“People and Places,” New Era, Apr. 1971, 7
SAN FERNANDO, CALIFORNIA—At 6:01 A.M. February 9, an earthquake shook southern California. Within minutes a major population center in North America had been seriously affected. More than one thousand persons were injured, over sixty persons killed—two of them Latter-day Saints—hundreds of homes and business buildings were destroyed and many others greatly damaged. In the following twenty-four hours, more than a hundred tremors were felt. Hundreds of Latter-day Saints spent the next several days with other Latter-day Saint families who had opened their homes to them. Many home teachers immediately went into action. Fifteen-year-old Crystal Berrett of Sylmar Ward, San Fernando Stake, gives a firsthand report of what it was like to be caught in the quake.
I rose from bed at 5:00 A.M. as usual to get ready for seminary. There were no special feelings or fears that morning, only the usual “Hope I’m ready on time,” “I hate this last-minute rushing,” and “Have I studied enough for the test in history?” Just another day.
My ride came and I was ready, although something bothered me. While I had been getting ready, my small poodle had whined and pawed at my leg. I had tried everything to calm her but it was impossible, so I had just left, not knowing what else to do.
We reached the chapel (that’s where we hold seminary). We were quite early. We got our books and were seated. The other kids staggered in with half-opened eyes. I love seminary as I know all my friends do, and we wouldn’t miss it—but it sure is early!
Most of us were seated and just waiting for our teacher, Varge Christensen, to quiet the usual last-minute whispers and begin. Suddenly I heard a great rumbling sound like a wave—only it was ten times greater! My chair began rocking back and forth. I turned to my girl friend, Cindy Kelley, and said, “Wow! This is really outasight!”
I had never felt a real earthquake before. People now and then would talk about them, and I had wanted to experience one. The next thing I knew the lights went off and I was lifted in the air and dropped violently on my back. I felt someone underneath me and attempted to get to my feet. I was tossed toward one wall, then toward the other wall, all the while trying to dodge flying chairs. My one thought was to escape from the building. It wasn’t so outasight anymore!
Our teacher told us later that he had yelled at us to get out onto the lawn, but I don’t recall hearing anything but that great rumbling. It was the most terrifying experience I have ever been through, and I immediately began praying. I was unable to get up off the floor, and I was afraid that any second the walls and ceiling would come down on me.
We all finally made it to the safety of the grass outside the chapel, and we lay there watching the building sway. With the exception of some bruises, no one was hurt or injured. All the kids were great, trying to help and calm each other. Our one thought now was to get back home to our families.
I knew it was an earthquake, a bad one, but I didn’t realize how bad until some of the parents came rushing to the church in tears, saying that their houses were in ruins, that there hadn’t been one thing left on a wall or shelf or one piece of furniture left in its original position. After I heard this I didn’t even think to cry; I just looked into the sky, now filled with smoke from fires, and asked the Lord to please let me get to my family.
As we started out from the chapel and saw the various buildings and shopping centers that were for the most part totaled-out, many thoughts crossed my mind, and I wondered if my family and home would even be there. As I think back, I’m sure Clyde Cowan and Cindy Kelley must have had the same thoughts, because we rode in complete silence.
There were big cracks in the road, and a big light fixture fell from a pole just after we had passed under it. As we turned up my street, I could see that there had been a shake, but the houses appeared to be undamaged—at least I thought they were fine until my mother, half-crying, half-numb, showed me the inside of our house. It was unbelievable. It looked as though everything in the house had been piled up, crushed, and then stirred. But our family was alive, without injuries, and our house was at least livable.
The home of my best friend, Becky Christensen, was completely demolished. It was a two-story home that was almost made into a one-story in less than a minute.
I talked with Becky later and asked her how she felt about her house. She answered, smiling, “They’re only material things. My family and friends are all right.” Becky’s family has been camping out in the backyard since the earthquake, and she said to me, “Chris, campcrafter is really worthwhile. You really need it.” (Campcrafter is a proficiency level to which MIA girls may attain in camping expertise.)
When we finally got the news on a transistor radio, we learned about the destruction of the Olive View and Veteran’s hospitals. They were in ruins. I have been a candy striper at Olive View for the past two months, and I was going to miss school that very morning in order to watch surgery. If the earthquake had struck just one hour later, I might have been in ruins with the hospital.
This earthquake is by far the most terrifying experience I have ever had, yet in other ways the most rewarding. I’ve learned that such things as houses, cars, furniture, and clothes are only material things and not so important after all. They may take twenty years to get and pay for, yet in less than one minute they can be destroyed. Many people cried over the loss of their beautiful mirrors and expensive china. My mother said that she and Dad had invested most of their time and money in their seven children, and the Lord had preserved them, so they were very grateful. We haven’t had water or gas or electricity or phones, but we have our year’s supply of food stored for just such an emergency, so we haven’t really suffered. It’s been kind of fun sitting by the fire in the darkness at night.
The greatest lesson I’ve learned is what a wonderful blessing it is to be able to pray to God when you are really scared and to have the feeling that he is there and that he hears you and will help you.
