Back in the 1920s, when architects drew up plans for a grand football stadium at California's flagship university, they refused to let a geologic imperfection stand in their way. Earthquake science was still young, but the architects apparently realized that the Hayward is a fault, where two pieces of crust move past each other. So the architects gamely built the stadium in two halves, shaped sort of like a coffee bean, with a line, the fault, essentially splitting the structure. Each half of the stadium could move independently, riding the shifting crust without breaking a sweat.

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