I wanted to tell at least a part of the story of American steel, Pacific pipe, and a half dozen other industrial plants that were bustling centers of hard-working, hardhat, blue-collar commercial enterprises, until the day in 1989 when without any warning, the Loma Prieta earthquake struck.
Even though the earthquake was epicentered in the Santa Cruz Mountains some 60 miles away, the earthquake caused a mile-long section of 580 freeway to collapse, crushing and killing 26 people and trapping an unknown number in the rubble. The workers from Pacific pipe and American steel rushed out to help the victims, pulling them out from between layers
of broken concrete at the risk of their own safety with nothing but forklifts and tow chains and small ladders, ropes, and buckets to do it with. They performed many rescues even before Police and Fire public safety personnel arrived, and then contiued to help. It is unknown how many they saved, as they worked shoulder to shoulder with Emergency personnel and with people of the neighborhood on the other side of the freeway. These ordinary citizens rose to the formidable task with extraordinary heroism to free trapped and injured people from their cars beneath the crushing concrete.
The story of the Loma Prieta quake is well chronicled by news media, but no one tells the story of the neighborhood, or the workers of American Steel and the other industrial complexes for which the quake was a mortal wound. On that day at 5:05 in the afternoon, all these businesses and industries began to die.
The Cyprus Street on-ramp of Highway 880 was where the collapse began. It was totally destroyed by the quake, and never rebuilt. Now there is a beautiful four-lane street, Nelson Mandela Parkway, but there is very little traffic on it. The traffic flows right on by, on the main freeway. The huge buildings did not fall down in the quake; it was the loss of the freeway ramp that began their demise. The once mighty and thriving industrial complexes began to decline and slowly diminished and die away.
The American Steel complex, once teeming with activity, producing tons of steel to be shipped all over the country and the world, is empty now. The colossal building still stands, but inside, the forge is cold, dark, and silent.
Pacific Pipe also stands empty. Much as the loss of a major artery causes a part of the human body to die, the loss of the freeway access crippled this once vibrant, high-energy, highly-productive section of life in West Oakland. The old days are gone, and only some of the old structures remain, looming like massive ghosts, mutely dominating the landscape in stillness now.
This is my tribute of respect to all the men and women who worked here, to all the steel that was born here, and to the vitally-alive, world-within-a-world, that once thrived here and now is gone. This is my gesture and my expression of appreciation to those people whose work-lives were lived here, and to the unknown heroes who came out to help and save the lives of strangers trapped in the rubble of the crushed and shattered freeway.
We have not forgotten.