New York City—The Church recently announced the purchase of a building site in New York City. The 25,000-square-foot site is across the street from the handsome Lincoln Center and is directly opposite the famed Juilliard School of Music. Central Park, the American Museum of Natural History, and the New York State Theater are in the vicinity. The lot presently contains a parking lot area, a cafe, and a small old hotel, according to New York Stake President George E. Watkins.
The present plans of the Church, still tentative in nature, call for the Church complex to be built on the site to include a chapel, a cultural hall, several classrooms, offices for the stake officials and the bishoprics of Manhattan First and Second wards, a visitors’ center for use in explaining the gospel to others, and perhaps the offices and headquarters of the Eastern States Mission.
What does all this mean to Latter-day Saint youth in New York? At the request of the New Era, a group of students gathered around their stake president and discussed ramifications of the announcement. Participating were H. Kurt Christensen, LDS Student Association president and graduate student in management and organization at Columbia University; David H. Hunter, a psychology major; Christine Lattin, graduate student in special education; Carmen Garcia, 16, convert and high school student; Sarah and Susan Mui, sixteen- and seventeen-year-old converts from Hong Kong attending high school in New York; Ana Gonzalez, Georgina Matta, and Arthur Maurent, high school students who found the Church through the New York World’s Fair; and Jeff McKenzie, an engineering student recently returned from the California Mission.
What does such a move mean to Mormon youth in New York City?
“It means we’ll be able to have a gold and green ball. We haven’t been able to because of lack of facilities.”—Ana.
“We all know that we don’t build for status or image. We recognize that the Lord’s spirit can be anywhere. But it’s true that we can do a more effective job in presenting the gospel to the world and carrying out the programs of the Church when we have facilities designed for our type of worship and activity.”—Kurt.
“People will get a more favorable image of the Mormons. We’ll feel more accepted among our fellow students.”—Christine.
“It means we’ll be able to have the full program of the Church. Our current building wasn’t built for Mormons. It’s too small for the exciting programs of our church.”—Sarah.
“It means everybody can get to church more easily. Transportation to the new site is better—and to students, that’s important.”—Jeff.
“People are going to ask more questions as they become more conscious of us. Therefore, we’d better get prepared to give the right answers to hard questions—the ones we’ll get all the time, such as questions on the Negro and the priesthood, and polygamy.”—David.
“Because of the nature of this purchase, I think the Church will be regarded as a socially responsible organization. This is because the Church is including either business or residential structures on the same ground with the new church. Over one-third of the land and building space of New York City is used by nonprofit organizations who don’t pay taxes. So it is important to the city that a portion of the structure be taxable to provide some contribution to the welfare of the city in this way.”—Kurt.
“I like the idea that no one will be displaced from his home because of our building. We won’t be destroying homes or apartments to construct it. There just won’t be the problems that New York has known with many other new construction projects. I think it is important that others know that we are not trying to get our toe into the New York economic system by exploiting property, nor are we doing this to upgrade our own image by building a showcase structure. This facility will be used—as every Mormon well knows.”—Jeff.
In your opinion, what should the new building look like?
“As people step into the entrance, they should immediately feel warmth and reverence. I’d like a garden atmosphere outside and Mormon attitudes on the Godhead and life clearly evident on the inside.”—Arthur.
“The Church aspect of it should have its own identity apart from the other buildings on the grounds. It should look, inside and out, like a place of worship and learning.”—David.
“The lines of all the buildings ought to be simple and elegant and harmonious with the beauty of the surrounding architecture of Juilliard and Lincoln Center.”—Christine.
“The whole structure ought to show that we believe in a living God and that we are a people concerned with all aspects of life.”—Georgina.
“It ought to represent us as we are—a people who are neat, efficient, and very, very beautiful. This is what Mormonism is to me.”—Ana.
In keeping with Church traditions of working for what we get, how do you feel about contributing to this new building?
“I’m excited about it. I’m working part time at the New York post office as well as going to school. Now a bigger part of my paycheck will go into the building fund, and I’ll be proud someday to say that I contributed.”—Arthur.
“I’m glad to help in any way to build something that will help people now or in the future to learn the gospel of Jesus Christ.”—Susan.
“As a student, my finances vary from time to time, but I’ve never regretted any contribution I’ve made to the Church in tithing, fast offerings, building projects, or whatever.”—Dave.
“We’re all so excited about having a wonderful church building and visitors’ complex that we don’t mind a bit paying for it. We’re only grateful that at last such a building is a possibility.”—Christine.
“The Lord always compensates for the sacrifices people make. People feel blessed for giving. It is wonderful how we were able to meet our assessment for the Washington (D.C.) Temple, even a little ahead of schedule. I haven’t been much of a Johnny Appleseed in my life, preparing for others yet to come. I’ve always been the traveler who has come afterward and reaped the benefits of the sacrifices others have made. It is a big project to build something like this in a metropolitan area, and it will take a while. Many of us will be building for others yet to come.”—Kurt.
“Johnny Appleseed had faith in his land and the people who would cross it. It’s comforting to know that our leaders have the faith in New York City to go ahead with such a tremendous effort in these times.”—Dave.